I am currently working on an opus discussing counterproliferation in the 2nd nuclear age. In the course of my research I have stumbled over some interesting facts, some new discoveries and also some really wonky phrases, one of which happens to be “questionable doctrine”. Found in a research piece titled Deterrence and Defense in “The Second Nuclear Age”, this phrase attempts to illustrate the confusion of the 2nd nuclear age. In any other context “questionable doctrine” may refer to using the wrong fork at dinner, wearing bright colors to a sombre event or accidentally calling a female sir. And though not as funny, it is the potential for mistakes, blunders, short-sighted decisions and general awkwardness that makes 2nd age nuclear doctrine so “questionable”.
In the 2nd nuclear age countries have struggled to define their relationships with atomic weapons. This is in contrast with the first nuclear age in which most nuclear aspirants strove for large strategic arsenals with built-in redundancy in order to avoid reliance on first-use strikes. In the second nuclear age, most weapon states find it hard to make up their mind in what weapons they want and how they wish to use them. Take for example North Korea. The poor nation in Northeast Asia often starts and stops its program depending on the concessions it receives from the outside world. What is more, it has never stated if, how or when it would use its weapons. In addition, North Korea has failed to miniaturize its weapons, yet it pursues a rocket/ missile program. Lastly, North Korea’s decision to share its nuclear expertise may qualify as a doctrine, but it is still difficult to determine. Regardless whether you agree or disagree (although most people disagree) with North Korea’s choices, it is clear that North Korea has no solid doctrine and that its actions only add to confusion.
“Questionable” actions such as these are not isolated to North Korea, but are a defining feature of the 2nd nuclear age. In the United States the Bush administration wanted to create smaller nuclear weapons that could be used on the battlefield against bunkers and non-conventional weapons, while the Obama administration has a stated goal of a nuclear free world. In Southeast Asia, India recently changed its nuclear position from “no first use” to “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states” and both India and Pakistan have reiterated the slogans of minimal deterrence while maximizing their arsenals. Flip-flopping and confusion have become the norm and are increasing the risks associated with nuclear weapons. In the 2nd nuclear age, states that attempt to counter threats with more weapons or “novel” doctrines will only create suspicion and stretch their command and control resources to their limits.