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42, David Art World War II and Nuclear Weapons If by 1933 Germany, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States had nuclear second-strike counter-value capabilities, how would the causes and progression of World War II been effected? This paper gives some discussion on that question, and offers some hypotheses on its answer. At the conclusion, we will find that the list of requisite conditions under which war would have been averted is long, but that based on historical analysis, it is likely that those conditions would have been fulfilled. Throughout this paper, the sequence of conditions and events which really did occur will be referred to as the “previous situation,” while the newly postulated world will be referred to as the “new situation.” In order to think about the changes that would occur given the new situation, this paper details a differential analysis. That is, instead of analyzing the situation tabla rosa, the differences in the inputs between the previous and new situation will be analyzed to produce an expected difference in the outputs. The assumption is made that Germany was led by a rational and deterrable government and populace.1 This assumption will be addressed more explicitly later in the paper. The most obvious difference in outputs is that Germany would not have been able to invade any of the new nuclear powers, including France, because of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The question remaining, then, is whether or not Germany would have been able to invade non-nuclear countries such as Austria or Poland. The answer to
The same assumption is made about all of the other countries as well, but Germany is the questionable case. More conditions for deterrence are given in Van Evera lecture notes, “Weapons of Mass Destruction and World Politics”
this question lies in which side has the largest will to attack or defend these non-nuclear states.2 Each side will now be discussed.
Previous Situation Balance of power Russia: Maintain boarder buffer (Poland)
New Situation Balance of power Russia: Maintain boarder buffer (Poland) Prevent spread of nuclear weapons
Reasons to Oppose German Expansion
Capacity to Oppose German Expansion
Table 1. Summary of Allied motivations and capabilities
Allied Motivations & Capabilities In the previous situation, Britain was largely isolationist. Its military forces were depleted through much of the 1930s and the leadership had disillusions about the strength of its air force,3 leading to an even weaker military.4 Thus, Britain appeased Germany after Germany’s seize of significant territories between 1936 and 1939. Possible explanations for this appeasement include reluctance to go to war, military overstretch, and a belief that Germany was appeasable.5 It turned out that they were wrong, however; Germany broke its agreements and proceeded to take over more lands. In the new situation, however, Britain has significant nuclear capabilities. Flat of the curve dynamics then suggest, on first order analysis, that Britain has the maximum amount of destructive power possible. The ability to expend this power without
Since deterrence relies on a creditable threat and we assume that deterrence is proportional to the will to defend this implies the assumption that the deterring state demonstrates its will to the opponent. 3 Van Evera, Lecture Notes, “Origins of the Second World War” 4 That is, if a military over-estimates its strength and has a constant strength target, in reality it will be weaker than it would be without that misperception. 5 Ibid.
significant manpower or resources eliminates reluctance to go to war and military overstretch as factors contributing to British isolationism and appeasement. This causal link between nuclear capability and a forward posture in the international arena not only makes sense theoretically, but is demonstrated in empirical analysis of the cold war. During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union each became very involved in foreign affairs and the balance of power across the world.6 The same effects in the new situation would also occur within France. Even though it was heavily absorbed in domestic struggles,7 the advent of nuclear weapons would make its former un-preparedness less significant. The Soviet Union would likely have a similar response to the British and French, but with increased sensitivity to Polish independence because of its border with Poland. In the previous situation the United States’ international posture was very isolationist because of domestic political forces, including its great depression in the late 1930s and its bitter memory of the First World War. Equipped with nuclear weapons and thus given the ultimate security guarantee, the isolationists might have even become more predominant in domestic politics. The United States probably would not get involved unless the balance of power in Europe was becoming significantly unipolar. One interest that the United States would have as an international player, and that the other Allies would likely share, would be to prevent the spread of nuclear arms to other countries. If Germany invaded non-nuclear countries in Europe, and if the Allies appeased it, this would send the message to other non-nuclear powers that they can only be secure if they acquire nuclear weapons. We saw this same effect during the Cold War
Perhaps too involved; after Vietnam, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis, and general fears of nuclear holocaust, each side began to become more objective (détente). 7 Van Evera, Lecture Notes, “Origins of the Second World War”
and continue to see it today; the United States has offered security guarantees to countries like present day Germany and Japan in order to convince them not to have nuclear weapons programs. What logical reasons for opposing German expansion can the Allies use in order to pose a credible threat and deter Germany from expanding? To summarize, the Soviets would like to maintain a buffer between it and Germany, so an over-throw of Poland or Romania would be unacceptable. In addition, the allies would like to maintain a balance of power in Europe. Finally, all of the Allies have a further interest in preventing Germany from expanding because of their desire to keep nuclear capabilities from spreading to other countries. It is important to note that the only new reason to stop German expansionism is the desire to prevent the spread of nuclear capabilities. The rest of the reasons were present in the previous situation; nuclear capabilities simply make it easier for the Allies to exert the force necessary to turn these reasons into credible threats.
Previous Situation Domestic security fears Reasons to Expand Victim narrative Great depression Militarism in leadership Relative Ease of Expansion High
New Situation Victim narrative Great depression Militarism in leadership Low
Table 2. Summary of German motivations and capabilities
Germany Motivations & Capabilities
In this section, we will evaluate changes in the circumstances affecting German expansionism. In light of German second-strike counter-value capabilities, the encirclement argument which fueled militarism and expansionism in the previous situation makes less sense.8 If any country (nuclear power or not) invaded Germany, then Germany could retaliate with their nuclear arsenal and inflict unacceptable damage on the invader’s homeland. Furthermore, Hitler’s theory of “avalanche” (commonly known as bandwagoning) does not sense in the new situation. In the previous situation, Hitler believed that he could use threats and an iron fist to coerce the Allies to appease him. While this worked in the non-nuclear world,9 in the new situation the Allies can more easily deter him. This lowering of the cost barrier associated with deterring Hitler makes the Allies more likely to balance than bandwagon. As a result of the effects discussed so far in this section, it could be expected that public support for expansionism would decline. The German population, however, believed the false stories about the origins of the First World War, leading us to conclude that the population largely accepts whatever doctrine or beliefs that the government wishes to purvey. One could imagine a Germany in which scholars who point out that expansionism tactics no longer work is alienated, just like those who made similar observations for different reasons were in the previous situation. Therefore, while this shift in public support might happen to some degree, it is not likely to be significant.
The argument did not make sense in the first place, so we say that it makes less sense instead of no sense. At least in the beginning (Munich agreement)
Engagement Dynamics We have seen a single new motivating factor on the side of the Allies, but more importantly we have observed an increase in Allied ability to execute on both old and new motivations. Additionally, we have seen a decrease in reasonableness in German expansionism reasoning. The changes on both sides should make the situation less warprone, but are the changes sufficient to prevent war? To answer this question we must turn to German reasoning processes, and again apply differential analysis to what is known about the previous situation. Since nuclear weapons are not invented until sometime in the 1920s, the causes of German expansionism before then will be unchanged. Therefore, a large part of the neoconservative and war-cult literature published between 1890 and 193010 will still be around in the new situation. German myth-making about the causes of the First World War11 are also likely to be unchanged. Given this victim narrative and the great depression in 1929-1939, it is still likely that Hitler and the Nazi party would have been elected into power. In fact, Hitler’s campaigning pre-1933 would have probably included attacks against the socialists for not building and/or launching first-strike counter-force and counter-value nuclear attacks against other countries during the window of nuclear ramp-up.1213 As can be seen from a quick review of Hitler’s background,14 it is very probable that Hitler would have still been a “superhawk,”15 even in light of absolute German domestic security. Hitler wanted to expand Germany’s borders, but it is also
See Van Evera, Lecture Notes, “Origins of the Second World War” The “Weimar-era (1920’s) German schools and scholars” lied about the war to the German public. Ibid. 12 If the window existed, Hitler could attack the socialists for not taking advantage of it. If it did not exist, Hitler could attack the socialists for not creating it by faster escalation. 13 We assume that if the Allies listened to this propaganda, they would not become frightened and jump through any windows they might have by waging preventive war. 14 A good biography is Haffner, The Meaning of Hitler 15 I am forever indebted to Stephen Van Evera for this descriptive term.
clear that he would not have done so if he knew for certain that Germany would be destroyed if he did. Could the Allies make threats credible enough to deter Hitler? The only hope is that they would explain to Hitler their reasons for objecting to German expansion, and then use some show of force to demonstrate their resolve, such as deploying troops in non-nuclear countries bordering Germany. The likely result would be a cold war of sorts, in which the bipolar world consists of Germany on one side and the Allied powers on the other. For example, Hitler might test the credibility of the Allies by starting a conventional brush fire war in a part of Africa that isn’t very strategically important to the Allies. Knowing the end of the movie, historians would hope that the Allies would then contain Germany. At first glance, it seems unlikely that this would have happened; fighting a conventional war would be expensive, and the forward posture afforded by nuclear weapons would no longer be justified. On the other hand, the raised stakes (i.e. that homeland security can be easily threatened if a credible threat is not made) might make the costs of containment more justifiable. A look to post-WWII American thinking yields some insights; namely, that although American military spending sharply declined following World War II, when the communist threat was perceived shortly thereafter the U.S. began to take containment seriously. Without further analysis, we can only say that the Allies would follow the same action and attempt to contain Germany, even if it requires conventional efforts. The Cold War went through significant instabilities in the balance of power between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the armament and capabilities ramp-up (for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis). Luckily, since Hitler doesn’t take power in the new
situation until after second-strike counter-value capabilities exist, the time of large instabilities will be avoided during his reign. Even if the Allies tried to contain Germany, and even though Hitler takes power when windows of opportunity no longer exist, would he have settled for a reign with no large-scale war to expand German boarders? My contention is that he was not crazy enough to commit the suicide of launching such a war. First, Hitler thought of himself as a “political thinker and setter of goals, a ‘programmatician,’ as he himself put it;”16 by most counts he was not suicidal. Second, a comparison between Germany and the Soviet Union, both ruled by violent dictators, would suggest that Germany would not invoke a nuclear war. The line of reasoning from induction of nuclear weapons to an output of no nuclear weapons is a long one, and a lot of assumptions were made along the way. Would the Allies make clear statements about their will to deter Germany from expansion? Would the Allies engage in a costly containment strategy? Would Hitler back down even if they did? There are compelling arguments, presented here, which conclude that World War II would have never happened; that the world would have jumped into a Cold War followed by some conclusion which looks like the present day.17
Haffner, The Meaning of Hitler This analysis reminds us that political science is a very hard science, largely because experiments cannot be performed. I am indebted to Stephen Van Evera for this profound scientific idea.
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