Are nuclear weapons an effective means of keeping the peace?

We’re in a situation where we cohabit the earth with 30,000 nuclear weapons. Of these, 4400 to 5000 are on alert and can be launched in 15 - 30 minutes. The risk of accidental use due to mechanical or computer failure remains a reality today as does the risk of intentional use due to human error, miscalculation, stress, mismanagement or political errors.

Military leaders speak out for nuclear disarmament:

General Lee Butler, who held responsibility for Strategic Command for US Nuclear Forces, has made these comments on nuclear weapons:

“we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

“...at the heart of the matter, nuclear weapons are the enemy of humanity. Indeed, they’re not weapons at all. They’re some species of biological time bombs whose effects transcend time and space, poisoning the earth and its inhabitants for generations to come.”

Field Marshal Lord Carver, who was the UK’s top military officer, commented in 1996:

“The destructiveness of nuclear weapons is so great, and their use so catastrophic, that they have no military utility against a comparably equipped opponent other than the belief that they deter such an opponent from using his nuclear weapons. Therefore, their elimination would remove that justification for their retention. Their use against a non-nuclear opponent is politically and morally indefensible, as history has shown.”  (Source: AP, Dec. 12, 2001)

Warring certainly hasn’t lessened with the advent of nuclear weapons.  In the period between 1945 and 1992, there were 150 wars with more than 23 million people killed. In recent times, as many as 90% of the victims have been noncombatants.