With world peace in constant danger it depending on how one views nuclear weapons and their influence as to how the world is perceived in present time.
This series of posts is an attempt to bring that perception into to focus.
Historians of the cold war have shown that mistakes and miscalculation have brought the world closer to accidental nuclear warfare more often than is commonly realized.
Some involved computer malfunctions that led either the US or the USSR to believe that they were under nuclear attack. Individual decision making, often in disobedience of protocol and political guidance, has on several occasions saved the day.
When one looks at the trends of nuclear weapons, the world population needs to be getting more concerned as they are getting smaller and smaller. It is a very scary idea that a drone could be equipped with a nuclear war head. Life, as we know it could completely be eliminated by some freak that used to play war games.
We can blame the United States and Russia for the trend of nations wanting as many “nukes” as possible.
Now it not my wish here to lay blame or to write pages and pages of history as to why Russia is to day one of the big bears when it comes to Nuclear Weapons. So I am only going to provide a simplistic and patchy outline of its status which it inherited as the legal successor of the Soviet Union.
However I can hear many of you saying that if Japan had nuclear weapons in World War II, Truman would have thought twice when sanctioning a the nuclear bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that shortened the time expected for the war in the Pacific to end and thus saving thousands of lives. It was however at the expense of introducing the world to the horrors of radiation.
In retrospect this might scenario in terms of world security might have been good. Knowing that if your nation launched missiles on a nuclear state, retaliation would be deadly. The exact scenario that exist to day but sadly, we are now be returning to an era in which the threat of nuclear warfare can no longer be treated as the stuff of science fiction or hypothetical scenario’s.
Let’s look at Russia the world’s second nuclear weapon state.
As the World War II came to an end the three big powers led by Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin met in Yalta to compromise on a treaty.
Roosevelt failed to realize that Stalin wanted revenge and was going to create a buffer around its land to protect future invasions by Germany. This allowed the Russians to expend and become more powerful resulting in the Cold War/Iron curtain and the beginnings of the Soviet nuclear weapons program.
Some scientists working on the Manhattan Project, such as Klaus Fuchs, provided a steady stream of information to the Soviets that included a blueprint for the Fat Man implosion device dropped on Nagasaki. After the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, Stalin became convinced of the atomic bomb’s strategic importance and ordered a crash development program.
On the 29 August 1949 it tested its first device named RDS-1 at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. It was meant to convey a political message that the Soviet Union had arrived on the atomic scene.
Following Stalin’s death in 1953- the military assumed responsibility for the Soviet weapons program. Subsequent Soviet leaders would increasingly view military strategy and international relations through the prism of nuclear weapons.
Under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet nuclear weapons were increasingly used as a tool for the pursuit of military and diplomatic strategies.
In 1956 Moscow issued veiled nuclear threats to France and the United Kingdom during the Suez Crisis, and a continuation of this strategy – coupled with a perception of U.S. weakness following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion – led to the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union deployed medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba.
After the fall of communism there was one remaining element of uncertainty related to future U.S. policy on nuclear weapons: if the United States proceeded with the development of a new, more ‘usable’ nuclear weapon and especially if it resumed nuclear testing …, then Moscow’s nuclear arsenal will continue to play a significant role in the country’s security for the foreseeable future.
Today it is one of five recognized nuclear weapon states under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, was a nuclear disarmament treaty between the U.S. and Russia that was signed by Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin on 24 May 2002.
According to SORT, each party would reduce the number of its deployed strategic nuclear weapons arsenal to a quantity between 1,700-2,200 by the end of 2012.
On 5 December 2009, Russia and the United States began negotiations on a follow-on treaty that was signed in April 2010. The agreement, named the “New START Treaty,” limits each side to 1,550 warheads, and 800 deployed and non-deployed strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (of which a maximum of 700 can be deployed). After heated debate, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 22 December 2010, with the Russian Duma following suit on 25 January 2011.
All steps in the right direction but the world’s nuclear arsenals were not abolished after the cold war.
To day Russia possesses approximately 536 strategic delivery platforms capable of carrying 2, 300 nuclear warheads, and has deployed new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and new strategic nuclear submarines with associated ballistic missiles.
Recent Russian military doctrine those not assign any specific missions to nuclear weapons and those not define any threats to which nuclear weapons are supposed to respond to but it has formally dropped the Soviet Union’s no-first-use policy.
As a result NATO staged a military exercise that acted out a western nuclear strike on the USSR. Operation Able Archer was so thorough and so realistic that many in Moscow interpreted it as preparation for a NATO first-strike. In response, the Russians readied their own nuclear weapons. It appears that intelligence services alerted the west to how Able Archer was being seen in Moscow, allowing for de-escalation.
Nuclear weapons do not exist in isolation.
As long as NATO’s nuclear capabilities exists so will Russian nuclear weapons. The Alliance must now consider ways in which it can reach a practical consensus over its nuclear policy, with a greater understanding of the current security environment in which it must operate.
The call for disarmament is becoming ever clearer.
Here is what a Russian Nuclear Missile can do on its way to a target.
The missile above is designed to be immune to any current or planned U.S. missile defense system [note the special emphasis on U.S.]. It is capable of making evasive maneuvers to avoid a kill by terminal phase interceptors, and carries targeting countermeasures and decoys. It is shielded against radiation, EMP, nuclear explosions at distances over 500 meters [that’s very close], and is designed to survive a hit from any laser technology. One of the Topol-M’s most notable features is its short engine burn time following take-off, intended to minimize satellite detection of launches and thereby complicate both early warning and interception by missile defense systems during boost phase. The missile also has a relatively flat ballistic trajectory, complicating defense acquisition and interception.
Whether nuclear weapons play any role in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and, at the request of FRS, a counter-factual question, to wit, “What if Ukraine had kept Soviet nuclear weapons?” remains unanswered.
I would say that the Russian annexation of Crimea has unfrozen 19th Century animosity, ethnic conflict and modern Russian reinterpretations of its Soviet and post-Soviet past. Russia has way too much invested in Crimea to allow the Europeanization of Ukraine to spread to Crimea.
Ukraine is more likely to join NATO than to ever try to obtain nuclear weapons of its own. If the Ukraine somehow did have nuclear weapons, including some or all of the forces it inherited and all the warheads on them, what course would Russian revanchism in Crimea, or otherwise, have taken?
With Ukraine’s status as the world’s third largest nuclear weapons state I am becoming a little less secure in my belief that nukes will never be used. For my generation, the very idea of nuclear warfare seems like something from science-fiction or even dark comedy, such as Dr Strange love.
We all know that the world has not become safer in recent years, but it has undoubtedly become more complicated. Threats to sustainable development are increasingly diverse. Trouble zones prone to violence outbreaks and social tensions are multiplying, and the system of international law is losing ground.
Unless we all go to zero nukes; then at least we’ll all be equal in that respect.
Unfortunately, too many strategists assume they can conduct limited strikes and keep them limited.
There is no such thing as making a “limited nuclear war” calculations all nations should assume “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Use it or lose it” would be the philosophy until most of the planets’ 20,000 odd nuclear weapons are exhausted. Such a globally destructive war with such pervasive weapons ranks with asteroid impact, a hostile technological singularity, and catastrophic climate change as an “extinction-level event”.
Effectively civilization would be ended.
Gone are the days that such a war could only be triggered by a direct military showdown between the two major nuclear powers.
Such a war could start through a reaction to terrorist attacks, or through the need to protect against overwhelming military opposition, or through the use of small battle field tactical nuclear weapons meant to destroy hardened targets.
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…
…Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
Those were the words of Robert Oppenheimer in 1945 after Trinity atomic bomb test – the first ever nuclear test.