Curbing the nuclear peril



March 12, 2022

Noor Israr points out the hazards of nuclear weaponry Curbing the nuclear peril

Curbing the nuclear peril in the Russian-Ukraine war witnessed the Russian leadership alerting its nuclear installations thereby creating a widespread global sensation. Rather tacitly the Russian alert implied a threat of employing nuclear weapons in case it faced a viable NATO threat. Since decades it has been widely held that in the current world nuclear weapon is a paper tiger and is not considered either an offensive or a defensive weapon and the destruction it has the potential to cause may just be unbearable for human race. It is in this backdrop that the Russian nuclear alert was globally condemned and worries were expressed about the intentions of the incumbent Russian leadership particularly its president. This reaction was probably instrumental in the fast disappearance of Russian nuclear alert though the cause of concern remains valid and alive.
It is a matter of record that in the realm of realistic politics amidst intensity of fast evolving global attitudes to power nuclear option lost its relevance after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The frenetic superpower activity during this crisis created a real-time risk and the world became extremely alert about this aspect of war. In addition, its insatiable price tag caused tremours in the souls of the saner but decisive minority managing world affairs which succeeded in preventing its use after its disastrous impact on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fitful period between nuclear race and the long drawn nuclear reduction agreements witnessed widespread scenes of harrowing social awareness inculcated amongst populations of two sworn nuclear enemies, the US and the former USSR.
The memories of massive preventive exercises conducted in America and the Soviet Union compelling their inhabitants to practice hiding in deep-dug bunkers wearing horrible looking gas masks are etched deep in the western psyche. Nuclear weapon soon became a hazardous reminder of the potential annihilation of the human race. Curbing the nuclear peril western world realised the wasteful and dangerous spiral of nuclear arms and embarked upon an intense effort to reduce the level of fear by reducing the causes of fear by devising comprehensive policies addressing almost all spheres of activities of a nation-state with the ultimate aim to obliterate conditions conducive for violent conflict. The leading nuclear powers hammered out a working solution to restrict nuclear arms that stayed intact even after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Curbing the nuclear peril proliferation of nuclear weaponry has remained a hot issue globally and punitive action against proliferators has always been on the cards. The countries engaged in pursuing war-oriented nuclear facilities have been clearly pointed out and some persuaded to abandon their programmes and the others compelled to give them up. Iran is the latest example of the international quest to further nuclear arms reduction regime started more than half a century earlier. This regime is supra-national in intent and is designed to override the contentious sovereign principle a nation-state stubbornly holds on to.
In a recent development vindicating the stance that nuclear weapons are a paper tiger, the Biden administration extended crucial nuclear weapons treaty with Russia for five more years, American new secretary of state announced the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. The agreement is the sole arms control treaty in place between Washington and Moscow following former President Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces or INF treaty. Similar to the INF treaty, New START limits the nuclear arsenals of Washington and Moscow. The United States and Russia own the lion’s share of the world’s nukes. The Russian lower house of Parliament, the Duma ratified a new START nuclear treaty with the US. The extension does not require approval from lawmakers in the US.
The New START was signed in 2010 by former US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. The treaty limits each party to 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers. It also envisions a rigorous inspection regime to verify compliance.
The nuclear race in Europe and America lasted for two decades and then better sense prevailed as détente in the late sixties ushered in efforts to restrict proliferation of nuclear armaments. Unfortunately the dreadful consequences of nuclear weapons are still not fully comprehended by policy makers of Pakistan and India. Pakistan and India have crossed that dreaded threshold as even after almost two decades both countries are unwilling to restrict their quest for nuclear arms. The intellectual pigmyism of their policy makers has refused to lower the ante, irrespective of wasteful expenditure their activities entail and the risks associated with them.
Potentially disturbing is the fact that Pakistan and India openly flaunt their aggressive nuclear doctrines without ever preparing for counter measures such as MERVS or Star Wars. They are least bothered to create awareness of the effects of a nuclear holocaust in their hapless populations. It could mean that either they are convinced of the futility of exercising nuclear option or they are simply callous. If they do not consider nuclear option viable to use then how can they justify the massive costs of pursuing nuclear arms race. Policy makers of both the countries conveniently ignore that their ever growing nuclear arsenals proudly glorified through electronic and print media are a massive drain on their meagre national resources.
The futility of nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent was recently demonstrated by Iran who realised the folly of obtaining this facility on the expense of economic prosperity and international goodwill. Nevertheless, Iran’s withdrawal could also be attributed to other potent factors such as their principle foes, the Arabs, lacking nuclear capability. Iranian policy makers may also have taken into consideration the pragmatism nation-states resort to by aligning with their mortal adversaries in times of need as demonstrated by Saudi-Israeli covert cooperation.
There are indications that a potentially decisive swing in the thought process of international nuclear non-proliferation apparatus may occur in wake of the North Korean attempts to go nuclear. The threatening vibes emanating from Pyongyang were never heard since the early sixties when Khrushchev openly threatened use of nuclear weapons. It was widely expected that the nuclear agreement the western world and Iran has entered into pointed towards ominous change of course with negotiated deals becoming potent source of containing nuclear proliferation but the puerile stance of North Korea has rekindled debates about application of total ban on nuclear weapons.
The debate has challenged the dubious basis of sovereign right of a nation-state forming the basis of self-righteous policy of making itself invincible at any cost. It is now openly questioned whether self-generated sovereign threat perception is a solidly relevant base to go nuclear or to defend expansion of already existing nuclear arsenals. Not only concerns for global security but also the emphasis on alleviating global poverty is gaining currency prodding the world to highlight and take steps to curb wasteful expenditure on one-sided and self-serving security considerations. TW

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Noor Israr has a discerning taste in music and is currently studying development economics at UCF


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