Noor Israr looks at a horrendous prospect
It was widely believed that the possibility of nuclear war was over after end of the Cold War as the nuclear proliferation became the dominant issue overshadowing the nuclear threat itself. Decades after end of the Cold War the imminent nuclear threat has raised its head again in wake of the Russian war with Ukraine and rather open warnings issued by the embattled Russian leadership.
The Russian leadership has openly declared that their country has considered more lethal means of destruction than their opponents, clearly implying nuclear arsenal along with issuing a chilling reminder that to preserve Russian territorial integrity they would not hesitate to use such weapons.
The Russian leadership accused the Western world of consistently blackmailing Russia and reiterated its determination to calling its bluff by responding in the same coin irrespective of the consequences. This is a terrible threat and should be seriously heeded and efforts should be made to counter such possibility.
Many experts try to dismiss such threats as just mere rhetoric calling them as a bargaining chip pointing out the pressure the Russian leadership experienced after the conflict went wrong. It is also opined that Russia was not expecting the ferocity of Western response and believed that attack on Ukraine would be taken as a local issue between the region without realising that the western alliance was looking for a chance to pounce upon the Russian-Chinese axis after the Cold War that it considers a serious strategic danger to its global interests.
Russian Leadership Imminent Nuclear Threat
On the other hand, many experts point out that Russian leadership threats are in line with Russian nuclear doctrine that envisages that nuclear weapons would be activated in two situations and the first is if Russia itself is attacked by nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and the second is when the existence and survival of the Russian state is at stake. However, there is a major caveat in this doctrine as if territories of an attacked state are annexed and then declared Russian territory such scenarios would have no substance under international law, rendering the doctrine null and void.
Despite loopholes in Russian nuclear doctrine it is widely believed that the possibility is not ruled out that Russia might actually deploy nuclear weapons as Russian leadership is known to be traditionally unpredictable and prone to taking irrational decisions. This is a credible danger as Russia holds more than 6,300 warheads considered world’s largest nuclear stockpile with 5,800 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy the whole world conveniently.
This is a harrowing prospect and with the capability of first use there is just no defence against it as such attack comes with no warning unless some very strong intelligence forewarns about it well in advance but keeping in view the intense secrecy surrounding the Kremlin it is well nigh impossible to happen.
In this condition the risk is certainly potent as despite US’s nuclear umbrella, European countries could not prevent a nuclear attack with military means. The umbrella is based on the assumption that an adversary would not dare to attack NATO countries with nuclear weapons because that aggressor would have to expect a counterattack.
NATO’s Imminent Nuclear Threat Powers
In this context it must be kept in view that NATO’s nuclear powers pursue different concepts of deterrence. France and Britain rely on a so-called minimum deterrent. They do not assume an exchange of nuclear strikes over several days and believe the ability to retaliate or to stop the opponent with a final warning shot to be sufficient.
The US, on the other hand, relies on deterrence that includes nuclear weapons with reduced explosive power — US military planners envisage, at least theoretically, the possibility of limited nuclear war. This kind of retaliation is also extremely lethal as the devastation that it can cause is far worse in even the most horrendous conventional war. Viewed from a legal point of view, almost any use of a nuclear weapon, with the massive impact it has on civilians, violates international humanitarian law.
Theoretically, conceivable exceptions include a limited nuclear attack on a warship at sea. These considerations are however of little value keeping in view the intense polarizing in contesting that are unwilling to go back from their positions and are continuously upping their ante. The situation has little chance of getting diffused as both opponents have exhausted their arguments about the issue.
The current position on the ground is that Germany’s contribution to Europe’s nuclear deterrence involves German Air Force Tornado fighter jets stationed at Buchel air base in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. In an emergency, the jets, with German crews, would fly US nuclear weapons to the target.
At least once a year, the German military pilots train dropping US nuclear bomb dummies. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy also participate in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. Between 100 and 150 comparatively imprecise nuclear gravity bombs certified for Tornado aircraft are reportedly currently stored in Europe. In this context it is observed that the bombs are a relic of a bygone era whose military significance is rather negligible and may require the destruction of enemy air defences before they become effective and without doing so their efficacy is doubtful.
German leadership is fast increasing upgrading of its air fleet and is replacing its aging Tornado bomber jets with US-made F-35 fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This would be huge improvement in German capability to carry American warheads and may very well deter Russian designs. Still regarded as an important political symbol today, nuclear sharing had far greater significance for Germany during the Cold War than it does today.
In the days of the Warsaw Pact, Germany would have been situated at the heart of the battle in the event of an armed conflict with NATO. Nuclear sharing opened up the possibility for the German government in Bonn to exert at least limited influence on the alliance’s nuclear strategy.
American Leadership Imminent Nuclear Threat
In any case the buck stops at the American leadership that would be required to decide on the use of the US nuclear weapons stored in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It would authorise the release of the bombs and the country where they are deployed would have to agree to the bombs being dropped by its own fighter jets. Before such a deployment, the other NATO allies would presumably consult in the North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s principal political decision-making body.
The deployment of the French nuclear force is decided solely by the French president and the British prime minister makes the decision for the UK. The three decision-making centers for nuclear weapons are considered an element of deterrence, as they make it difficult for an opponent to calculate how NATO would react in the event of an attack. The ultimate fact is that Russian military doctrine as its threats forms part of a political function.
It should also be kept in view that since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the Russian president has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons. This may mean so-called tactical nuclear weapons with relatively low explosive power. This could be scaled down so that a nuclear strike would unleash about one-fiftieth of the explosive power of a bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and this threat is required to be taken seriously. The Weekender