Open thread: the global nuclear arms race


in Bombs and rockets, Politics, Security

There are several reasons to conclude that the world today is experiencing a nuclear arms race alongside conventional military buildup by many actors and a breakdown of multilateral cooperation.

Partly driven by US ballistic missile defence development, Russia began deploying weapon systems meant to counter them like the Topol-M in the 1990s. Now they are talking about hypersonic weapons and underwater cruise missiles.

China’s nuclear arsenal is developing, including through a rapidly enlarging submarine fleet with the resulting ability to carry out very rapid sub-to-shore SLBM strikes as well as less vulnerability to having land-based weapons and command systems destroyed.

India and Pakistan are also developing their nuclear capabilities, which may be the most threatening in the world because of the short flight times between the countries. Fear that a preemptive strike may destroy their ability to retaliate may be driving both countries to adopt dangerous policies to launch on what they perceive to be an attack and to delegate authority to use nuclear weapons to field commanders.

In the broadest terms, the US development of nuclear weapons in WWII encouraged Soviet weapon development (partly through extensive espionage in the US program) as well as British nuclear weapons after the US cut off cooperation. UK-French rivalry, national prestige, and skepticism about US protection helped motivate the French arsenal and their first test in 1960. Fear of Russia and the US led to Chinese nuclear weapons after 1964, and fear of the Chinese arsenal helped drive India to develop nuclear weapons and test one in 1974. Fear of India led to the current Pakistani arsenal and their test in 1998. North Korean nuclear weapons are partly consequences of fear of the United States, and also the hope they will bolster regime legitimacy and survival. The Israeli arsenal isn’t known to have been tested, and may have been motivated more by fear of being overwhelmed by conventional forces from hostile neighbours than specifically from fear of someone else’s nuclear weapons.

Despite being bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to do so, all of the long-established nuclear powers have been tempted by geopolitics or profits to share technologies and expertise that helped later nuclear weapon states.

There is now a credible fear that regional nuclear arms races could break out in the Middle East and Asia. There are whispers that Pakistan has promised weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran ever becomes a nuclear weapon state, and other states in the region may choose the same course. In Asia, South Korea and even Japan may be secretly considering nuclearization, and many other states in the region have the wealth and technical potential to do likewise.

These weapons threaten everyone, not least because accidental or unauthorized launches or detonations are a constant risk. The best thing for the world would be the emergence of a belief that possessing nuclear weapons is a stain on a country’s honour because of their indiscriminately killing power, not a golden demonstration of national prestige. I believe we should fight for a world where these fissile isotopes are put to life-affirming purposes rather than the threat of obliteration, but it’s hard to see the path from here to there while states continue to grow more distrustful about one another and while the capabilities needed to build nuclear arms become more distributed and available.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 28, 2020 at 11:45 am
. January 28, 2020 at 2:23 pm
. January 30, 2020 at 2:03 pm

If anyone is shopping for an aircraft carrier, this is a boom year. Aside from the powerful fleet of American Nimitz-class super carriers, and their smaller fleet of nine “amphibious ready group” carriers that carry both helicopters and F-35 fighters, the Chinese are building a third carrier, the Japanese have two (which they call helicopter carriers but which will carry F-35B naval strike fighters in addition to helicopters), the British have completed two 65,000-ton behemoths, one of which is already undergoing sea trials, the Indians are about to put their first domestically made carrier into service, Russia is planning a second carrier (in addition to their obsolete Admiral Gorshkov) and the French continue to operate their older carrier, the Charles de Gaulle.

. February 4, 2020 at 11:33 am

US military deploys new type of nuclear weapon seen as key to countering Russia

Washington (CNN)The US military deployed a new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear weapon, something the Pentagon sees as critical to countering the threat posed by Russia’s arsenal of smaller tactical nukes.

Several former high-ranking administration officials, however, have said the weapons increase the potential for nuclear conflict.

“The US Navy has fielded the W76-2 low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead,” John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in a statement Tuesday.

The new nuclear weapon is a modification of the pre-existing W-76 warhead, which is used to arm submarine launched Trident II (D-5) missiles, so the new weapon does not add to the total number of nuclear weapons in the US stockpile.

The new warheads, the first new US nuclear weapon in decades, were first produced in February of last year.

. February 19, 2020 at 5:11 pm

The Senseless Danger of the Military’s New “Low-Yield” Nuclear Warhead

The weapon’s smaller destructive power does not mean a smaller risk of catastrophe.

. May 22, 2020 at 2:06 pm

Arms control experts concerned by Saudi nuclear reactor push | News | Al Jazeera

. June 19, 2020 at 9:12 pm

In a recent report by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, David Santoro, Alexey Arbatov and Tong Zhao, experts from America, Russia and China respectively, suggest ways of breaking the impasse. Mr Zhao, who is a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, says a three-way deal could start with a cap on intermediate-range missiles, where China’s advantage in land-based rockets is offset by America’s edge in air-launched ones. Or it could cover all delivery systems (ground launchers, submarine tubes and bombers) with a reach longer than 500km. All three countries possess these in roughly equal numbers, unlike warheads, of which America and Russia have many more.

One incentive for China to agree to negotiate is the risk that, if it does not, New start will unravel. Mr Zhao says this would not only end limits to the American arsenal but also shroud it in secrecy. Each of the three countries might then base its actions on worst-case estimates of the others’ forces. That could drag China into a nuclear-arms race with the other two, says Mr Zhao—an economic burden that would be keenly felt by China as its economy slows.

. July 2, 2020 at 1:20 am

With the cancellation of the Aegis Ashore plan, the adoption of a preemptive strike doctrine has resurfaced in Japan’s missile defense debates. Japan had already announced its own plan to develop hypersonic cruise missiles and hyper velocity gliding projectile weapons that would back a shift into a more preemptive strategic doctrine. Limiting the use of new preemptive strike capabilities to solely Japan’s territorial defense will not be possible for a simple reason: The target destinations of potentially hostile missiles that are still on the ground cannot be determined

Missile defense in Japan after the Aegis Ashore cancellation | The Japan Times

. July 14, 2020 at 4:17 pm
. July 18, 2020 at 7:53 pm

‘National pride is at stake.’ Russia, China, United States race to build hypersonic weapons | Science | AAAS

. August 2, 2020 at 5:50 am

UK lobbies US to support controversial new nuclear warheads | Nuclear weapons | The Guardian

. August 5, 2020 at 5:42 am

UN report warns against N Korea’s ‘miniaturised’ nuclear devices

. August 6, 2020 at 6:55 pm

U.S. Examines Whether Saudi Nuclear Program Could Lead to Bomb Effort – The New York Times

. August 12, 2020 at 6:58 pm

South Korea is building its first aircraft carrier … complete with US-made F-35B fighter jets – CNN

. September 16, 2020 at 11:54 pm

US plans big expansion of navy fleet to challenge growing Chinese sea power

Defence secretary promises future fleet including unmanned ships that will focus on Indo-Pacific region

. September 18, 2020 at 5:24 pm
. October 1, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Trump plans nuclear arms race with Russia for his second term.

. October 6, 2020 at 11:10 pm

Trump administration orders assessment on bolstering nuclear warheads as talks with Russia stall – POLITICO

. October 20, 2020 at 6:48 pm

Nuclear arms treaty: Hopes rise for breakthrough on US-Russia deal – BBC News

. October 24, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Pentagon estimates cost of new nuclear missiles at $95.8B

The Pentagon has raised to $95.8 billion the estimated cost of fielding a new fleet of land-based nuclear missiles to replace the Minuteman 3 arsenal that has operated continuously for 50 years

. October 24, 2020 at 5:38 pm

US urges countries to withdraw from UN nuke ban treaty
October 21, 2020

. November 8, 2020 at 10:35 pm

Grossi predicts a dozen new nuclear countries by 2030

A “solid group” of 10-12 countries building nuclear power plants for the first time will emerge in the next decade, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director General William Magwood in a WebChat last week.

. November 18, 2020 at 1:09 am

Saudi minister says nuclear armament against Iran ‘an option’ | Middle East | Al Jazeera

. November 22, 2020 at 4:23 pm

US formally withdraws from Open Skies Treaty that bolstered European security – CNNPolitics

. November 26, 2020 at 12:22 am

China’s H-20 stealth bomber will give PLA ‘truly intercontinental’ strike capacity, says report | South China Morning Post

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