Open thread: the global nuclear arms race

2020-01-28

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.

{ 5 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.

https://nationalpost.com/opinion/david-j-bercuson-why-well-see-more-and-more-carriers-on-the-high-seas

. 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.

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