Nuclear War: Assessing its evolution throughout history
The winners of history want to show that nuclear warfare has come to an end since the Cold War. They say: Gone were the days when the nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear weapons between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. And they say: that during the Cold War, in addition to the American and Soviet nuclear stockpiles, other countries also developed nuclear weapons, though none engaged in warhead production on the same size as the two superpowers. And they say: with the end of the Cold War, the United States, especially Russia, cut down on nuclear weapons spending. Fewer new systems were developed and both arsenals have shrunk.
This paper would underpin the idea that the world is in far more danger now due to threat of nuclear war primarily observed in the evolution and development of weapons of mass destruction. The ongoing differences between and among states and the never-ending disagreement of states as to who possess much power and strength when in comes to arms and weapons as reasons why there is a looming threat of nuclear war.
In chronological order, let us take a look at the Nuclear Treaties and Agreements, and find out whether or not the threat of nuclear war had indeed changed since the Cold War. . A period of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union is what comes into mind when called war is talked about. This conflict involved the two giant superpowers of that time including their allies. This happened mid-1940s up to 1990s. The term cold war is used to depict the tension between these two superpowers in the absence of actual military conflict.
In 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was agreed upon by USSR, US, and UK, which prevented nuclear testing above ground, underwater, and in outer space. But it did allow testing to occur underground as long as the radioactive fallout is not widespread (Peace Action, no date). A total of 116 countries have signed this, and China, who had not signed, did testing in 1992 that violated the treaty’s guidelines. The Outer Space Treaty was agreed upon between the USSR, US and the UK in 1967, which banned the placing of weapons of mass destruction in orbit, on the moon, or in any other location in outer space for military purposes. A milestone treaty was that of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. This treaty was agreed upon by the USSR, US, UK and 133 non-nuclear weapon countries which prevented the spread of nuclear weapons; thus, making sure that non-nuclear-weapon countries did not start weapons production (http://www.peace-action.org/camp/nukes/nukes.html). This treaty was made permanent in 1995.
In 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I ABM treaty, which was a treaty between the US and USSR had for its purpose the limiting of anti-ballistic missile systems to a maximum of 100 ABMS launchers and missiles. It also prohibited the testing and application of these components. Later on that same year, Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I Interim Agreement was agreed upon between the US and USSR, where the construction of more ICBM silos was restricted, but SLBM launcher amounts could increase if there was a reduction in ICBM or SLBM. In 1979, and agreement between the US and USSR in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II, put a limit on offensive weapons systems and strategic systems. The US however voided the treaty in 1986.
Then, in 1987, a treaty between the US and USSR which was called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), banned all intermediate range missiles (IRMs), short range missiles, and all associated facilities and equipment. On-site inspection is used to make sure that both countries are following the treaty (fcnl- nuclear issues, no date).
In 1991 came the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This was an agreement between the US and USSR which limited the number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to 1,600. It also limited the number of warheads per country to 6,000; this treaty reduced the U.S.’s and Soviet’s warheads by 15% and 25% respectively. 1993 paved the way to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II. This treaty is an agreement between the US and Russia which will further reduce the number of warheads by 5,000. Both sides must reduce their warheads by this amount by December 4, 2001. And in 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was an agreement signed by the US, CIS, UK, and 90 other countries which banned all nuclear tests above and below the Earth’s surface. A worldwide monitoring system including 170 seismic stations checked for any signs of nuclear explosion. India was the only nuclear country that didn’t sign; it has conducted five nuclear tests recently.
The US and Russia have made considerable progress in arms control through the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, process. Under START I, both countries have agreed to reduce their strategic arsenals to 6,000. START II would require both the US and Russia to further reduce their strategic arsenals to 3,500 warheads. While both the Russian Duma and the US Senate have ratified START II, the treaty has not yet entered into force. President Bush has expressed interest in nuclear weapons reductions, but seems to have abandoned the treaty process – a process that has made progress toward the reduction of nuclear danger for over 40 years. The current economic situation in Russia has caused security of their nuclear forces to deteriorate. To ensure that Russia’s weapons are not lost or stolen the international arms control process must continue. One of the few good steps toward halting new nuclear weapons development is for the US to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT is an international agreement that would establish a permanent ban on nuclear weapons testing. The CTBT would make it much harder for non-nuclear weapons states to develop nuclear weapons. Regrettably, the US Senate failed to ratify the CTBT in October 1999 and current prospects for CTBT ratification look dim (fcnl- nuclear issues, no date). But the danger remains. Countries still maintain stocks of nuclear missiles numbering in the thousands. It’s been over a decade since the end of the Cold War. However, the US and Russia have yet to significantly change their nuclear postures. Both countries have weapons still on “hair-trigger alert” – leaders have mere minutes to decide whether to launch an attack. A false alarm or computer glitch could result in accidental nuclear war (Ray, 1995).
After the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union the geo-politics of the world have altered vastly. The United States became the only mega-power state in the world. Rather than leading to a reduction on spending weapons of mass destruction, the period since the ending of the Cold War, spending on arms has grown to unprecedented levels (Kreiger, 2005). This has been accompanied by the problem of nuclear proliferation, where capitalist elites with regional imperialist interests in states such as India, Pakistan and Israel also possess nuclear weapons. Others countries such as Britain, China, France, Iraq, and North Korea were also seeking to develop them. The race to nuclear arms compounds the dangerous tensions and the possible threat of nuclear strike (Lloyd, 1982).
Since large nuclear arsenals were created to wage the intimidation battles of the Cold War, many people assumed that as the Cold War withered away, so did the threat of nuclear war. Tragically, this was not the case. Although the likelihood of a nuclear war between superpowers has diminished over the past ten years, the nuclear threat remains. Some experts are even arguing that the threat of a nuclear attack may in fact be greater today than during the Cold War. Although the threat of a nuclear attack from Russia has greatly decreased, the U.S. and Russia still court nuclear disaster. Both states each still have about 2,500 nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert. This means that both countries have nuclear weapons that are ready to fire thousands of warheads in as little as three minutes.
The continued deterioration of Russia’s radar and early warning systems is of great concern. The poor conditions of Russian facilities, substandard training and pay, and low morale of personnel increases the likelihood of mistakes. The security of the United States-and the world-now rests with an increasingly fragile and vulnerable Russian nuclear infrastructure. Nuclear proliferation, or the spread of nuclear weapons, is one of the greatest threats in the world. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), every country does have a right to nuclear development for peaceful purposes (i.e. nuclear energy). The fear is that countries may use this as a guise for weapons development. There are eight countries known to possess nuclear weapons. In order of their acquisition of nuclear arms, they are, the United States (1945), Russia (1949), the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), China (1964), Israel (1967), India (1974), and Pakistan (1989). Additionally, some analysts believe that North Korea may possess one or two nuclear warheads. The NPT is seen by some critics as a means for the five nuclear powers at that time to retain their weapons while telling others not to develop them, and thus allow these five to remain militarily more powerful than other nations. This is feared to then provide a pretext for other countries to develop their own nuclear weapons.
There are political barriers to proliferation. Ultimately, a state with nuclear aspirations must look at the advantages and consequences that come from attaining nuclear weapons and make a choice. The global nonproliferation regime serves as a significant political barrier to proliferation. This regime is a network of interlocking treaties, organizations, and multilateral inspections designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. The most important nonproliferation instrument today is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970. Stated simply, the NPT was designed to hold the number of nuclear weapons states at five, while negotiations were, at an unspecified future date, conducted to secure the abolition of all nuclear weapons. Incentives were given to non-nuclear states, such as security guarantees and the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, to gain universal acceptance.
The technical and political barriers to proliferation are being undermined (Ray, 1995). The spread of information, knowledge, and technical capacity is making it much easier for a state to build a nuclear weapon than in the past. It is also becoming easier to obtain fissile material. The world’s nuclear arsenals contain some 30,000 assembled nuclear weapons and enough separated plutonium and HEU to make nearly 250,000 nuclear weapons. The collapse of the Soviet Union left tens of thousands of nuclear weapons-and the material for tens of thousands more weapons-in poorly guarded facilities. In addition to the Russian arsenal there are unsecured nuclear materials located at hundreds of sites throughout the world. Many of the worlds 130 HEU-fueled research reactors have inadequate security. At some locations “security” entails no more defense than a chain link fence.
While the major nuclear powers have agreed to eliminate their nuclear arsenal at a UN review of the NPT, it remains to be seen how much of that will be rhetoric and how much real political will there will be to follow it through. Almost five years after writing the above paragraph, it would seem that much talk has been rhetoric. David Kreiger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, notes some additional grim developments: “At the center of the nonproliferation regime is the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)…. this treaty is based upon an important tradeoff. The non-nuclear-weapons states agree not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapons states agree to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.” Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons states, and particularly the United States, seem to have made virtually zero progress in the past five years. Despite its pledges to do otherwise, the United States has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; opposed a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty; substituted the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which is fully reversible, for the START treaties; scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, opening the door for deployment of missile defenses and moves toward placing weapons in outer space; kept nuclear weapons at the center of its security policies, including research to create new nuclear weapons; and demonstrated no political will toward the elimination of its nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear weapons states are not living up to their nonproliferation obligations. Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty states that “all countries agree to pursue negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and to achieve nuclear disarmament under international control.” After more than 30 years under the NPT, the nuclear weapons states have exhibited little interest in achieving “nuclear disarmament under international control.” If the nuclear weapons states continue to violate their obligations, the bargain put forth in the NPT will fall apart (Lloyd, 1982). For the global community to effectively address the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states must understand that continued possession of nuclear weapons is linked to proliferation. Unless the nuclear weapons states, including the U.S., realize this, the political barriers to proliferation will continue to erode.
Now, the question that ought to be posed is not whether or not “there was any change at all of the threat of nuclear was since the Cold War?” But the better question is: “are our concern inevitably leads to a better change for mankind?” in effect, does concern for threat of nuclear war is with respect to mankind’s well-being, or are we simply afraid other states are building their own weapons and arsenals that they might become more stronger and better?
Several times in the last few years, the potential catastrophe of a nuclear strike has been a real possibility. Take a look at what happened in the Pakistan-India conflict, the threat by Israel to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, and the more recent threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The threat of a nuclear conflict has also been high lightened by the ongoing tensions between North Korea and the Bush administration. The truth is, after the Cold War, the production of nuclear weapons has changed from competition into profit-making. So that when the driving force behind the arms industry is inevitably profits and the spreading of ‘neo-liberal policies’ around the globe, considerations of the safety and well-being of populations becomes a secondary matter – for hasty negotiations rather than long-term planning (Young, 2000)
The countries known as the Superpowers, mainly United States, Britain, are not fussy about what kind of regime they supply arms to, as long as it is one which does not immediately threaten its economic interests. But the fact is, even for the most unbalanced regimes, using nuclear weapons would be a desperate last resort. Not least but the use of such weapons would destroy the working class and its productive capacity – the very source of the profits and privileges of the ruling classes. Moreover, the use of ‘battlefield tactical nuclear weapons’, resulting in massive casualties, would provoke worldwide mass protests, threatening to bring down any government implicated in their use. Nonetheless, on the basis of capitalism and continued conflicts between increasingly unstable capitalist elites over spheres of influence across the world, the possibility of a nuclear strike will still exist (Clair, 1994).
A U.S. President once said after the cold war has ended six years ago, “In this new world, our children are growing up free from the shadows of the cold war and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, said a report, the President is not telling the truth. The threat of nuclear war continues to worsen, according to recent reports in credible journals. Clair James, the author of The Nightmare Considered: Critical Essays on Nuclear War and Literature, and: Knowing Nukes: The Politics and Culture of the Atom, and: Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word, wrote that “while some governments may have disappeared or the rulers changed, nuclear weapons are still with us… It is a testimony to how much our concerns were focused on the politics rather than the technology that there is a general relief of tension around nuclear weapons.” For as long as nuclear weapons are still with us, the threat of nuclear war still does exist.”
The US and Russia, together, have more than 12,000 strategic nuclear weapons. Over 4,000 of these are pointed at each other, ready to be launched and reach their targets in minutes. As recently as 1998, India and Pakistan were initiated into the nuclear “club” by completing nuclear weapons tests. Today, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons still inhabit the world. While the Cold War may have ended, the nuclear threat has not. The only way to ensure that nuclear weapons will never be used is that States should endeavor- whether purposefully, or accidentally – global abolition (Clair, 1994).
The threat of nuclear war is an awesome and frightening thing to contemplate. There are those who argue that nuclear weapons have prevented wars, the price of conflict between major powers being too high. Others have argued that it is only a matter of time before a nuclear war occurs, by design or accident.
James, Clair, The Nightmare Considered: Critical Essays on Nuclear War and Literature, and: Knowing Nukes: The Politics and Culture of the Atom, and: Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust a and the Exploding Word Configurations – Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1994, pp. 367-371
Peter Montague, Growing Threat of Nuclear War, Rachel’s Environment ; Health News #600 May 27, 1998
David Kreiger, Saving the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement, Waging Peace, March 4, 2005
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Young, Oran (2000) System and Society in World Affairs: Implications for International Organizations. New York: Mc Millan