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N-weapons race?

February 11, 2019

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IN today’s chaos-filled world, with crises aplenty, the threat of nuclear war has seemingly receded from the global list of imminent dangers to humanity. However, while one should not be alarmist, as a recent call from the Red Cross, and developments in US-Russia relations indicate, the threat very much exists and may be getting bigger. The Red Cross has called for a total ban on nuclear weapons, saying that states were disregarding their “long-standing nuclear disarmament obligations” and work was afoot to modernise national nuclear arsenals. The Red Cross’s appeal is not without reason; over the past few weeks, the US and Russia have threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated between the Americans and the Soviets at the fag end of the Cold War, while more recently, both sides have said they may not renew the New START treaty, which will expire in 2021. Russian officials claim their US counterparts have refused to negotiate an extension.

While memories may be short, the world should never forget the devastation nuclear weapons have wrought. The brutal use of nukes by the US in Japan during the Second World War stands as perhaps the biggest reminder of the destructive capability of these cruel weapons. Thereafter, the Cold War was full of close calls where rival commanders mistakenly thought the other side was preparing for a nuclear strike. The most perilous moment was of course 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis. However, it was hoped that with the end of the Cold War the threat of nuclear apocalypse had receded. Yet as recent developments have indicated, rash decisions being made by the leaderships of some nuclear states may be pushing the world towards a new arms race. There is also a smug hypocrisy that members of the nuclear club have shown; while they are quick to point the finger at states that have more recently acquired nuclear weapons, they continue to build and update their arsenals. Moreover, states feel threatened when those in their neighbourhood acquire nukes. For example, Pakistan had legitimate concerns about its security when the Indians conducted their nuclear test in the mid-1970s, and it was arguably this threatening move that put this country on the nuclear path to preserve its own security. Also, while the Trump administration has attacked the Iran nuclear deal and accused the Islamic Republic of pursuing a weapons programme, there is a strange silence where Israel’s suspected arsenal is concerned.

Instead of ripping up existing nuclear protocols, the US, Russia and other atomic powers must strengthen arms-reduction efforts and work to eventually rid the world of these abominable devices. Let the leaders of nuclear-armed states show statesmanship and eschew populist rhetoric where nukes are concerned, for using the nuclear card as a gimmick to boost nationalism and domestic popularity will only pave the way for disaster.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019