A new nuclear arms race

Atomic bomb explosion
Atomic bomb explosion
Image Credit: James Vaughan/ Flickr/ Creative Commons

CGP-experts discuss why countries around the globe build up or modernize their atomic weapons

News from Mar 25, 2015

Few people talk about it, but several countries around the globe are again spending giant sums of money to either build up or modernize their nuclear weapons arsenals. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, atomic arms seemed to have lost their attraction. Now, countries like Russia, China and the U.S. are developing new attack weapons and ballistic missile defense systems. NATO recently announced that it would rethink its nuclear strategy.
That is why the Center for Global Politics at Freie Universität Berlin asked its experts this week on Global Matters: “Why is it that governments are re-investing in nuclear weapons and capabilities, that are broadly futile for inner-state and asymmetrical conflicts?”

Several countries violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The development seems to be in contradiction to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which commits its members to eliminate their nuclear weapons or to show – at least – good faith to do so. Also, the club of states that possess nuclear weapons, keeps expanding.

That is one of the reasons why, in late January 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved their iconic “doomsday clock” (symbolically telling us how far we are from total destruction) two minutes closer to midnight. It´s now three minutes to midnight. The last time it was so close to apocalypse was in 1983, “when US-Soviet relations were at their iciest point,” as the group of scientists explained in a press statement.

Dmitri Mitin argues for a more unagitated approach

Dmitri Mitin, who teaches at the School of International and Public Affairs at North Carolina State University and also instructs a module on energy flows for the distance-learning master program East European Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, argues for an unagitated approach. He asserts that the number of deployed nuclear weapons has actually declined over the last half a century and that the rate of post-Cold War proliferation of nukes is far below what most experts predicted. Nuclear weapons continue to represent a formidable threat, Mitin says. But, in his view, a “nuclear holocaust stays off my top five problems that should keep us awake at night.”

Alexei Voskressenski, Dean of the School of Political Science at MGIMO University in Moscow, on the other hand, argues the nuclear arms race reflects a generational change within power elites. “The fall of the USSR, the rise of China and the possible rise of India that may happen just in historical seconds gave a false perception that the re-investment in nuclear weapons can add safety and defend against an economic insecurity and a new wave of archaic aggressiveness. In reality they are futile for inner-state or asymmetrical conflicts.”

U.S. foreign policy presses nations to invest in nuclear weapons

Shen Dingli, Professor and Associate Dean at Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, says that states are building up their nuclear weapons arsenals in order to hedge and prepare for the possible worst scenario. He mainly blames US foreign policy for this development. “They are investing both conventional and unconventional means vis-à-vis threats they face, mostly associated with the US meddling. The US preemption against Iraq in the past decade has pressed North Korea and Iran etc. to build up their advanced arsenals as a hedge. The US response to Jasmine Revolution in Syria etc. has not only weakened the local regime, unleashing the ISIL force, but also exerted more pressure on Pyongyang to stick to its nuclear wherewithal”, Dingli writes.

In Russia’s view, he continues, America’s intervention to topple president Yanukovich in Ukraine has undermined Moscow’s peripheral security and warrants more defense modernization on its part. In China’s perspective, the US “rebalance” strategy to defend Japan in Tokyo’s dispute with Beijing over Diaoyu/Senkakus Islands, and America’s strengthening of alliance with Manila and military partnership with Hanoi, in the context of their disputes with China over claims on South China Sea, forces China to further modernize its conventional and nuclear forces.

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