Nuclear War: Is Our Complacency Misplaced?

By Ganesh Chakravarthi (@crg_takshashila)

The Cold War taught us many things. It compelled nations to judge every action against potential worldwide consequences. Most importantly, it taught us that  nuclear arms should never be taken lightly.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain the whole world breathed a sigh of relief. However, neither the end of the Cold War nor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have stopped nations from developing new nuclear weapon systems. With countries increasing their nuclear arsenals and non-proliferation talks faltering, one has to wonder if a sense of complacency now permeates the global nuclear scenario.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent international institute dedicated to researching conflicts, armaments, arms control and disarmament, conducted research which revealed that there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world and that about 1800 of them are always kept in a state of ‘high operational alert.’ SIPRI further states that all nations with nuclear capabilities are developing new technologies or upgrading their current nuclear weapon systems. This brings forth the question of the relevance that a traditional treaty like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation holds in the current global order.

No nation seems to be heading towards disarmament. The rise of Asian powers, the tensions between India and Pakistan, and China advancing its nuclear arsenal are all pressing concerns. There is also the growing discontent in the Middle East where Israel is already a nuclear power and there are suspicions that Iran is on the road to becoming one.  The situation is only compounded by the fact that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are vying to gain political supremacy in the region, which has resulted a dangerous balance of power in the Middle East.

The Cold War created a bipolar situation between two major superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, potentially pitching their arsenals against one another. This concept of duality has been transplanted on to other players in the game i.e. India-Pakistan, Iran-Israel and so on. The question is, is this bipolar approach still relevant in a post-Cold War era?

The time has now come to not be limited by this bipolar framework and consider analytical models that have more stakeholders. This may be essential considering the threat of a nuclear Armageddon in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent. Although the concept of a ‘world state’ seems far away, there is a pressing need to develop more effective measures for cooperative security to ensure nuclear safety. Disarmament is central to the entire process while security cooperation and arms control are categorical imperatives.

Given the failing non-proliferation talks, the world needs to look at potential new treaties which can take into account emerging nuclear powers as well as offer methods for non-nuclear nations to have a say in the process and potentially take part in the codification of nuclear disarmament norms.

A number of countries across the world have divested landmines and cluster munition producers. A potential road to disarmament could be the adoption of divestment in the production of nuclear weapon components. For instance, the Norwegian and New Zealand Government Pension funds have already implemented such schemes. Additionally, the Swiss War Materials Act has been revised very recently which prohibits the financing of nuclear weapon producers.

The stigmatising of nuclear weapons and the potential release of large financial streams tied to their production could compel several countries to go towards disarmament. All this underlies a democratisation of the disarmament process which has not happened yet.

The Cold War saw the world almost resigning to the inevitability of a nuclear Armageddon. It is up to us now to ensure that the world is not as helpless as it once was.

Ganesh Chakravarthi is the Web Editor at The Takshashila Institution and tweets at (@crg_takshashila)