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‘We are looking at a global arms race now.’

A budding nuclear threat, from more than just the usual suspects, Christian Science Monitor ,By Howard LaFranchi Staff writer,Peter Ford Staff writer, Ann Scott Tyson Staff writer, Fred Weir Correspondent. 15 Mar 19WASHINGTON


As the U.S. and Russia back away from arms control, how worried should the world be? Says an expert in China, which has the world’s largest arsenal of ground-launched missiles: ‘We are looking at a global arms race now.’

………. The recent flare-up of tensions between India and Pakistan has served as a reminder that even conflicts between regional rivals can pose a global threat when the antagonists possess nuclear weapons. A growing alarm has spread across Asia as an increasingly assertive China expands its nuclear arsenal and deploys missiles around its periphery at a pace that has given it the world’s largest ground-launched missile arsenal.

Moreover, the advent of cybersecurity risks and the specter of nuclear powers hacking into and controlling adversaries’ arsenals adds a new element of uncertainty and instability to the already worrisome prospects of a post-arms control world.

Still it’s largely the U.S. and Russia, which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, that are setting the tone. And the two nuclear giants appear to be dismantling, step by step, the arms control regime that has limited their deployment of new weapons systems and indeed had them reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles over recent decades. The risk is not just that the two major nuclear powers get back into an arms race, but that other states respond to rising tensions by joining the buildup. A Japan rattled by a nuclear buildup already has the technology and material to “go nuclear” with a weapon in a matter of months, experts say, while the decades-old specter of a Middle East nuclear arms race has been revived by Trump administration efforts to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia that could be used to build a bomb.

“We’re pulling down the last pillars of the arms control building that has provided us with some degree of security and stability for five decades,” says Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund in Washington and a longtime nuclear policy expert. “If the small and medium states decide to take their cue from the big boys,” he adds, “it’s ‘Gentlemen, start your engines!’ ”

After dropping hints for months, the U.S. announced in February its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which since 1987 has banned the deployment in Europe of all intermediate-range nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. These are considered among the most destabilizing weapons systems because of the short time it takes (average six minutes) from launch to hitting their target.

The U.S. said it was pulling out of the Cold War-era accord over Russian violations. While arms control experts agree that Russia has been violating the treaty for a half-decade, most also say the U.S. withdrawal hands President Vladimir Putin the double-headed political victory he wants – an excuse to free Moscow from the INF Treaty’s limitations while blaming its demise on Washington.

ndeed, Mr. Putin wasted no time in ratcheting up the Cold War “we will bury you” rhetoric. In his Feb. 20 state of the nation address, he told members of the Russian Duma that if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will not only do the same – but will deploy its new Zircon hypersonic missile to target “those regions … where decisions are taken on using those missile systems threatening us” – meaning, of course, the U.S.

More worrying still for many in the arms control community, both in and out of government and among America’s allies, is what follows INF’s demise. A White House that came into office withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal is now debating whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia beyond its expiration in 2021.

If New START – which puts a cap of 1,550 on the long-range nuclear weapons each power can deploy – is also allowed to lapse, it will be the first time since 1972 that the world’s two nuclear-weapons behemoths have no arms control constraints holding them back from a new arms race.

“We have destroyed the old framework of arms control without having anything to replace it with,” says Andrey Kortunov, director of the foreign ministry-linked Russian International Affairs Council. “It’s my hope that big powers will realize that they need arms control, perhaps in a multilateral rather than the old bilateral form, but something that will roll back the most destabilizing weapons and build trust.” ………

The next big test of arms control diplomacy’s flagging fortunes will be New START and whether the U.S. and Russia decide to extend the decade-old treaty or let it die. The provision for a five-year extension of the treaty’s terms is already in the document, so “it would just take Putin and Trump sitting down and signing an agreement,” Mr. Kimball says. “It could be done with a big Sharpie pen. But it does require the will to sign something that is not just in your interest but is in the other side’s as well.”

Beyond agreements between the U.S. and Russia, experts say ways must be found to convince China and other regional powers that nuclear reductions are in their interest as well. Moreover, perhaps the biggest challenge on the horizon will be bringing emerging technologies such as cyber- and space weaponry under the umbrella of international limits and prohibition.

……….. Europe has been the biggest beneficiary of the INF Treaty. It eliminated thousands of nuclear missiles from the continent and helped end the Cold War. Even so, European governments have made remarkably little fuss about the treaty’s imminent demise. …….

March 16, 2019 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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