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The nuclear threats that hang over the world

Even a limited strike in Ukraine would have catastrophic global effects GIDEON RACHMAN, 31 Oct 22,

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” That joint statement was issued at the beginning of this year by China, France, Russia, the UK and the US — the five official nuclear weapons states. The following month, Russia invaded Ukraine. Ever since, world leaders have been grappling with the threat that a nuclear war might indeed be fought — quite soon.

From the outset, Vladimir Putin has described the conflict as existential for Russia and hinted that he might use nuclear weapons to prevail………………………………….

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The US and its allies are focused on preventing Russia from making that fatal step across the nuclear threshold — through a mixture of deterrence and diplomacy. But they are also already thinking hard about the global aftermath of the use of a Russian nuclear weapon. This is unknown territory and the pressure is intense…….

Broadly speaking, there are four main scenarios to consider: nuclear normalisation, nuclear blackmail, avoidance of war, and Armageddon.

It is not hard to see how the use of a Russian nuclear weapon could spiral into an all-out nuclear war — leading to what President Biden himself has termed “Armageddon”. Washington has warned that if Moscow were to use a nuclear weapon, there would be a response with “catastrophic” consequences for Russia.

The Americans have not spelt out in public what that response would be. Many commentators think that it would be military, but non-nuclear. General David Petraeus, a former CIA head, has talked of Nato forces attacking Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine with conventional weapons and sinking the Russian Black Sea fleet……………

But direct western military involvement would probably trigger a further Russian response. The west and Russia might then rapidly move up the “escalation ladder”, making the nightmare of all-out nuclear war distinctly possible. As one US official puts it: “I don’t think anyone should be confident that we can control the escalation risks.”

Because the prospect of escalation to Armageddon is so horrific, there is also a real possibility that even the use of a Russian nuclear weapon would not trigger a direct western military response — with the US instead trying to organise the complete economic and diplomatic isolation of Russia. But that would open the door to another disturbing future: “nuclear normalisation”.

Nuclear weapons would have been shown to be tools that can be used in a war of aggression — not just for deterrence. Russia, and even China, might be tempted to cross the nuclear threshold again. And non-nuclear states — such as Japan, South Korea, Germany and a host of others — would rush to acquire nuclear weapons to protect themselves.

Global turmoil would follow the use of a nuclear weapon. Markets would crash and publics might panic across the world, with the possibility of large-scale population movements out of cities………………………………..

The three darkest scenarios — Armageddon, normalisation and successful nuclear blackmail — are all far more possible than they should be. But, collectively, they remain less likely than the fourth possibility — that nuclear war is avoided. In all previous nuclear crises since 1945, the leaders of great powers have drawn back from the brink. The knowledge that a false move could cause millions of deaths — or even destroy the planet — is enormously sobering. It has kept the world from sliding into nuclear conflict since 1945. It should work again. Probably.

November 1, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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