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The One-Person Monopoly of Nuclear Launches

European Leadership Network. Tarja Cronberg |Former Member of the European Parliament, Distinguished Associate Fellow at SIPRI and Member of the Executive Board of the European Leadership Network 12 Jan 23

The international discussion on nuclear weapons, during the war in Ukraine, has focused on one question: Will Putin use nuclear weapons? The thought that nuclear weapons might be used in the Ukraine war, is no longer an abstract fear. A nuclear war may be closer than ever. In this new reality there is a risk seldom talked about, but which is built into our command and control systems: one person is able to decide the fate of the earth. The fundamental question for the nuclear order is not about whether or not Putin, or any other president or dictator, might rely on nuclear weapons as the last choice. The question to be posed is: Do we really want to maintain a nuclear order, where one person is formally able to decide the fate of us all?

The international discussion on nuclear weapons, during the war in Ukraine, has focused on one question: Will Putin use nuclear weapons? The thought that nuclear weapons might be used in the Ukraine war, is no longer an abstract fear. A nuclear war may be closer than ever. In this new reality there is a risk seldom talked about, but which is built into our command and control systems: one person is able to decide the fate of the earth. The fundamental question for the nuclear order is not about whether or not Putin, or any other president or dictator, might rely on nuclear weapons as the last choice. The question to be posed is:

Do we really want to maintain a nuclear order, where one person is formally able to decide the fate of us all? Tarja Cronberg

Traditionally there has been a nuclear “taboo”: nuclear weapons could be threatened but not used.  They were only for deterrence, to prevent a nuclear attack, not to be used to win a war. The famous Reagan-Gorbachev statement made clear that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. There was also empirical evidence. The weapons have not been used after Hiroshima, although there were over 70,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It is easy to argue that nuclear deterrence has guaranteed peace and prosperity for more than 70 years. Nevertheless, there was always a small exception to this near-total trust in deterrence…………………………………………………

The situation leaves the world in a dangerous place. The Gaddafis and the Husseins could be destroyed by military interventions and regime change before any catastrophe occurred. This is not the case for the Trumps and the Putins. As leaders of the world´s superpowers there is no external power able to intervene, although there may have been plans to kill Putin. The nuclear superpower leaders are more or less democratically elected and their removal will take place according to the laws and politics of the superpower in question. Where does this leave us?…………………………….

Without any solid management system to avoid a nuclear catastrophe, world survival is in the hands of the leaders of its superpowers. Although the decision- making process may involve consultations, the decision is ultimately, even in the case of Russia today, in the hands of one person. Today, given that the world is threatened by a nuclear war, there should be a serious discussion on how the risks of this “one-person nuclear command” could be avoided or at least minimised. The discussion could take at least three different directions…………..

there is an urgent need for a stronger international institutional responsibility for the governance of national decisions on nuclear threats and use. Firstly, there is a need for an international transparency survey on how the nuclear weapon states have defined their first-or second strike launch responsibility. A second phase would seek to establish some international guidelines for national procedures in order to avoid ad hoc, illegal measures in a concrete crisis. So far we have been lucky, but ”luck is not a strategy” as was so ably pointed out by the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the 2022 NPT Review Conference.  https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/commentary/the-one-person-monopoly-of-nuclear-launches/

January 12, 2023 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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