The world faces “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War” and “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”, said UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres earlier this month during the opening ceremony of the 10th Review Conference of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ratified in 1970. Guterres’ warning should serve as a wake-up call against the potential nuclear catastrophe on the horizons of Earth.
However, the growing nuclear threat failed to inspire meaningful discourse. The subject of nuclear policy and the question of the necessity of nuclear weapons in modern times are almost non-existent in global mainstream media and the public debate. Perhaps, the international leadership is yet to acknowledge the intensity of the menace. Nuclear weapons pose a grave threat to the future of humanity — even worse than climate change — as the former is unpredictable and a cause of immediate concern. Though the global leadership has been pushing for greater efforts to wrestle with climate change, no consistent campaign could have evolved to address the looming nuclear threat. Over seven and half decades of living under nuclear shadow have developed a sense of nuclear fatalism in the global psyche. The global complacency about nukes is tantamount to an implicit call for a nuclear holocaust.
The disregard for nuclear commitments and an increasing nuclear stockpile reflect growing global passivity. With the current nuclear stockpile standing at around 13000, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has projected a considerable growth in the number of nuclear bombs in the years to come. In his assessment, UK security adviser Stephen Lovegrove said the nuclear threat is higher today than it was during the cold war, warning that a breakdown of dialogue among the rival powers could trigger a nuclear war in Eurasia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s warning of a nuclear attack on NATO has put the world in imminent danger. The ongoing escalation in the Taiwan Strait is fraught with risks of nuclear misadventures. Multiple powder kegs exist today with nuclear weapons on standby on hair triggers. Pakistan-India, US-China, US-Russia-NATO, Iran-Israel-US, North Korea-South Korea-US are potential nuclear flashpoints today. A minor mistake, misconception, or a technical glitch is enough to ignite the cascade of a nuclear inferno.
Moreover, the growth of rogue states, failed states and non-state actors adds to the nuclear threats. The unchecked proliferation of nuclear-grade fissile material and the nuclear ambitions of a growing number of states compound the risk. All the pledges of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control desperately failed. Interests and biased stances of major world powers, the US being in the forefront, weakened the international nuclear control regimes.
Though the assertions of the proponents of nuclear weapons as a source of stability might be grounded in logic or custom, we should not forget that the environment for nuclear wars thrives in anarchy — a realm far beyond the international cannons and conventions of warfare. As the times have been fast-changing, so do the context, composition and behaviour of the international actors. In an international anarchic environment where fundamental human rights face serious blows, even in the small-scale conflicts of predictable nature, expecting belligerent countries or rogue elements to display considerate cautious in highly charged security domains is nothing more than an eyewash.
It is high time to forge a renewed front against the existential threat facing the Earth today. De-escalation combined with implementing disarmament, denuclearisation and arms control regimes would be giant leaps. The global civil society, international media, human rights watchdogs, authors and the public need to push national and international leadership for a nuclear-free world. Only pragmatism and sanity would help undo the impending nuclear Armageddon against the humanity today.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2022.
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