By Pablo Ruiz*
In the run-up to the impending Conference for Revision of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, due to take place between 29 April and 10 May 2020, at the UN in New York, humanity finds itself in grave danger, ever closer to the brink of nuclear war.
The BBC reported in September 2019 on a simulation carried out by a group of security and nuclear weapons experts from the University of Princeton, USA. The exercise suggested that a scenario of nuclear war between Russia and the US would produce a casualty toll of “34 million dead and over 57 million wounded, in a matter of hours” (See video Plan A)
In January 2020 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of the University of Chicago updated the “Doomsday Clock”, whose hands are symbolically moved forward when the world has moved closer to apocalypse. According to the experts involved, the clock now stands at only 100 seconds to midnight.
The accompanying report claimed that “humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential threats: nuclear war, and climate change”. As far as the nuclear issue is concerned, there are solid indicators that a no-holds-barred arms race is about to begin, which could lead to nuclear war of unimaginable proportions, and possibly even to the end of the world.
By way of example, if the US does not renew its current arms reduction treaty with the Russian Federation – the third Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START III – the final brake on US nuclear ambitions will be removed. This could lead to a frenetic race for supremacy and nuclear hegemony.
The existing treaty binds the two nuclear powers to holding no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads. According to Spain’s e-newspaper La Vanguardia, “the US reached the maximum allowed threshold in August 2017; Russia, in October [of the same year]”.
The Russian Federation has already signalled its willingness to renew the treaty beyond 2021. It also proposed to NATO states a moratorium on the deployment of short and medium range missiles in Europe and other regions.
It is worth recalling that Washington withdrew in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ABM, and later, in 2019, also ceased to be a party to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, INF. The US has to date shown no sign of willingness to renew or extend START III.
Donald Trump did signal, in 2019, that the US would like to incorporate China into START III. The terms offered were, however, completely unacceptable to Beijing, which possesses a nuclear arsenal notably inferior to that of Russia and the US. All signals seem to indicate that the proposal was little more than a pretext to avoid renewal of the treaty – due to expire in February 2021 – while positioning Russia and China to take the blame.
The US is the only country which has deployed this particular type of weapon of mass destruction: in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with consequences of which the entire world is painfully aware. Since then, US production of these weapons has been used as one way of preserving its global predominance, threatening other countries with guaranteed destruction should they fail to obey “Big Brother”, in Orwellian parlance.
Existing treaties for limiting the deployment of nuclear weapons create a legal regime of strategic balance which has presented an obstacle to US ambition to develop much more aggressive plans. On the eve of the aforementioned Conference, the international community needs to be fully aware that the end of these treaties will signal the destruction of the current legal regime that complements the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That destruction paves the way for the development of new nuclear technologies, unencumbered by any legal framework or treaty. If this should come to pass, the world will be left without any mechanisms capable of stopping the arms race. If a nuclear conflagration should follow, the US will be directly to blame.
Against this backdrop, ie the end of nuclear treaties, it is entirely unacceptable for the US to be presenting the initiative known as CEND (“Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament”). CEND’s only real objectives are: 1) to serve as a propaganda tool; 2) to buy time, and 3) to change the regulatory environment in its favour.
Buying time will allow Washington to develop new and better technologies to dominate the nuclear field, allowing it to impose new rules on the world in relation to the use of nuclear weapons. These rules will seek to enshrine the principle of “exclusivity” for the US, which entails its supposed “right” to politico-military strategic leadership.
CEND’s real and sole aim is to mire international actors in an interminable discussion about disarmament, without any real interest in carrying out effective reduction of the nuclear arsenal. If the US’s desire for nuclear disarmament were genuine, it would sit down to negotiate, in good faith, with North Korea, Iran, Russia, and the world’s other nuclear powers to limit the production and deployment of new nuclear missiles. More importantly, it would also agree a road map for total elimination of weapons of mass destruction.
The world’s nations, governments, international organisations and organised civil society must unite now, while there is still time, to prevent the US from proceeding with plans that could detonate a global nuclear war. For the present, we must work towards obliging Washington to rejoin the INF and ABM treaties and renew START III. These treaties have at least shown themselves minimally effective, to date, in maintaining global security.
* Pablo Ruiz is a journalist and member of the Observatory for the Closure of the School of the Americas (SOAWatch).