Increasing Possibility of Actual Use of Nuclear Weapons is the Biggest Danger Today

Homo Sapiens Humans Nuclear War

Some of the most eminent medical journals (including The Lancet,  BMJ and JAMA) recently took an almost unprecedented initiative to together publish a joint editorial on August 1, 2023 asking for the elimination of nuclear weapons in view of their unacceptably high risks. What should be particularly welcomed is that they have taken the stand of elimination of nuclear weapons and not just of de-escalation or reduction, for as long as there are nuclear weapons there will be at least some possibility of their actual use as well.

This editorial has pointed out, on the basis of studies,  that a large-scale nuclear war between the USA and Russia could kill 200 million people or more in the near term and potentially cause a global ‘nuclear winter’ that could kill 5 to 6 billion people, threatening the survival of humanity.

This editorial also stated that once a nuclear weapon is detonated, escalation to all-out nuclear war could occur rapidly.  This is particularly important to consider at the present juncture when the risk of actual use of nuclear weapons has increased compared to any other period in the past three decades or so.

This risk has been frequently discussed and serious fears over it expressed by several eminent experts in the context of the ongoing Ukraine conflict. What could be the starting point for this? Here the three main nuclear weapon adversaries are—Russia vs USA or Russia vs UK (leaving aside France as unlikely to be involved to this extent). Of course USA nuclear weapons are also deployed in several other European countries as well and to that extent these also get involved but the weapons are under the control of the USA.

USA and UK are unlikely to knowingly start an attack on Russia and similarly Russia is unlikely to knowingly attack USA or UK because of the huge risks and likelihood of equally destructive retaliation. However the risk of tensions, suspicions and brinkmanship extended over a long time leading to start of unintentional nuclear war, based on misunderstanding of each other’s intentions and some accidental event on top of it is possible. As pointed out earlier once this starts this can very quickly lead to a bigger exchange of nuclear weapons. The situation is not like the one in 1945 where there was to be no retaliation and it was well known by the aggressor also that there will be nothing beyond the use of two nuclear weapons as far as the attack on Japan was concerned. Now the present situation is a very different one as we do not know where it will stop when it starts. Also the speed which the nuclear weapon now travels towards its target also gives very little time to correct very costly mistakes.

The second possibility that has been discussed is whether Russia will at some stage use tactical or relatively smaller nuclear weapons against Ukraine. This is very unlikely at present, but if the rate at which the western countries are giving more and more advanced weapons to Ukraine goes on increasing and even the possibility of a new front opening up involving Poland or some other country very close to Russia increases, it cannot be entirely ruled out that at some stage Russia faces such a serious threat that it begins to consider the use of nuclear weapons.

If this reasoning is correct, then it means that the ultimate result of all the efforts to corner, surround, bleed Russia, if all these effort prove increasingly successful, will be only to compel Russia to exercise the nuclear weapon option. Then if this results in the USA or NATO also using nuclear weapons against Russia, and Russia retaliates, again we do not know where this will end. This brings out also the sheer absurdity of the western/NATO strategy of encircling and bleeding as big a nuclear weapon power as Russia as much as possible, instead of using diplomacy to sort out all differences.

The second highest possibility of use of nuclear weapons will be when the USA shifts more of its aggression towards China, as has been widely discussed. If the Korean region is to become a flashpoint of such a confrontation, then apart from China one more nuclear weapon power will be involved here in the form of N.Korea.

While this is for future, the threat perception in just the Ukraine conflict by itself is so serious as to prompt warnings from several senior experts time and again. When the possibility of destruction likely to be caused is so huge, even a 5 to 10% increase in the possibility of use of nuclear weapons should be taken very seriously, and what has happened recently is a somewhat bigger increase in this possibility. As world leadership does not appear to be fulfilling the trust reposed in it for protecting us all from the worst possible destruction on earth, it is time for the people worldwide to come forward to make the peace and disarmament movement so strong that the leadership also comes under increasing pressure from people to move towards a path of a safer present and future.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.


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