Nuclear arms races: The Ukrainian war plays this important role

  • In the war in Ukraine, the Russian ruler Putin has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons and is gaining in importance in other parts of the world.
  • The Peace Research Institute “Sipri” sees the risk of using nuclear weapons as higher “than at any time since the peak of the Cold War”.
  • Peace researcher Thomas Roithner explains what can be done about it and what role the war in Ukraine plays in this.
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Iran announces that it will shut down cameras to monitor its nuclear facilities, North Korea is testing missiles with potentially nuclear potential, and a report by the Swedish Peace Research Institute “Sipri” comes to a worrying conclusion: Despite significant progress in arms control and nuclear disarmament, “risk the use of nuclear weapons is greater today than at any time since the height of the Cold War. “

According to experts, there will be more nuclear weapons worldwide again in the next ten years. According to the report, the nine nuclear-armed states of the USA, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea currently have an estimated 12,705 nuclear warheads – 375 less than at the beginning of last year. Of these, 3732 warheads are operationally usable, almost all of which are owned by Russia or the USA.

More news about the war in Ukraine can be found here

Nuclear states are arming themselves

“Almost all nuclear states are renewing their arsenals and we can observe modernization programs,” says peace researcher Thomas Roithner. For example, satellite images from China reportedly show the construction of more than 300 new missile forces, and Britain also says it wants to increase the cap on its warheads.

Nuclear weapons have also returned as a means of threat and as part of military strategies. Shortly after the start of the war, Russian President Putin put the country’s deterrent arsenal on alert. He warned the West against engaging in aggression against Russia, threatening the harshest consequences and stressing that Russia is now one of “the most powerful nuclear powers in the world.”

“States trust each other less and less”

“There are always threats to nuclear weapons in different contexts, a nuclear card is always on the table,” Roithner notes. As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, there is overall less transparency between the Nuclear Nine. “Little is known about the nature of nuclear potential in some countries, even with regard to the development of nuclear weapons capabilities,” says expert Roithner. He observes a growing lack of confidence in international relations and growing skepticism about each other’s actions.

“There are huge geopolitical and economic conflicts of interest. States are trusting each other less and less,” Roithner said. Overall, this leads to a reduction in multilateralism. “There are fewer and fewer international arms control and disarmament treaties,” he says. The promotion of national interests has a trump card and multilateralism often trumps it.

Nuclear dispute culminates - Iran dismantles surveillance cameras

The reason for the dispute is the uncertainty about the origin of uranium particles, which were discovered in three facilities not declared by Iran.

Nuclear arms races: The Ukrainian war plays an important role

The Ukrainian war plays an important role in the success of nuclear weapons. “Since February 24, there has been a violation of international law in several respects,” Roithner said. Debate on the question: “Where and for what reasons has there been an erosion of international law and multilateralism in recent decades?” there is an urgent need to draw conclusions for the future peace order.

“We need to create a security concept that does not only look at the security of states, but puts people at the center,” says the expert. Nuclear weapons are a symbol of the concept of state security, there is a need to rethink towards “human security”.

A new security concept is needed

One attempt to do so is the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January 2021 and which not only prohibits its signatory states from owning nuclear weapons, but also from participating in and supporting nuclear weapons programs and nuclear alliances.

“The treaty addresses the human and environmental consequences of testing and using nuclear weapons and also mentions measures such as victim compensation and environmental clean-up,” says Roithner. However, nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom reject the agreement, and Germany has not ratified it either. However, Germany wants to participate as an observer in the first Conference of the States Parties from 21 to 23 June in Vienna.

Germany claims that the political costs are too high: accession would isolate Germany in NATO, which is considered a “nuclear alliance”. Germany, which has no nuclear weapons of its own, is involved in NATO’s goal planning and use through nuclear sharing. CDU leader Friedrich Merz tweeted recently: “Nuclear capacity is our life insurance policy, which we cannot do without.”

Proponents of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons argue that the use of nuclear weapons is contrary to international humanitarian law, for example in view of the necessary distinction between civilians and fighters or the prevention of unnecessary suffering for victims. Nuclear deterrence is presented as contradictory.

The EU has no common position

“The EU does not have a unified opinion, France is a state with nuclear weapons, most EU countries are members of NATO,” Roithner agrees. There is a need for discussion within the EU. Austria, Ireland and Malta, for example, have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as EU countries.

122 non-nuclear-weapon states adopted a banning treaty at the UN General Assembly in 2017. “We have deliberately asked not only the five states that bomb nuclear weapons in the UN Security Council as the only veto states, but also the General Assembly, in which each state has one vote,” says Roithner. The contract shows him that attitudes may change.

democratization is underway

“Not only in terms of the security concept, but also in terms of the democratization of international relations,” says Roithner. “Civil society is very active.” The accusation that neutral states only graze in terms of security policy in order to spend less on their own military is unsustainable due to strong support for the treaty and associated service.

Yet opponents of the treaty are heavy: the nuclear nine and their 40 allies together account for about 85 percent of global defense spending. “However, there are more and more financial institutions that avoid investing not only in biological and chemical weapons, but also in nuclear weapons,” Roithner said.

About the expert:

Dr. Thomas Roithner is a peace researcher and lectures on political science at the University of Vienna. The work of a social scientist and economist focuses on the EU’s foreign, security, defense and peace policy, nuclear disarmament and arms control, transatlantic security relations and peace and conflict research.

Used sources:

  • SIPRI: The global nuclear arsenal is expected to grow as states continue to modernize. June 13, 2022
  • United Nations: UN Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons with a view to their complete elimination. 2017
  • Twitter profile of Friedrich Merze

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