Strategic stability and arms control are co-related

Published : 10 Aug 2021 08:45 PM | Updated : 11 Aug 2021 12:33 AM

Daryl G. Kimball, an Arms Control specialist based in Washington DC, USA has drawn attention to the fact that “after more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two largest nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle during their June 16 summit to engage in a robust strategic stability dialogue to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.” 

In this context connotations and awareness have also been drawn to another meeting that had taken place in 1985 between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev where the two had also reaffirmed the commonsense principle that suggests that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Over the years there is a realization that the present status quo pertaining to production of nuclear weapons and diversification of such weapons are dangerous and not sustainable. Strategists are also reiterating that it does not make sense to stand on the brink of a possible nuclear catastrophe. Consequently, it is being advised that we need a course correction through, according to Kimball- by “promptly beginning a robust, bilateral, results-oriented nuclear risk reduction and disarmament dialogue.”

Attention is also being drawn to the fact that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement will expire in 2026 and there is comparatively little time to complete the desired negotiation process directed towards further reduction of both strategic and nonstrategic nuclear stockpiles. In this connection other analysts have also reiterated that both Biden and Putin need to reiterate, along with other nuclear powers, that the primary purpose for producing and possessing nuclear weapons is to deter or respond only to a nuclear attack, not non-nuclear threats.

Luckily, nuclear weapons have not been used in combat since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We all need to understand that even a limited use of any nuclear weapon can have catastrophic effects for those in conflict and also others who are in that sub-region.

One may recall that in 2018, the USA in its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) expanded the “extreme circumstances” under which the United States would contemplate first use of nuclear weapons. It was decided that such a decision would include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”It was also noted in this regard that “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyber attacks.

Russia has created its own matrix from its own perspective. In 2020 it pointed out that it reserved the right to use nuclear weapons “in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”

Such an approach appeared to be similar to what Biden held up in March 2020 in an essay in the Foreign Affairs. He observed that- “I believe that the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack.” 

On 15 June, 2021 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) informed the world that the world’s nine nuclear armed states have downsized their military arsenals, but made up for their loss by increasing the number of weapons on high operational alert. As a result of these dynamics, the world has increasingly come within striking distance of nuclear weapons—either by accident or by design.

The study says the nine countries- USA, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea- collectively possess an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This was a decrease from the 13, 400 that SIPRI estimated these States possessed at the beginning of 2020, since some of these weapons have gone into “retirement”.

Kimball, obviously worried like many other strategic analysts has consequently proposed that when the Security Council’s Permanent members- USA, Russia, China and the UK- meet in France later this year on nuclear matters, it should endorse the Biden-Putin statement to signal a shared interest in avoiding nuclear war and agree to launch an expanded set of talks on nuclear risk reduction and arms control.

The study says the nine countries collectively possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This was a decrease from the 13, 400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020, since some of these weapons have gone into “retirement”. However, despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces has increased to 3,825, from 3,720 last year. Around 2,000 of these—nearly all of which belong to Russia or the US—have been kept in a state of high operational alert ready for a strike.

Meanwhile, China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to have totaled $252 billion in 2020. This represents an increase of 1.9 per cent over 2019 and 76 per cent over the decade 2011–20. China’s spending has risen for 26 consecutive years, the longest series of uninterrupted increases by any country according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.

In the meantime, a new report released last week by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has warned that nuclear-armed States had spent US Dollar72.6 billion on their nuclear weapons – regardless of the persistent pandemic spread in 2020- an increase of US Dollar1.4 billion from 2019. Despite the shocking health and economic consequences last year, some governments have been increasingly channeling tax money to defence contractors, who are gaining from this exercise through greater amounts being paid to lobbyists.

It may also be noted here that out of the US Dollar72.6 billion that countries spent on nuclear weapons in 2020 globally, US Dollar 27.7 billion went to less than a dozen defence contractors to build nuclear weapons, which in turn spent more than US Dollar 117 million in lobbying expenses.

Dr Rebecca Johnson, a disarmament specialist has significantly observed that “the UN system is struggling because its efforts to build cooperative peace and security are constantly undermined and strangled by aggressive nation states. 

Most people can see we need cooperation and sharing to solve global challenges, from vaccines to sustainable resources”. In this regard Dr Johnson has also stated that stigmatizing and banning nuclear weapons not only affects the profits of military-industrial businesses, but the careers of many bureaucrats, academics and politicians who for decades have promoted spending taxpayer’s money on these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) instead of investing more in their countries’ health, education, peace-building relations and environment-saving technologies.

We need to remember that the United Nations– which is desperately seeking funds to help developing nations battling a staggering array of socio-economic problems, including extreme poverty, hunger, economic inequalities and environmental hazards– has continued to be one of the strongest advocates of disarmament. This world body has relentlessly campaigned for reduced military spending in an attempt to help divert some of these resources into sustainable development and humanitarian assistance. Time has now come for all of us to come forward and create greater arms control for strategic stability.

It would also be pertinent at this point to remember that the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) has pointed out that over the past century, governments have been seeking ways to reach a global agreement on reductions in military expenditures. Different proposals in this regard have been discussed in the League of Nations, and later in the United Nations for the last seven decades. Early proposals in the UN focused on reducing the expenditures of States with large militaries, and on freeing up funds for development aid. However, according to the UNODA there has never been unanimity with regard to any proposal.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University has also commented that “the latest military spending data from SIPRI are difficult to reconcile with the reality of the world we live in today”. She has also practically observed that even though the global economy-as measured by global gross domestic product (GDP) has decreased by 4.4 percent- global military spending has increased 2.6 percent over the year, proceeding in exactly the wrong direction.

One needs to conclude here by referring to recent views expressed by the International Peace Bureau, based in Berlin. They have requested United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres not only to make greater efforts to help reduce global military spending and nuclear disarmament but have also emphasized the need for the reallocation of money from the military to healthcare, social, and environmental needs – to achieve the fulfillment of the Social Development Goals.

This obviously is a constructive suggestion.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.