A Reminding from Putin in the Ukraine-Russia War: The Nuclear Threat

Nuclear explosion

Russia’s attempt to invade Ukraine, which started on February 24, 2022, still continues. During the invasion operation, Russian President Putin ordered nuclear deterrent forces to switch to special warfare (Euronews, 3.3.2022). Upon this, US President Biden announced that the US Armed Forces would not engage with the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, and that the US would impose comprehensive economic sanctions on Russia (The Economic Times, 2.3.2022). Thus, Ukraine, which could not get enough support from the West, had to resist on its own, with limited capability, against Russia.

The fact that Putin saw the use of nuclear weapons as an option caused the issue of nuclear weapons to be discussed again. In our study we have carried out in this framework, after giving the historical background about nuclear weapons, attention will be drawn to the situation of nuclear weapons around the world.

Nearly a hundred years after Napoleon’s campaign towards Russia in 1812, Russians fought against Germans in World War I and then World War II. Due to destructive struggles against French and Germans, Russians have a strong perception that the threat to their country will come from the West. In order not to repeat this threat again, The USSR, one of the victors of World War II, did not withdraw from the regions occupied by the Red Army in Europe under the leadership of Stalin, and afterwards, the world witnessed the Cold War period and the bipolar world order.

In the historical flow, while the bipolar world order ended with the disintegration of the USSR, 15 countries which separated from the USSR gained their independence as of December 1991; among these countries, the Russian Federation was established as the successor of the USSR. Since coming to power in Russia, Putin has been implementing a strategy to make Russia an important Power in international relations, especially against the West. Seeing NATO’s expansion towards Russia as a threat of high importance, Putin did not hesitate to use nuclear weapons as a threat in Ukraine, where he began to invade to eliminate this threat coming from the West.

The world had previously come to the brink of nuclear war, in a development when the USSR and the USA confronted sixty years ago. In this event, the USSR’s attempt to deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962 was detected by the USA and a crisis emerged between the two superpowers. The parties showed their ability to negotiate what happened, and the USSR gave up the deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba in exchange for the dismantling of missiles carrying nuclear warheads in Turkey (Burke, 2012, p.162).

As we all know, the world met with nuclear weapons on August 6 and 9, 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the USA’s use of atomic bombs in these two cities forced the Japanese to surrender, it also ended World War II. Based on this experience, humanity opened the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) for signature on July 1, 1968, and this treaty entered into force in 1970.

Some of the significant articles of the NPT can be summarized as follows:

– Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty may not assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise obtain nuclear explosive devices in any way (Article I).

-Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty may not manufacture, or acquire nuclear weapons, or nuclear explosive devices directly, or indirectly (Article II).

– Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty accepts the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the peaceful use of nuclear energy (Article III-1).

– Security control is implemented in a way that does not hinder the processing and use of nuclear material for peaceful purposes, the economic and technological development of the Parties (Article III-3).

– According to the Treaty, a nuclear-weapon-State Party is a State that has manufactured and detonated a nuclear weapon or other explosive device prior to 1 January 1967 (Article IX-3).

Although a nuclear-weapon-State has been defined, it is not included in the Treaty which State has nuclear weapons as of the specified date. Currently, 191 countries in the world are party to the NPT. Today, nuclear armed States and the number of nuclear warheads they have are given in the chart below.

Nuclear armed States and their nuclear warheads

Nuclear armed StateThe number of warheads
Russia6,255
USA5,550
China350
France290
UK225
Pakistan165
India156
İsrael90
North Korea40-50

Kaynak: ICAN. (28.32022). The World’s Nuclear Weapons.  https://www.icanw.org/nuclear_arsenals

The nuclear warheads in the chart above are capable of causing thousands of times more damage than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is known that the USA, which has nuclear weapons, has deployed weapons with nuclear warheads in countries such as Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Turkey (ICAN, 2022).

Would the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Eliminate the Nuclear Threat?

A relatively recent initiative has been launched to end the nightmare of nuclear weapons. According to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was opened for signature at the UN on September 20, 2017 and entered into force on January 22, 2021, nuclear weapons are illegal, and cannot be developed or tested. The most important difference of this Treaty from the NPT dated 1968 is that it imposes a general prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons. According to the Treaty, no State can host nuclear weapons belonging to another State.

Today, although 60 States have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the nuclear-armed States and any State where nuclear weapons are deployed on its territory have not yet signed this Treaty. During the Ukraine-Russia War, Putin’s instruction to switch nuclear deterrents to a special state of war caused worldwide concern about the possibility of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. This happening also reminded us once again of the regulatory/determining role of the nuclear threat above the international order.

The developments briefly mentioned reveal the magnitude of the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Despite this, humanity cannot take a strong stand against the prohibition of nuclear weapons in the world, which is already insecure due to conventional weapons, within the international order, with the participation of the dominant powers.

REFERENCES

Burke, Anthony. (2012). Security. Devetak, R., Burke, A. Ve George, J. (ed). An Introduction toInternational Relations (içinde). Cambridge University Press, New York.

Euronews. (3.3.2022). Rusya Devlet Başkanı Putin, nükleer silah kullanmaya karar verirse ne olur?

ICAN. (28.32022). The World’s Nuclear Weapons.

The Economic Times. (2.3.2022). US forces ‘will not engage in the conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine’: Joe Biden.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

2 Comments

  1. The chronological order of events is really well arranged in this article and I can academically relate to some recommendations that assist in the maintenance of the world peace and order. Nuclear blast can cause major damage to the livelihood of many people that we can’t put a number on the deaths but with an educative guess, it would cause a destruction of life and environment. As sadly witnessed in Japan in 1945, it is important for all countries to sign the prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons treaty, in order not to experience an awful incident now and in the future.

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