Nuclear Weapons Threat

Recent Relevance:

The U.S. has announced to suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty effective February 2, 2019 and will withdraw from the treaty in six months accusing Russia of violating the terms of the INF.

What is INF? – Under the INF Treaty (signed in 1987), the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed to eliminate within three years all ground-launched-missiles of 500-5,500 km range and not to develop, produce or deploy these in future. It was key to ending the arms race between the (then) two super powers and helped protect the U.S.’s NATO allies in Europe from Soviet missile attacks.

This decision has generated dismay and concern that this will trigger a new nuclear arms race.

Sources: The Hindu and The Hindu

The nuclear threat:


  • China has announced new plans to upgrade its arsenal – e.g. its stealth bomber Hong-20, DF-26 etc.
  • S.’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) announced a 30-year modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion with new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) and low-yield warheads.
  • Russia has unveiled plans to develop a new nuclear torpedo and nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Today more than 14,500 nuclear weapons are there in the world. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2018, while the number of deployed nuclear weapons has appreciably declined since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty. In addition, no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway.

States in possession of nuclear weapons are spending vast sums to modernize their arsenals. More than $1.7 trillion was spent in 2017 on arms and armies — the highest level since the end of the cold war and around 80 times the amount needed for global humanitarian aid.

Source: United Nations

International Treaties

A number of multilateral treaties have since been established with the aim of preventing nuclear proliferation and testing, while promoting progress in nuclear disarmament. These include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water, also known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was signed in 1996 but has yet to enter into force, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

A number of bilateral and plurilateral treaties and arrangements seek to reduce or eliminate certain categories of nuclear weapons, to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and their delivery vehicles.  These range from several treaties between the United States of America and Russian Federation as well as various other initiatives, to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, and the Wassenaar Arrangement.

New emerging challenges:

  • Conventional vs Nuclear – Even more worrisome are developments that blur the line between nuclear and conventional weapons. In order to lessen its dependence on nuclear weapons, the U.S. developed layered missile defences and conventional Prompt Global Strike (PGS) capabilities that use conventional payloads against strategic targets. Other countries have responded with hypersonics and a shift to lower yield tactical warheads. With growing dependence on space-based and cyber systems, such asymmetric approaches only increase the risks of accidental and inadvertent nuclear escalation.
  • Changed global nuclear scenario – The key difference with today’s return of major power rivalry is that it is no longer a bi-polar world, and nuclear arms control is no longer governed by a single binary equation. There are multiple nuclear equations — U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, U.S.-North Korea, India-Pakistan, India-China, but none is standalone. Therefore, neither nuclear stability nor strategic stability in today’s world can be ensured by the U.S. and Russia alone and this requires us to think afresh.
  • Nuclear Weapons Treaty – NPT, the most successful example of multilateral arms control has become a victim of its success. It can neither accommodate the four countries outside it (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) as all four possess nuclear weapons, nor can it register any progress on nuclear disarmament. It succeeded in delegitimising nuclear proliferation but not nuclear weapons.

Way ahead:

Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth.  One can destroy a whole city, potentially killing millions, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects.  Disarmament is the best protection against such dangers.

There is a need to enhance public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination.

It is necessary to prepare a world free of nuclear weapons through a number of risk -reduction measures, including transparency in nuclear-weapon programmes, further reductions in all types of nuclear weapons, commitments not to introduce new and destabilizing types of nuclear weapons, including cruise missiles, reciprocal commitments for the non-use of nuclear weapons and reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.

Sources: United Nations, United Nations, The Hindu

Categories: POINT IAS

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