The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Swedish think tank, released a report on nuclear weapons research on June 13. According to the report, there were 12,705 nuclear warheads in the world as of January 2022, a decrease of 375 compared with that of last year. The number of global nuclear weapons has generally declined under the constraints of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. However, at the same time, Hans M. Kristensen, Associate Senior Fellow with SIPRI, pointed out that there are clear indications that the steady decline in global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War has ended. The risk of nuclear conflict is now at its highest point in the post-Cold War era.
Based on the current international situation, SIPRI predicts that the number of nuclear weapons in the world will increase in the next 10 years. This means that after 35 years of decline, the number of global nuclear weapons will increase again in the next few years. Against the background of ever-changing international situations and constant conflicts and confrontations, global nuclear security risks are increasing. In a recent interview, military observers Wang Baofu and Teng Jianqun shared their views on what factors caused the escalation of global nuclear security risks in an international context of ongoing conflict.
Firstly, zero-sum game and Cold War mentality have led to a new arms race among nuclear powers. To maintain its absolute superiority in the so-called major power competition, the US has pressed ahead with the modernization of nuclear weapons. In January 2022, US think tank RAND Corporation released the report "Modernizing the US Nuclear Triad: The Rationale for a New Intercontinental Ballistic Missile" which analyzed in detail the nuclear modernization plan currently underway in the US. In addition, according to the draft US defense budget for the fiscal year 2023, the budget for nuclear arsenal maintenance and upgrades reached US$34.4 billion, well above the US$27.7 billion in the fiscal year 2022. It is worth noting that while the US has upgraded its nuclear arsenal, it has also continuously lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. In addition to the new B61-12 nuclear bomb, the US military is also developing and testing other low-yield nuclear warheads.
As traditional nuclear-weapon states, the UK and France both regard nuclear power as a very important pillar to support their status as major powers, and both hope to maintain their leading positions in the field of nuclear technology and nuclear capabilities.
In the face of strategic containment and suppression by the US and NATO, Russia has also listed the development of strategic nuclear forces as a priority for equipment development and has continued to advance the modernization of its nuclear triad. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US continued to fan the flames and instigate allies and other countries to impose comprehensive blockades and sanctions on Russia. However, strong sanctions will lead to stronger Russian resistance and a greater risk of an escalation of war. Western countries led by the US should seriously consider the grave consequences of driving a nuclear power to the wall.
Secondly, hegemonic practices and double standards increase the risk of nuclear proliferation. The US has formed a tripartite security partnership (AUKUS) with the UK and Australia and plans to carry out nuclear submarine cooperation to promote the establishment of a cold war-like military clique, and engage in bloc politics and camp confrontation. This blatant nuclear proliferation act flagrantly violates the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), seriously undermines and tramples on the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, adversely affects the international nuclear arms control situation, and arouses serious concern from the international community.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has held successive special meetings to review the cooperation on nuclear submarines between the US, UK, and Australia since June 6. However, the statement made by Australia on behalf of the three countries avoided the illicit transfer of nuclear weapons materials involved in the trilateral cooperation and pursued "double standards" on nuclear proliferation.
On the one hand, the US and the UK imposed unilateral sanctions on other non-nuclear-weapon states for developing and acquiring civilian nuclear materials. On the other hand, they openly and directly proliferated nuclear weapons materials to Australia. This bullying behavior not only seriously endangers regional security, but also has a negative demonstration effect, which is bound to further increase the risk of nuclear security.
Japan is a typical example. After the nuclear submarine projects of the US, UK and Australia, Japan has also shown signs of making moves on the issue of nuclear submarines. Recently, Japanese politicians have frequently said that they want to share nuclear weapons with the US, striving to discard the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, change their defense policy and introduce US nuclear weapons.
Thirdly, exaggerating threats and provoking confrontation have made it difficult to resolve regional hotspot issues such as the Iranian nuclear issue. In May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, then restarted and imposed additional sanctions on Iran, and pursued a policy of "extreme pressure" on Iran. Although the Biden administration claimed to change the wrong policies of the previous Trump administration, it is continuing the Trump-era policy towards Iran.
The US and Israel have been seeking to establish a regional anti-Iran coalition. A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced legislation on June 9 that would authorize the US government to work with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Iraq to discuss the development and deployment of an integrated air and missile defense system against Iran and submit a strategic report within six months.
In the process, the US and Israel have also been playing up the Iranian threat. In response, Iran said it would respond "seriously" to the slightest threat to its territory. A US-Israel alliance aimed at uniting Middle Eastern countries to isolate Iran, whether successful or not, is bound to make negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal even more impossible. Containment, isolation and extreme pressure will not only fail to solve the Iranian nuclear issue, but may accelerate Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, further disrupt the security balance in the Middle East and bring new nuclear security risks to the world.
From regional conflicts to arms races, from military alliances to nuclear proliferation risks, the US can be seen everywhere behind the escalation of nuclear security risks in the world. As we all know, there are no winners in a nuclear war. The continuous promotion of modernizing nuclear weapons and building nuclear arsenals, and acceleration of the development of tactical nuclear weapons by the US and some nuclear powers will inevitably increase the risk of global nuclear war and exert a profound impact on the international security situation.
Editor's note: This article is edited on the basis of a radio program on www.cnr.cn and translated from Chinese into English by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.