Friday, December 1, 2023

The war in Ukraine risks prompting more countries to acquire nuclear weapons

The finding did not fall on deaf ears. If Russia, endowed with nuclear weapons, decided so easily to invade its Ukrainian neighbor, it is because the latter no longer had any (kyiv had renounced in 1995 the arsenal inherited from the USSR in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity by, in particular… Russia).

The Kremlin has also wielded its nuclear arsenal to dissuade any Kyiv ally from getting directly involved. And it worked as shown by Western reluctance to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine, or refusal to deliver planes or long-range missiles. Moscow is thus carrying out what the director of the French Institute of International Relations, Thomas Gomart, describes it as a “colonial war under a nuclear umbrella”.

A disrupted international order

The Russian invasion has therefore already disrupted the international order of deterrence . While the counter of the number of nuclear powers has remained blocked for forty years, reflecting a relatively stable geopolitical order illustrated by the low number of interstate conflicts, the Russian invasion may encourage many countries to consider acquiring nuclear weapons. to avoid knowing the fate of kyiv. “It will be very difficult to make progress on disarmament in the years to come because of this war and the way Putin talks about his nuclear weapons”, summarizes Matt Korda, expert from Sipri (Stockholm International Institute for on peace).

Two criteria are enough to appear on the list of countries that may be tempted to acquire nuclear bombs because of a “Ukrainian syndrome”: having an industrial and scientific base and having a threatening neighbour. It can be crowded. Thus, Iran seems to be able to acquire the bomb soon, which could encourage Saudi Arabia to do the same, and by chain reaction the other powers of the Middle East, Egypt and Turkey. In Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan, despite the taboo born of Hiroshima, even the Philippines and Malaysia, can legitimately feel threatened by a China inclined, in particular, to claim an extremely widened maritime sovereignty. .

Half of humanity under nuclear umbrella

Proliferation is contagious: when a middle power acquires nuclear weapons it becomes, de facto, intimidating for a smaller neighbor, who in turn may seek an arsenal of deterrence. However, the worst is not certain, argues Admiral Jean-Louis Lozier, an expert on the subject at the French Institute of International Relations, because countries acquiring nuclear weapons would violate the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty , signed by 191 countries, but not by India, Israel and Pakistan). This would pave the way for Western sanctions and isolation measures, like the one experienced by Iran.

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What if Putin pushed the button?

Nearly half of humanity already lives directly under a nuclear umbrella, adding the population of the nine countries that have it (China, India, United States, Russia, Pakistan, France, United Kingdom, North Korea, Israel) . The proportion is even close to 60% if we add the countries linked to one of them by solid defense agreements (twenty-seven NATO countries, plus Australia, Japan, South Korea for the only allies the United States). Agreements supposed to persuade a possible hostile country that an attack against one of them would be considered as an attack on the existential interests of their nuclear ally.

Thirty-one countries, from Sweden to Brazil via Algeria and… Switzerland, have toyed with the idea of ​​acquiring a nuclear arsenal since 1945, before giving it up. Usually for reasons of cost, lack of pressing threats, or because they had credible assurances from nuclear allies.

This potential proliferation would be added to the nuclear arms race about to be relaunched between the nine established nuclear powers, due to rivalry between Beijing and Washington, adds Sipri.

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