Banished from public consciousness for decades, the nightmare of nuclear warfare has surged back to prominence with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlighting the erosion of the Cold War global security architecture.
With Moscow on the back foot in its offensive, the military stalemate has raised fears Russia could resort to its nuclear arsenal to achieve a military breakthrough.
Russia, along with the UK, China, France and the US, are the five recognized nuclear weapons powers and permanent UN Security Council members.
“It’s the first time a nuclear power has used its status to wage a conventional war under the shadow cast by nuclear weapons,” former NATO deputy secretary-general Camille Grand said.
“One might have imagined that rogue states would adopt such an attitude, but suddenly it’s one of the two major nuclear powers, a member of the UN Security Council,” he said, adding that the actual use of the weapons remains “improbable.”
For now, the moral and strategic nuclear “taboo” that emerged after the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War II in 1945 still holds, but rhetoric has escalated massively.
Russian TV broadcasts, since the invasion of Ukraine, have repeatedly discussed nuclear strikes on Western cities such as Paris or New York.
One former Russian diplomat, asking not to be named, warned that if Russian President Vladimir Putin felt his nation’s existence was threatened, “he will press the button.”
The year’s events have been a harsh wake-up call for Europe, which spent decades in a state of relative relaxation in terms of nuclear security, enjoying the so-called Cold War “peace dividend.”
Across the Atlantic, US President Joe Biden in October warned of a potential “Armageddon” hanging over the world.
“The most spectacular event of the past half century is one that did not occur,” Nobel-winning economist and strategy expert Thomas Schelling wrote in 2007.
However, the framework that kept world leaders’ fingers off the button after 1945 had been crumbling for years before Putin’s order to invade.
The US in 2002 quit the critical Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty it had signed with the Soviet Union in 1972, which maintained the nuclear balance of power.
Other important agreements fell away in the years that followed, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Washington dropped in 2019, blaming Russia for not complying.
“Regarding disarmament, it’s all in ruins, apart from New Start,” Grand said, referring to the agreement with Russia to reduce the numbers of warheads, missiles, bombers and launchers.
India, North Korea and Pakistan, along with the five recognized powers, also have nuclear weapons, while Israel is widely assumed to do so while having never officially acknowledged it.
North Korea sharply stepped up missile testing this year, continuing its pursuit of an independent nuclear deterrent that began when it quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo all believe a seventh nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang is imminent.
The isolated dictatorship in September announced a new nuclear doctrine, making clear that it would never give up the weapons and that they could be used pre-emptively.
“We’re going to see a very dangerous crisis in Asia,” Chung Min Lee, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told a Paris conference.
Non-nuclear countries in the region fear that the protection provided by the US nuclear umbrella is fraying.
“If you imagine extended deterrence as a water balloon, today the water balloon has some critical holes and water is seeping out,” Lee said.
China’s nuclear arsenal is also growing and in the Middle East, the struggle to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, hobbled by its brutal repression of protests at home, has revived fears that Tehran could soon be a “threshold state” on the brink of building a bomb.
A UN conference in August on the future of the NPT saw a joint declaration by 191 states blocked at the last moment by Russia.
One French diplomat reported “extraordinarily aggressive nuclear rhetoric” from Moscow and “disdain” for the treaty.
“We saw a break in Russia’s attitude, which had historically been in support of the NPT,” the diplomat added.
China was “very vocal,” offering a “very crude denunciation” of the US-UK-Australia alliance that would deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, the diplomat said.
Beijing claimed that the alliance risked further nuclear proliferation, while failing to “lift doubts about the opacity of its own nuclear doctrine or the speed at which its arsenal is growing.”
The invasion of a state that willingly gave up nuclear weapons, Ukraine, by its nuclear-armed neighbor has increased fears of proliferation.
“Today, countries like Japan or South Korea might legitimately ask whether” they need a bomb of their own, said Jean-Louis Lozier, a former head of France’s nuclear forces. “The same is true in the Middle East of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.”
Apps and Web sites that use artificial intelligence (AI) to undress women in photos are soaring in popularity, researchers said. In September alone, 24 million people visited undressing Web sites, the social network analysis company Graphika said. Many of these undressing, or “nudify,” services use popular social networks for marketing, Graphika said. For instance, since the beginning of this year, the number of links advertising undressing apps increased more than 2,400 percent on social media, including on X and Reddit, the researchers said. The services use AI to recreate an image so that the person is nude. Many of the services only
IN ABSOLUTE CONTROL: About 80 percent of Russians approve of Putin, a survey shows, but that might be misleading due to his intolerance to criticism Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the presidential election in March that he is all but certain to win. Putin still commands wide support after nearly a quarter-century in power, despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine that has taken thousands of his people’s lives, provoked repeated attacks inside Russia — including one on the Kremlin itself — and corroded its aura of invincibility. A short-lived rebellion in June by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin raised widespread speculation that Putin could be
JUMPING BAIL: The democracy advocate said made the decision after ‘considering the situation in Hong Kong, my personal safety, my physical and mental health’ Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow (周庭), who was jailed over her role in massive 2019 protests, on Sunday said she had moved to Canada and would not return to meet her bail conditions. Chow was one of the best-known young faces of the 2012, 2014 and 2019 protest movements against Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule in Hong Kong. She spent about seven months behind bars for her role in a protest outside Hong Kong police headquarters in 2019, when huge crowds rallied week after week in the most serious challenge to China’s rule since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. On Sunday
TAKING STOCK: It was not yet clear how damaging the espionage, dating to 1981, has been, as authorities are still assessing the situation, the State Department said A former US ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested and charged with spying for Cuba over a 40-year span, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday, detailing a shock betrayal by a suspect who called the US “the enemy.” US Attorney General Merrick Garland laid out the allegations against Victor Manuel Rocha, a onetime member of the White House’s National Security Council now accused of using his positions within the government to support Cuba’s “clandestine intelligence-gathering mission” against the US. The charges against Rocha, 73, expose “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign