No nuclear bombs?The Ukrainian-Russian war will shape the world’s arsenal

The headlines sounded on newsstands in Seoul New warning of possible nuclear tests by North Korea.

On the sidewalk, Lee Jae-sang, a 28-year-old office worker, has spoken out about how to deal with North Korea’s fast-growing capabilities Drop nuclear bombs across borders and oceans.

“Our country should also develop a nuclear program. And prepare for a possible nuclear war,” said Lee, expressing a desire that three-quarters of South Koreans agreed in a February poll. a wish.

In more than half a century of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts, this has become a destabilizing moment, one that is being raised more frequently by the people and politicians of the world’s non-nuclear powers, and which is exacerbated by everyday examples. Nuclear Russia torn apart nuclear-free Ukraine.

The reconsideration of non-nuclear states is playing out in Asia. The region is home to an increasingly assertive North Korea, China, Russia and Iran — three nuclear and one near-nuclear powers — but is not protected by the kind of nuclear umbrella and extensive defenses that have protected NATO nations for decades Alliance protection.

Security experts say fragile states will draw lessons from Ukraine’s experience when considering retaining or seeking nuclear weapons — especially whether Russia has successfully annexed swathes of Ukraine while wielding its nuclear arsenal to deter others.

Equally important, they say, is how the U.S. and its allies convince other partners in Europe, the Persian Gulf and Asia to trust the protection of U.S.-led nuclear and conventional arsenals rather than pursue their own nuclear bombs.

For leaders of nuclear-armed neighbors who worry about unfriendly nuclear weapons, “they would say to their domestic audience, ‘Please support our nuclear armament, because look what happened in Ukraine,’ right?” Harvard Kennedy School of Government Mariana Budjeryn, a researcher who manages the Atomic Project, said.

As a schoolgirl in Soviet-era Ukraine in the 1980s, Budjeryn studied how to deal with radiation burns and other potential injuries from nuclear war, which at the time had some 5,000 Soviet nuclear weapons. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, her country abandoned nuclear weapons development in favor of economic aid and integration with the West and security guarantees.

“Ultimately, in terms of how we understand the value of nuclear weapons, I think the outcome of this war depends a lot on the outcome of this war,” Bjerlin said.

Around the world, the U.S. military is appeasing strategic partners of rivals facing nuclear support.

White-hot ballistic missiles arched in the night sky near the North Korean border this month as the United States and South Korea conducted their first joint ballistic test in five years. It was a clear response to North Korea’s firing of at least 18 ballistic missiles this year.

In Europe and the Persian Gulf, President Joe Biden and U.S. generals, diplomats and troops are traveling to and from oil producers in Russia’s neighbors and Iran’s neighbors. Biden and his top deputies have pledged that the United States is committed to deterring nuclear threats from Iran, North Korea and other countries. In China, Chinese President Xi Jinping is matching an aggressive foreign policy with one of the country’s biggest nuclear weapons pushes.

It is time for more non-nuclear states to consider acquiring nuclear weapons, or for the United States to have nuclear weapons, some former senior Asian officials quoted Ukraine as saying.

“I don’t think either Japan or South Korea aspires to be a nuclear-weapon state. It would be huge political pain and internal division. But what’s the alternative?” former Singaporean foreign minister Billahari Koskan told an audience at a defence forum in March Say.

For those who want North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, the example offered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “another nail in the coffin,” Terence Roerig, a national security professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said in another defense forum. April.

“Ukraine is going to be another example of North Korea, countries like Iraq and Libya giving up nuclear capabilities — look what happened to them,” Rorig said.

Ukraine has never had a nuclear bomb ready to detonate — at least not one it could launch itself.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left Ukraine with the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. But Ukraine has no operational control. That left it vulnerable in the 1990s as it negotiated with the United States, Russia and others over its place in the post-Soviet world and the fate of the Soviet arsenal. Budjeryn said Ukraine was assured, but nothing about its safety.

“A piece of paper” is what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called such a pledge, which was signed in 1994.

The United States itself has given nuclear powers and nuclear-interested nations good reason to fear abandoning the world’s deadliest weapon.

In 2003, the West forced Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to abandon his country’s rudimentary nuclear weapons program. A few years later, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam shared with researcher Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer his father’s greatest fear – that Western countries would support an uprising against him.

“You see, a few years later, in 2011, you saw what happened,” said Braut-Herghammer, now a professor of nuclear and security strategy at the University of Oslo.

What happened was that, at the urging of the United States, NATO intervened in the 2011 internal uprising against Gaddafi. A NATO warplane bombed his convoy. Rebels captured Libyan leader, sexually abused him and killed him.

In Iraq, the United States played a central role in forcing Saddam Hussein to abandon his nuclear development program. The US then overthrew Saddam in 2003, claiming he was reassembling nuclear weapons. Three years later, with Iraq still under U.S. occupation, Saddam was hanged at the gallows.

The fall and brutal death of a leader in the Middle East has cast a shadow over North Korea’s denuclearization efforts. Rare U.S.-North Korea talks broke down in 2018 after the Trump administration repeatedly proposed the “Libya model” and Vice President Mike Pence threatened Kim Jong-un with Gaddafi’s fate. “Ignorance and stupidity,” the North Korean government responded.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine now “underscores to at least some countries that if you have a nuclear weapons program and you’re a little bit far from that program, abandoning it is a terrible idea,” Braut-Heghammer said.

The world’s nine nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea – possess approximately 13,000 nuclear weapons. Israel does not recognize its nuclear program.

The largest nuclear power in history has been trying to control which countries can legally join the club. Countries including Iran and North Korea that proceeded recklessly were isolated and sanctioned.

Nuclear experts cited South Korea and Saudi Arabia as the countries most likely to consider nuclear weapons. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised in 2018 that Iran would immediately obtain a nuclear bomb if it did so.

Jessica Cox, head of NATO’s nuclear agency, told the forum in April that it was surprising that more countries had yet to acquire bombs.

“If you look at it from a historical perspective, in the 1950s and 1960s, there would be fewer than 10 countries in the world with nuclear weapons … 70 years from now, it’s not clear.”

What sets Europe apart, Cox said, is NATO’s nuclear deterrence — 30 nations sharing responsibility and decision-making to build a nuclear arsenal that deter all nations.

Many believe Ukraine made the right decision by giving up a future with nuclear weapons to avoid possible isolation. That gave Ukraine three years to integrate into the world economy and forge alliances with powerful countries that now help it defend against Russia.

As a young woman in Ukraine, Bujaline realized at some point after the 1990s deal that her own work, in business development at the time, was being funded by the Clinton administration as part of Western incentives for the Ukraine nuclear deal .

“If Ukraine wins,” she said, “then it will show that nuclear weapons are useless.”

“But if Ukraine fell, things would be very different,” she said.

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Chang reported from Seoul.

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