The Definition: Nuclear Proliferation
"The spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons technology, or fissile material to countries that do not already possess them. The term is also used to refer to the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist organizations or other armed groups," according to the Encyclopedia of Britannica.
The world has lived with the threat of nuclear weapons for over 70 years. During that time, the level of concern has ebbed and flowed depending on the geopolitical landscape. Certainly, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 captured the attention of the world. But for many decades, the deterrence of mutually assured destruction (MAD: the idea that nations won’t attack others with nuclear weapons due to the threat of an equal, if not worse, nuclear retaliation) and the negotiation of nuclear treaties has put the fear of nuclear annihilation further down the list of everyday concerns. In fact, no country with nuclear weapons has been invaded by another nation, and in the 70 years since nuclear weapons have been invented and spread, battlefield deaths have decreased by 95%.
However, recently, three events have put the topic of nuclear proliferation front and center in U.S. politics:
The continued development of nuclear weapons by North Korea: Since 2011, Kim Jong Un has fired over 85 missiles and carried out six nuclear weapons tests - more than both his father and grandfather launched in over 27 years. The volatile nation also claims to have developed a nuclear bomb small enough to be carried by a long-range missile (although this remains unverified) and a ballistic missile that experts believe could reach the U.S. And while President Trump has sought to persuade the North Korean leader to unilaterally abandon all of its nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, Kim Jong Un has made it clear he will not buckle to international pressure. Following the breakdown in talks earlier this year, he personally oversaw the test of what the country called a new type of “tactical guided weapon”, and which experts said included a short-range ballistic missile. The message was clear: North Korea’s weapons capabilities are growing by the day. On June 30th Trump and Kim Jong Un met on the border of North Korea to announce that talks would resume. The world waits, and watches.
The U.S. withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran: The original agreement was between Iran and six other countries. When the U.S. withdrew in 2018, Iran initially agreed to continue to abide by the 2015 agreement, which restricted its nuclear program in return for a lift on sanctions. But, last Monday it violated a central tenet of the deal by exceeding a critical limit on the amount of nuclear fuel it's allowed to possess. Now, Iran’s foreign minister has said the country will begin enriching its nuclear fuel to a purer level, moving the country closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
The dispute with Russia over its adherence to the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Force) agreement: President Trump recently withdrew the U.S. from the 1987 INF Treaty, which banned medium-range missile arsenals and was the first agreement that significantly reduced American and Soviet/Russian strategic nuclear weapons. The U.S. maintains that Russia has long been in breach of the treaty and America must, therefore, be in a position to develop its own warheads to deter Moscow. While NATO is in ongoing talks with Russia to convince it to destroy the new medium-range missile the U.S. says violates the treaty, talks have so far proven unsuccessful.
What the Candidates Say
During the first round of Democrat debates, the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they, as President, would have the U.S. rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal as negotiated during Obama’s presidency. All but Cory Booker raised their hands. Booker stated that, in essence, he would look to improve the original deal.
When asked what issue represented the greatest threat to Americans, two candidates mentioned nuclear proliferation:
Tulsi Gabbard: ‘The greatest threat we face is that we are at greater risk of nuclear war.’
Cory Booker: The greatest threat we face is …’ nuclear proliferation and climate change’.
In The Event Of Nuclear Warfare…
Concerns around nuclear warfare are increasing. And with it, discussions around the apocalyptic destruction this could wreak on the planet. But what would a nuclear attack actually look like?
In this episode, Science Vs examines just that - what the impact would be if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the U.S. How likely it is that the radiation from the bomb would give you cancer. And whether it’s possible for so many nukes to be dropped that the earth eventually becomes uninhabitable.
Cold War 2.0?
“Nuclear weapons will [continue to] keep us safe… until they destroy us all….”
The world's eight nuclear-armed states together hold roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons - 90% of those are in the hands of Russia and the U.S. In a post-Cold War era this shared nuclear capability has been seen as key in preventing a third world war, so catastrophic would the outcome be. But, as the narrative now begins to shift away from nuclear weapons as deterrents, to their possible use in tactical warfare, it begs the question: is the world in a more dangerous place than it was during the Cold War?
In this episode, Talking Politics discusses the mounting threat posed by nuclear proliferation and how we got here.
Going Nuclear: Gaining Leverage
On June 30th, President Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the third time, making history by becoming the first U.S. President to step inside of North Korea. The two leaders would, he announced, be resuming nuclear talks after discussions broke down earlier this year (Kim demanded that sanctions be removed before he began denuclearization. Trump refused). So what message does this meeting convey to the rest of the world, when North Korea’s leverage with the U.S. is so clearly tied to its development of nuclear weapons? For Iran, who limited much of its nuclear program under the Iran Nuclear Deal, but has been subjected to intensive new sanctions from the U.S. following Trump's withdrawal from the agreement, what incentive is there to continue abiding by the terms of the deal? Developing nuclear weapons would, it seems, make their negotiating hand so much stronger. In this episode, The Daily examines what Iran can learn from Trump’s present dealings with North Korea, and what this may mean for the future of nuclear proliferation.