Living with Nuclear Weapons in 2020 | By Vikrant Sharma

Living with Nuclear Weapons in 2020

By Vikrant Sharma

Founder-Editor, The Global Telescope


We live in the midst of weaponry that can decimate entire countries. Fortunately for us, such weapons have been used only twice- to level two cities known as Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945. It has been 75 years since then and the capabilities of such weapons has only increased in that duration. Even though there have been instances when major powers have come to the brink of nuclear disaster- the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 at the peak of the Cold War being the prime example- the world has collectively been smart enough to avoid the use of nuclear weapons.

So, 75 years after the only time in history when atom bombs were used, where do we stand today with respect to nuclear weapons? Let’s analyse.

The two major holders of nuclear weapons, by a large margin, are Russia and USA- a legacy of the Cold War. But the two also serve as a prime example of the principle of deterrence. Both countries fought proxy wars all over the world supporting opposite sides in regional conflicts during the Cold War, and while nuclear weapons were always a threat, they were never truly a real option. Both countries accumulated an astoundingly insane number of nuclear warheads, but they also signed treaties and agreements to halt the arms race. These treaties have proven successful in preventing nuclear warfare between USA and Russia (earlier USSR) that would potentially mean destruction of the world as we know it.

But we cannot take this for granted. In early 2021, a key treaty that limits development of nuclear weapons between the two countries comes to its expiration. It’s called New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), and is the successor to START I that expired in 2009. The two countries have had talks to extend this last treaty that limits their development of nuclear weapons, but the talks have been fraught with difficulty.

USA initially insisted that China should also be a third member of the treaty, something which Beijing has refused to do unless USA cuts its nuclear arsenal down to China’s level- something China itself added would not happen. Regardless, the talks between Moscow and Washington have had their own problems, and at the time of publication it is unclear whether the two countries will be able to extend this treaty in time.

South Asia continues to be another area at risk. The decades old tension along the India-Pakistan border, both of whom are nuclear armed, continues to be a point of peril. Add to that extremely irresponsible rhetoric from Pakistan threatening India of nuclear warfare and you invariably increase the risk factor. India has a no first-use policy on nuclear weapons; Pakistan has no such policy. Growing tensions with China on the other front for India, seen with increasing cooperation between China and Pakistan, further add a layer of deeper complexity in the region. India and China and two of the world’s strongest military powers, with Pakistan also hosting some strategic weapons. However, India enjoys a much better status in the world at present and has strategic alliances and partnerships that ensure any attack on it would be met with extremely strong international reaction.

Things also remain tense in the Korean peninsula. North Korea has continued to increase its nuclear capabilities even during the COVID pandemic. While the past few years have seen engagement between North and South Korea, and even between North Korea and USA (North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un met with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018 and in the Demilitarized Zone in North Korea in 2019), tensions have remained high and there is definitely no sign of plain sailing yet.

Finally, we come to a potential flashpoint for the near future. It is no secret that Iran is developing its own nuclear weapon. An aim of the Iran Nuclear Deal done by the P5+1 group (5 UNSC Permanent Members- USA, UK, France, Russia, China- and Germany) with Iran was to slow Iran’s use of sensitive nuclear activities in return for lifting crippling economic sanctions on Iran. However, the US administration under Donald Trump pulled out of the deal stating that it did not go far enough. It has been suspected that Iran is in the process of making nuclear weapons for years, although Tehran has denied this.

A major factor is this equation is Tehran’s constant hostility towards Tel Aviv. Israel, USA’s main ally in the Middle East, is arguably Iran’s biggest enemy. The hostility runs so high that Iran has continued the rhetoric of ‘wiping Israel off the face of Earth’. Iran also has a proxy war ongoing in Yemen where it supports the Houthi rebels against the government that is backed by Saudi Arabia. This, along with a myriad of other factors, constitutes the hostility between the Sunni countries of the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia and the Shia-majority Iran. In such circumstances, nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran threaten to destabilise the tense region and change the power dynamics significantly. It must be noted that Israel is also suspected of having nuclear weapons of its own. Some analysts have predicted that Iran could be USA’s next war in the Middle East, although I think an all-out war in the near future is unlikely.

Apart from these flashpoints, another major threat to the world was a terror group, such as ISIS at its peak in 2015, getting access to weapons of mass destruction. However, this is a very rare possibility, especially with the decline of ISIS since.

This is an analysis of the nuclear world as we have it in 2020. It might look bleak and dangerous, and many might argue that it is. However, it is important to remember that nuclear weapons have existed for over 75 years and they have not been used since the end of the Second World War. While that is no reason to be complacent, it is worth noting that countries seem to recognise the cost associated with the use of a nuclear warhead.

Our Earth has seen many conflicts over the past 7 decades, but the cost of a nuclear war was always greater than the prize. Till the world achieves its aim of no nuclear weapons, this balance of cost versus prize must remain stable to ensure peace.


Peace Park Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Japan | Photo by Fezbot2000 on Unsplash

This post is dedicated to the memory of the lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan as a result of the only atom bombs used in the history of our world. While the need for the bombings has been, continues to be and will be debated for a very long time, it cannot be questioned that the lives lost were a tragedy.


Author: The force behind the blog, Vikrant Sharma is the Founder-Editor of The Global Telescope. A student of law, he is deeply passionate about history, political science, public international law, international relations, and diplomacy.



All views presented in the article belong solely to the writer. The editor does not support or condemn the views, and neither does The Global Telescope. The Global Telescope remains impartial and promotes every individual's right to freedom of speech and expression while not holding any responsibility for the views presented whatsoever.


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