Nuclear-armed governments becoming authoritarian, says expert
"If you want peace, prepare for peace"
I was in New York this week along with many hundreds of disarmament activists for a meeting of nations that have signed the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty, or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
I participated in a global meeting of antinuclear experts from civil society representing every corner of the world. Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of the U.S.-based Western States Legal Foundation provided us with a comprehensive – and alarming – assessment of where nuclear nations are heading.
Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of the U.S.-based Western States Legal Foundation
Her speech delved into the intricate global landscape of nuclear-armed states, shedding light on the alarming rise of nationalist authoritarian governments and their overt preparations for war, all justified under the banner of "national security." It keenly observed the prevalence of such governments in nuclear-armed nations, including Russia, Israel, India, China, North Korea, and the United States. Additionally, she noted the presence of powerful nationalist authoritarian factions in other nuclear-armed states like Pakistan, the UK, and France.
One central theme woven throughout the discussion was the concept of nuclear deterrence. The Latin root of "deterrence" means to "frighten away, fill with fear." It was emphasized that deterrence, which essentially involves threatening, underpinned entire military-industrial establishments and the national security states and elites they served. She contended that this ideology, originating from the Cold War era, persisted and was used by nuclear-armed states to rationalize their continuous possession and threatened use, including the possibility of first use, of nuclear weapons.
The complexity of relationships among nuclear-armed states was compounded by the fog of war and propaganda surrounding conflicts such as the Israeli war on Hamas and the Russian war on Ukraine. The intertwining of national economic interests with "national security" further complicated the already challenging task of understanding these dynamics. Cabasso argued that over half the world's population lived in countries explicitly depending on nuclear weapons and the doctrine of nuclear deterrence for their national security postures.
Jackie Cabasso then shifted to the state of affairs in terms of nuclear arsenals. She highlighted the costly programs undertaken by nuclear-armed states to expand their nuclear capabilities, leading to a new nuclear arms race. This race was not only about the quantitative increase in nuclear arsenals but also involved advancements in offensive cyber capabilities, Artificial Intelligence, hypersonic capacities, and the production of delivery systems capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear payloads, blurring the lines between the two.
Recent developments were outlined, including Russia's unveiling of the hypersonic nuclear missile "Avangard" and its successful launch from a new nuclear submarine. France's test-firing of the M51.3 long-range ballistic missile and the United States' regular testing of unarmed ICBMs as a nuclear warning were also discussed. China's rapid nuclear weapons arsenal buildup, potentially learning from Russia's war in Ukraine, was a cause for concern, according to a Pentagon report.
She further delved into geopolitical dynamics, noting China and Russia's attempts to expand influence in the Middle East amidst ongoing conflicts. Notably, China brokered a resolution to the Iran-Saudi Arabia diplomatic feud, and Russia played a key role in Syria's return to the Arab League. However, the complex geopolitical landscape was highlighted by instances such as Russia and the U.S. conducting bombings on opposing sides in Syria.
Amidst these developments, Jackie expressed concern about the world being at an inflection point on the nuclear weapons issue, with a growing emphasis on nuclear deterrence and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric. The narrative stressed that the ongoing modernization programs in nuclear-armed states, including the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the UK, violated their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and international law.
In conclusion, Jackie Cabasso advocated for a fundamental challenge to the dominant paradigm of "national security through military might." The imperative to prioritize universal human security over narrow "national security interests" enforced by nuclear coercion was emphasized. Drawing on the wisdom of Olzhas Suleimenov, the text asserted the need to reject the old adage of "If you want peace, prepare for war" and instead declare, "If you want peace, prepare for peace." The urgency of recognizing the insanity and immorality of the past discussions around nuclear weapons was underscored, urging a collective reimagining of a global system for a peaceful and secure future.
(Cover: July 2021 - Severodvinsk. Nuclear submarine "Belgorod". The largest submarine in the world. Russia, Arkhangelsk region. Via Shutterstock)