IPS News Service
U.S.-Russia Bickering May Trigger
By Thalif Deen
Vitaly I. Churkin (left), Permanent Representative
of the Russian Federation to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting
on the situation in Ukraine on Mar. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
UNITED NATIONS, Mar
14 2014 (IPS)
- The U.S.-Russian confrontation over Ukraine, which is threatening to
undermine current bilateral talks on North Korea, Iran, Syria and Palestine,
is also in danger of triggering a nuclear fallout.
Secretary of State John Kerry
told U.S. legislators early this week that if the dispute results in punitive
sanctions against Russia, things could “get ugly fast” and go “in multiple
Perhaps one such direction could
lead to a nuclear impasse between the two big powers.
According to a state agency news
report from Moscow, Russia has threatened to stop honouring its arms treaty
commitments, and more importantly, to block U.S. military inspections of
nuclear weapons, if Washington decides to suspend military cooperation
These mostly bilateral treaties
between the United States and Russia include the 1994 Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty (START), the 2010 new START, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear
Forces (INF) treaty and the 1970 international Nuclear Non-Proliferation
A nuclear tug-of-war between
the two big powers is tinged in irony because post-Soviet Ukraine undertook
one of the world’s most successful nuclear disarmament programmes when
it agreed to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
Dr. Rebecca E. Johnson, executive
director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament and Diplomacy, told IPS,
“Clearly the situation between Ukraine and Russia is deeply worrying.
“Without going into the politics
of the situation on the ground, as I don’t have the kind of regional expertise
for that, this is not a place for issuing nuclear threats or scoring nuclear
points,” she said.
“I’ve been disgusted to see
some British and French representatives try to use Ukraine’s crisis to
justify retaining nuclear weapons in perpetuity.”
Russia is not directly threatening
to attack Ukraine with nuclear weapons, and no one believes it would be
useful for the United States and countries of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation (NATO) to threaten Russia with a nuclear attack, no matter
what they do, said Johnson.
Ukraine, which was once armed
with the third largest nuclear arsenal after the United States and Russia,
and possessed more nukes than France, Britain and China, dismantled and
shipped its weapons to Russia for destruction beginning in 1994.
Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president
of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW),
said Ukraine is commendable in being one of the few states to have given
up its nuclear weapons peacefully, and the people of Ukraine should not
have to fear nuclear weapons ravaging their country.
“Any war involves a terrible
and lasting human toll, risks spreading and harming people’s health in
the region and beyond,” he warned.
In a statement released last
week, IPPNW said it underscores the absolute
imperative to avoid the possibility of use of nuclear weapons.
“This danger exists with any
armed conflict involving nuclear armed states or alliances, which could
escalate in uncontrollable, unintended and unforeseeable ways,” it
Dr Tilman A. Ruff, co-chair,
International Steering Group and Australian Board member of the International
Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told IPS the current agreements (e.g.
START, New START and INF) are probably most important in that they demonstrate
that verified reductions and elimination of whole classes of nuclear weapons
are feasible, and hopefully reduce the risk of nuclear war between Russia
and the United States.
massive nuclear arsenals on both sides; the retention of almost 1,800 nuclear
weapons on hair-trigger alert missiles, ready to be launched within minutes;
aggressive eastward expansion of NATO, contrary to what Russian leaders
were promised; andthe
rapid escalation of tension over recent events in Ukraine demonstrate
the Cold War has not been firmly laid to rest.
“Any confrontation between nuclear-armed
states runs the risk of escalating to the use of nuclear weapons,
by inadvertence, accident, or bad decision-making,”
said Dr Ruff, who is also an associate professor at the Nossal Institute
for Global Health, School of Population and Global Health, University of
He said currently all the nuclear-armed
states are massively investing in keeping and modernising their nuclear
arsenals, and show no serious commitment to disarm, as they are legally
bound to do. As long as nuclear weapons exist and are deployed, and policies
countenance their possible use, the danger they will be used is real and
dangerous and unstable situation in Ukraine highlights this starkly, and
should dispel any notion that nuclear danger ended 20 years ago with apparent
end of the Cold War,” he
Dr Johnson told IPS Russian
and U.S. nuclear weapons in the region are demonstrably not contributing
“If anything, their presence
complicates the current dangers, with the attendant risks of crisis instability
and potential military or nuclear escalation or miscalculations, though
I’d hope no one would be mad enough to actually use them,” she said.
Politicians that want to keep
French or British nuclear weapons need to stop making arguments that undermine
the NPT and encourage proliferators, she pointed out.
“It is extraordinarily irresponsible
to jump on the bandwagon of this dangerous regional crisis and make Ukrainians
feel that they were wrong to rid their newly independent country of nuclear
weapons in 1992 and join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states,” Johnson
It is clearly unacceptable for
states armed with nuclear weapons to threaten non-nuclear nations, but
this cannot be turned into a rationale either for risking nuclear war between
Russia and NATO or for the non-nuclear countries to pull out of the NPT
and start arming themselves with nuclear arsenals of their own, she noted.
As brought to the forefront through
the recent Oslo and Nayarit conferences on the humanitarian impacts of
nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons need to be stigmatised, banned and eliminated,
“Only by removing these weapons
of mass destruction from all countries’ arsenals will we be able to fairly
address the security needs and aspirations of all peoples – whether in
non-nuclear or nuclear-armed countries,” she added.
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We thank IPS New Service for its fair reporting.
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