While Russia is hinting at a nuclear escalation, the United States has stepped up its force posture with the ultimate weapon of war. So while fuelling a proxy war in Ukraine, Washington is modernising its nuclear arsenal in Europe when no ally is being directly threatened.
Are we drifting back to 1962 between the two old enemies when the world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis?
Moscow warned at the weekend that the US was accelerating its deployment of modernised tactical nukes at Nato bases in Europe that were designed for field battles with a lower yield but more precise and targeted destruction.
The Russian warning came as the US reportedly told Nato members this month that it would accelerate the deployment of B61-12 nuclear warheads, a modernised version of the older B61, by December, which will be several months earlier than planned.
Pentagon spokesmen have declined to offer details, saying only any such modernisation was long planned and predated the Ukraine crisis. If so, why not delay rather than speed up the plan at this moment of great danger in Europe?
Contrary to some news reports, Russia has not directly mentioned the use of nuclear weapons. What it said was: “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us.”
However, it’s not unreasonable to make the inference given that statement and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was highly publicised monitoring exercises by his strategic nuclear forces last week that were meant to simulate a response to a “massive nuclear strike.”
Why is the Western news media focusing almost exclusively on Russia when the US is actually notching up the nuclear threat?
On October 19, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, China’s ambassador for disarmament affairs, Li Song, reaffirmed the nation’s unconditional commitment to no-first-use of nuclear weapons, against nuclear-armed or non-nuclear-armed nations.
Neither Russia nor the US has made such a commitment. In fact, China is the only country with such an unconditional pledge. India comes close, but allows for possible nuclear retaliation in the event of a massive chemical or biological attack.
The website of Global Zero, an international movement dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons, provides a nifty summary of the world’s nuclear powers and their force postures and policies.
The former Soviet Union did make the no-first-use pledge but post-Soviet Russia has renounced it. The US has never committed. Indeed, its nuclear strike policy is the most expansive and aggressive. It allows nuclear use not only in a nuclear confrontation but in a conventional war. It covers not only its own territories and national security but also those of its allies, in both nuclear and conventional war scenarios.
In this context, no one should be shocked, although quite a few people were, when US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman last week said “we will use the full range of US defence capabilities to defend our allies, including nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities”.
Rather than overstating US commitments and policy limits, as her ultimate boss President Joe Biden sometimes does, Sherman was merely stating a long-standing policy.
Be that as it may, that policy still arguably exceeds the Russian threat, which only covers its own territories, though whether these include its recently annexed regions in Ukraine is anyone’s guess, as the ambiguity of the threat was no doubt intentional.
Two of the world’s most frightful nuclear powers are again threatening each other, and the world, perhaps one more so than the other. That’s a good reason for the world to call for an immediate ceasefire leading to a settlement to the war in Ukraine.
Maybe we all should be afraid – very afraid.