Nuclear weapons and their non-proliferation are considered one of the world’s main challenges today, nuclear weapons are large-scale explosive devices, and their energy source is derived from nuclear reactions. According to the theory of relativity, it is possible to convert a mass into energy. The principle of operation of nuclear weapons is based on nuclear reaction. In order for the chain reaction to start, the appropriate “fuel” in the form of uranium isotopes is necessary.
It is interesting to discuss the process of splitting the nucleus of an atom, which takes place by splitting the nucleus of heavy elements, we are talking about the principle of mass deficiency, which was explained by the great physicist Albert Einstein in the theory of relativity. Most importantly, such weapons require pure and enriched uranium. Uranium enrichment and its subsequent extraction is a very difficult technological process, and very few countries can produce it. As for the actual explosion process: the reaction is a chain, the nucleus of uranium emits neutrons during decay, which in turn collide with other nuclei of uranium and splits it.
After the end of the Second World War, great geopolitical changes began in the world, and the periodization of the Cold War became the center of confrontation between the two superpowers of the world, America and the Soviet Union. The two countries, engaged in high competition, tried to develop more and more powerful nuclear weapons.
On October 30, 1961, the Soviet Union tested the world’s most powerful nuclear device. The “Tsar Bomba”, as it was called, was 10 times more powerful than all other weapons used during World War II. The Soviet Union initially aimed to prove to the world, and especially to the US, that it too could produce a nuclear device, however, this move had an unexpected implication for the subsequent use of nuclear weapons.
The “Tsar Bomba” belongs to the category of aviation hydrogen bombs. It is also known as a thermonuclear weapon, commonly referred to as a more advanced and more powerful variation of the atomic bomb. At a time when in most cases either uranium or plutonium is used in atomic bombs, the hydrogen bomb also requires additional isotopes of hydrogen-deuterium and tritium.
Since the creation of nuclear weapons, Russia has become the first state to use a direct nuclear threat against Ukraine, the threat, partially, was caused by its loss of position in the military confrontation.
Against the backdrop of Russia’s threats, the risk of nuclear war has significantly increased in the world. Since the beginning of the war, since February 24, it has repeatedly threatened Ukraine and the world with the use of nuclear weapons, thus emphasizing its strategic advantage in the war with Ukraine. The objective of Russia in threatening was, to some extent, to coerce Western and NATO member states into refusing to engage in military conflict. It is also very annoyed by the political, economic, and military aid provided to Ukraine.
The events of 2022 created a crisis in the world, resulting in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, more than 6 million Ukrainians left the country, and a third of the country’s population became internally displaced persons. The invasion also led to global food shortages. To recall the processes that started eight years ago, in 2014, Russia invaded Crimea and occupied it, Russian-backed separatists occupied a part of Donbas in South-Eastern Ukraine, namely Luhansk and Donetsk districts, which laid the foundation for a military conflict in the local region. In 2021, Russia began a massive military buildup near the border with Ukraine, amassing more than 190,000 troops and their equipment.
During his televised address, Vladimir Putin, as always, told the world an alternative story, saying that Ukraine was ruled by neo-Nazis who oppressed and punished Russians on ethnic grounds. Then Putin announced a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. Within minutes, air and missile attacks began in all regions of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv. This was followed by a ground invasion from several directions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law and general mobilization for all men between the ages of 18 and 60, who were banned from leaving the country.
The Russian offensive initially began on the northern front, in the direction from Belarus to Kyiv, on the southern front from Crimea, on the northeastern front, and the eastern front from Donetsk and Luhansk.
The attack on the sovereign state was widely condemned at the international level. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the invasion and demanding that Russia completely withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine. The International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop military operations and the Council of Europe expelled Russia from its membership. Many countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, which isolated it completely. Protests of people imbued with the feeling of injustice started in different countries of the world. The wave of protests moved to Russia, against the background of the demonstrations, strengthened total control over society, and increased censorship in Russia, the words “war” and “invasion” were banned. The International Criminal Court has been investigating crimes against humanity in Ukraine since 2013 and is also investigating war crimes committed during the 2022 invasion.
In February 2014, the pro-Russian President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, and the leaders of the Ukrainian parliamentary opposition signed a reconciliation agreement within the framework of the Euromaidan movement. The next day, he was expelled from the country in the form of impeachment when the president was deprived of his powers. Despite his escape, leaders of the Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine pledged allegiance to Yanukovych, sparking pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine. The turmoil was followed by the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the war in Donbas.
In July 2021, Putin published an essay entitled: On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians, where he reaffirmed his subjective view that Russians and Ukrainians are “one nation”. He also stated that the possible accession of Ukraine to NATO and the expansion of NATO, in general, posed a threat to its national security. Along with many lies, he also said: “I must say that Russophobia is the first step towards genocide. You and I know what is happening in Donbas. It certainly looks a lot like genocide.” Russia also condemned the Ukrainian language law. On February 15, 2022, Putin told the press: “What is happening in Donbas is exactly a genocide.” These statements of Putin were of course very dangerous. To a certain extent, there were warning signs regarding NATO-Ukraine relations. In light of recent events Putin has been most annoyed by NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, the deployment of a NATO missile defense system in Poland instilled in him a lifelong fear of being attacked.
Amid the Russia-Ukraine military conflict, Putin ordered nuclear forces to be on high alert in response to “aggressive statements” by NATO members. This order drew heavy criticism from NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations. Jens Stoltenberg called it “dangerous and irresponsible”, while Stefan Dujarric said nuclear war was “unthinkable”. The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, William Barnes, made a statement on April 14 that there were reasonable doubts that Putin would use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. In case of Russian nuclear aggression, NATO’s involvement in the processes would be inevitable, according to Jens Stoltenberg, NATO member states would not allow the nuclear blackmail of Russia against Central European countries. The latest threat was articulated by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on July 6, 2022. He did not rule out the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and considered the possibility of nuclear war to be admissible, and he also highlighted the decision-making process of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the punishment of Moscow for the crime committed in Ukraine. Medvedev said that “the idea of punishing a country with the largest nuclear arsenal is itself absurd and potentially poses a threat to humanity”.
US military experts do not rule out the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats. Therefore, in the war conducted by Russia against Ukraine, there is an increasing risk that the war could very soon escalate into a nuclear conflict, even with the use of short-range “tactical” weapons. According to NATO experts, in the case of using nuclear weapons, there is no guarantee that the nuclear fire will not spread to other geographical areas and the whole earth. Once nuclear weapons are used, it will be impossible to limit their use by the parties to the conflict or by other parties, as a result of which the conflict will escalate into a “global nuclear war”.
According to international studies, about 13,000 nuclear warheads still exist, and most of them are owned by Russia, also the nuclear development of Iran is considered a dangerous trend, the factor of China is also interesting, which has a “no-first-use” policy of nuclear weapons, and at the same time, as it appears, increases its nuclear arsenal. Amid growing threats, the United Kingdom has publicly announced its intention to increase the number of nuclear warheads.
On 17 October 2022, NATO conducted a two-week exercise in Europe, known as Steadfast Noon, centered on Kleine Broegel Air Base located in Belgium, one of the six air bases in Europe that host the US nuclear arsenal. Exercises were conducted in terms of significant modernization of nuclear bases across Europe. The Steadfast Noon exercise usually takes place once a year, but 2022 was a significant one as the scale of the exercise proved to be the largest in Europe since World War II. Due to rising tensions and unprecedented fears of nuclear war, Steadfast Noon involved 14 countries (less than half of NATO’s 30 allies) and about 60 aircraft. It included the fourth-generation F-16 and F-15E, as well as the fifth-generation F-35A and F-22 fighters.
As for the current situation, the policy of nuclear deterrence carries great risks, the threat of using nuclear weapons and the new arms race for nuclear weapons is increasing. Also, it is expected that in the near future, the policy will be changed to complete nuclear disarmament, which means, first of all, renouncing the need to comply with Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).