Amid Rising US-China Rivalry And Ukraine-Russia War – Eurasia Review

Defining Nuclear proliferation:

In foreign policy or geopolitics, the term nuclear proliferation directs to the spread of nuclear weapons, materials, nuclear technology and scientific knowledge to countries that are not legally recognised nuclear states. Legally recognised nuclear states are those states that conducted their nuclear tests prior to January 1967. These states include the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China, also known as the P-five states. In contrast, de facto nuclear states are those states that conducted their nuclear tests prior to January 1967 and have not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. These states include India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Origins of Nuclear proliferation:

In 1939, Albert Einstein and other physicists dispatched a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him that Nazi Germany was concocting a uranium-based bomb—a weapon vastly more destructive than any. The physicists advised President Roosevelt to develop a research program to produce an atomic weapon before Germany did. In retort, the United States commissioned the Manhattan Project. From 1942 to 1945, with the United States entangled in World War II, thousands of scientists and engineers operated discreetly to build a new weapon based on nuclear fission. Nuclear fission separates the nucleus of a uranium or plutonium atom to generate energy that can produce a highly destructive nuclear weapon, otherwise known as an atomic bomb. Hankering a brisk and decisive end to the war in the Pacific, President Harry Truman and his allies cautioned Japanese leaders of instantaneous and absolute destruction if they did not surrender. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The explosion accompanying radiation annihilated 5 square miles of the city and resulted in over 100,000 deaths. Three days later, the United States dropped an even more powerful bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, resulting in an estimated 70,000 deaths. Less than a week later, the Japanese succumbed. The nuclear age had begun. It promptly became apparent with the development of atomic weapons, first by the Soviet Union and later by the United Kingdom, France, and China, that the American monopoly on nuclear weapons would not last, posing an ongoing concern for American foreign policy and the entire world.

Evolution of Nuclear proliferation:

Nuclear weapons perplex a big menace to humanity. Since their first use, various leaders and organisations have tried to stem the proliferation of additional countries. Regardless of their efforts, more states than ever before have acquired nuclear weapons. The following chronology explores some critical efforts and decisions that led to today’s distribution of those weapons and the world’s non-proliferation regime.

On July 29, 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set up. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established to foster and overlook the peaceful use of nuclear technology. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s December 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech is assumed to have created the momentum for forming the institution. Eisenhower said an international agency was required to stem nuclear technology’s spread. He admonished that if the spread of nuclear technology is ignored, the result will be perilous for humanity.

On September 29, 1957, the Kyshtym Nuclear disaster happened in secret. A rashly stored tank of nuclear waste blasted in the Russian town of Ozyorsk, the authentic site of the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The disaster emitted more radioactive contamination than the 1986 Chornobyl disaster and further tainted the heavily polluted area. Unlike other well-known nuclear accidents, this one ensued at a nuclear weapons facility instead of an energy plant, so the Soviet government attempted to cover it up. The disaster was not widely known until a banished Soviet scientist apprised it in 1976.

From October 15 to October 28, 1962, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. This period is recalled as the Cuban Missile crisis. On October 15 October 15, a U.S. military plane located Soviet nuclear missiles under construction in Cuba, only about one hundred miles from the Florida coast. President John F. Kennedy dispatched the U.S. Navy to shroud Cuba and insisted that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev disassemble the missiles. After several tense days, Khrushchev consented to remove the missiles in exchange for a public assurance from the United States that it would not attack Cuba, a Soviet ally. The United States also privately agreed to remove particular missiles from Turkey, out of range of the Soviet Union. The crisis is assumed to be the closest the world has ever come to a nuclear war.

From 1968-75 nuclear non-proliferation went international. The late 1960s and early 1970s were denoted by both advancement and setbacks in nuclear non-proliferation worldwide; because of this, the United Nations founded the first framework relating to nuclear weapons with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Moreover, the world’s two most considerable nuclear powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, took primary steps toward limiting their nuclear arsenals. On the other hand, India acquired nuclear weapons. 

On June 12, 1968, the first international treaty to stem the spread of nuclear weapons was inscribed. In June 1968, the UN General Assembly embraced a resolution advocating the draft text of the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and countries began marking the treaty. Under this milestone international agreement, countries without nuclear weapons agreed never to obtain them; they can only use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The five countries with nuclear weapons at the time, China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, entered the treaty, committing to disarm eventually, but none acted upon it wholly.

On May 26, 1972, the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT 1 1972) was signed. U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev marked the interim Strategic Arms Limitations Talks agreement (SALT I), the first agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to confine their nuclear arsenals during the Cold War. This agreement commemorated a victory for non-proliferation ten years after the Cuban missile crisis between the nuclear-armed rivals. SALT II, signed seven years after SALT 1 by Brezhnev and U.S. President Jimmy Carter, further restricted nuclear capabilities.

On May 18, 1974, India entered the nuclear club. India executed its first nuclear test, code-named Smiling Buddha, in May 1974. Although the country’s government then repudiated that it was seeking a nuclear weapons program and asserted that the explosion was for peaceful purposes, India now sees its nuclear program as paramount to its security and image as an emerging world power. That was the first time a country outside the original five NPT-recognized nuclear-armed states had tested a nuclear bomb. Neighbour and adversary Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998.

From 1986-2000, the Cold War ceased, and measures regarding non-proliferation were enhanced. During the Cold War, an era defined by strains between the United States and the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear war was always present. However, after the Soviet Union tumbled in 1991 and the Cold War concluded, real headway was made to bolster the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, get former Soviet countries to join the treaty, and contain the further use of nuclear weapons.

On May 23, 1992, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine surrendered their nuclear weapons. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, three of its former territories: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, were left in the guardianship of nuclear weapons. An international agreement between the three former territories and Russia demanded that all nuclear weapons within the territories either be eradicated or repositioned to Russia for destruction. The three former Soviet republics also consented to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as “non-nuclear-weapon” countries and, along with South Africa, are the only countries to abandon their nuclear arsenals.

On September 24, 1996, the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty was opened for signatures (CTBT). After two years of dialogue, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was extended for signature at the United Nations. The treaty banned nuclear explosions of any kind, including for weapons tests. However, the CTBT is not yet lawfully imperative because not all the required countries—including China, India, Pakistan, and the United States—have inscribed or endorsed it in their home countries. Even so, most countries with nuclear weapons, including the Soviet Union and later Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have not executed nuclear tests since the early 1990s.

In May 1997, the IAEA’s model additional protocol was presented. Part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s license is to monitor whether countries employ nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, like energy production, rather than weapons. This surveillance involves assessments of nuclear facilities and power plants. After the 1990–91 Gulf War, it was uncovered that Iraq had sought an undeclared nuclear weapons program despite being subject to IAEA inspections. In response, the IAEA’s board of governors approved the Model Additional Protocol, which gave the agency further admission to information and nuclear sites. Although the protocol is discretionary, it is now enforced in 136 countries, and the European Atomic Energy Community is strengthening the IAEA’s review capacities.

Moreover, from 2003 till contemporary times, many countries have functioned to specify or eliminate nuclear weapons; threats exist from countries that continue to create arsenals, do not intend to disarm entirely or do not heed safety standards for nuclear material. Stemming nuclear weapons and discouraging nuclear war are state actors’ most substantial challenges in co-occurring times.

On January 10, 2003, North Korea retreated from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). North Korea proclaimed its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), stating: “We can no longer remain bound to the NPT, letting the country’s security and the pride of our nation be intruded upon.” Months earlier, the United States had declared that North Korean officials had acknowledged enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. North Korea denied the suit but reopened nuclear facilities previously locked down and called IAEA inspectors out of the country. Almost four years later, the North Korean government declared its culmination of a nuclear test, becoming the eighth country in history.

On April 14, 2009, North Korea strode out of six-party talks. Negotiations among China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States to find a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program came tumbling down. That happened because the UN Security Council criticised a North Korean test launch of a rocket, which it had camouflaged as part of its civilian space program. The negotiations, known as the Six-Party Talks, continued for six years but failed to settle. North Korea remains one of the most perilous nuclear powers today.

On July 2015, world powers concurred a nuclear deal with Iran. In 2002, U.S. officials asserted that Iran had launched a nuclear weapons program. U.S. researchers disseminated satellite photographs of what they pinpointed as a gigantic uranium enrichment plant and a heavy water plant, essential equipment for producing nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies claimed that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, despite the country’s rejections and the IAEA’s statement that Iran had not violated its commitments. In 2015, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union reached a nuclear agreement with Iran after years of dialogue, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran consented to limit its nuclear program and issue its nuclear facilities with stricter surveillance than ordinary International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Then the United States and others comforted sanctions on Iran’s economy. However, in 2018, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would exit from the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

On July 7, 2017, the united nations embraced a nuclear weapons ban treaty. At the United Nations, 122 countries adopted the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, the first lawfully acute treaty for nuclear disarmament in twenty years. Countries that inscribed the treaty, which builds on the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, glimpse it as a notable effort toward eradicating nuclear weapons. However, countries with nuclear weapons did not mark, so it remains to be seen how adequate the treaty will be.

Future of Nuclear proliferation:

The future of nuclear proliferation is very uncertain presently. Amid the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war and soaring US-China rivalry, there are two logical arguments concerning nuclear proliferation, whether it will happen or not. One viewpoint endorses the idea that nuclear proliferation will again pick its pace. In contrast, the other opinion endorses the idea that nuclear proliferation will- not take place at a considerable level and the status quo will prevail.

Nuclear proliferation will ensue:

This opinion is based on the following assertions. To stop nuclear proliferation, the US guaranteed some states like Japan, South Korea, and many of the Nato allies in Europe extended deterrence or nuclear umbrella. That proved fruitful until now as academians have shown great concern and are raising critics of this policy. The critic is that concerning the rising relative power of china day after another; the US is ignoring its security and risk. 

Moreover, the states enjoying extended deterrence are also worried and raising questions: if they are attacked, why would the US risk its security and take its people to war and annihilate for us? Hence, many states employing the nuclear umbrella are rationally adopting the strategy of insurance hedging for their future and security. The strategy of insurance hedging is a nuclear proliferation strategy. This strategy aims to acquire pieces to eventually, at a later time, the state choosing to consummate the program and develop nuclear weapons. Hence, this strategy ensures these states would be ready to cultivate nuclear weapons if the US rolls back its extended deterrence policy to guard their security and sovereignty against hostile states. Among various states, Japan was the first to adopt the hedging strategy as it faces hostility from both china and, increasingly, North Korea. 

The critics of the US extended deterrence policy at home exclaim that this policy is fruitful in the short term. However, it is less fruitful in the longer term as the relative power of US arch-rival China is soaring daily. The US should focus more on securing its security and strengthening its economy back home; otherwise, the status quo of the US being a superpower will be broken. Hence, under all the scenarios mentioned above, if the US withdraws the nuclear umbrella, the states will immediately acquire nuclear weapons to ensure security and survival. Thus, proliferation will follow.

Furthermore, in the context of the Ukraine-Russia war, states observed that nuclear weapons guarantee security and survival. That is because Ukraine did not possess any nuclear weapons and surrendered its weapons in 1992. Due to that, in the absence of deterrence, Russia, without any concerns, fiercely invaded Ukraine. Hence, those states that face any threat in their region will always try to seek nuclear weapons as it ensures their security and survival, and they always justify their arguments by mentioning the Ukraine-Russia war in the context. Thus, nuclear proliferation might follow in future.

Nuclear proliferation will cease:

This viewpoint is based on the following assumption. Various factions in academia claim that nuclear proliferation might not occur in the future, and states will continue to adopt the policy of non-proliferation. They justify their claims based on the theory of evolution. They articulate that over time, state actors are getting more rationale and want to avoid conflict and promote cooperation and economic interdependence rather than initiating conflicts and war. Hence, when states do not perceive threats from one another, peace and stability will prevail, and a time will come when nuclear weapons will not be relevant to the world as they are now.

Personal opinion:

I consent that proliferation will follow as we live in a realistic and competitive world; there is always a conflict of interests. Moreover, the realist perspective exclaims that throughout history, states have attempted to maximise their power and security. Hence it is not very easy to predict that proliferation will not occur. Moreover, I find the viewpoint of cessation of proliferation very utopian, and I do not think that proliferation might end in future.


All in All, one cannot tell what the future holds, and uncertainty permanently ceases. However, we always try to predict the future with various tools and analyses for the betterment of humanity and to face the upcoming threats.


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