Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has many admirable qualities, but unfortunately he isn’t helping to reduce the risk of nuclear war. In addition to his calls for a No-Fly Zone, he recently told 60 Minutes: “The world is saying today that some people are politically hiding behind claims that ‘we cannot stand up for Ukraine because there could be a nuclear war…believing that by not helping Ukraine, you will hide from Russian nukes. I don’t believe it.’”
President Zelensky appears to suggest that no matter if the West engages in a direct military confrontation with Russia or not, a nuclear confrontation is a near-certainty.
He does have reason to be concerned. The Russian Federation claimed only a few weeks ago that using nuclear weapons is an option if Russia faced an existential crisis. Russia even put its missile systems on standby. Zelensky told CNN, “all of the countries of the world” should be prepared for the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use tactical nuclear weapons in his war on Ukraine.
Zelensky’s plight is unimaginable, no doubt. But language that implies unavoidable nuclear attacks and a necessity for increased military intervention only pushes Russia closer to launching a nuclear attack – and the world toward a global nuclear war. This is not a path that Ukraine or the world should want to take. What is needed is more diplomacy.
The US hasn’t made things better in the long term as the world’s leader in nuclear proliferation. And the US is refusing to adopt ‘no first use’ as official policy, assuring the world an offensive first strike with nuclear weapons is on the table. This happens to be the same nuclear policy shared by Russia – a policy that is striking fear across the globe right now, including nearly 70 percent of people in the US who are now worried about a nuclear attack.
This is doubly alarming considering the US’s history of fabricating evidence to go to war, as happened with George W Bush’s lies about WMDs in Iraq and the falsified Gulf of Tonkin incident that was used as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War.
The fate of humanity relies on the nine countries who possess nuclear weapons, and the countries they’ve shared with, never having someone in charge who decides their country is facing an existential threat, that control is never wrestled into irresponsible or malicious hands, that hackers don’t outpace government security systems, or that a flock of birds aren’t mistaken for an imminent nuclear attack, triggering a false alarm nuclear response. And keep in mind, ICBMs and sea-based missiles can’t be called back. Once they are fired, there is no turning back.
This risky and high-stakes, potentially world-ending strategy is not justifiable in an age when threats can potentially be spoofed, not just by rogue states, but by regular people and loose-knit groups connected anonymously online.
The answer to the threat of nuclear weapons is not more nuclear weapons. The answer is a planet that engages in genuine disarmament with a goal of no nuclear weapons. The world must not let Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine be a cause for increased nuclear proliferation and heightened dangers of nuclear war.
Excerpted: ‘Nuclear Proliferation is Not the Answer to Russian Aggression’.
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