Nuclear Arms Reduction and Elephants in the Castle

Posted: April 9, 2010 in Nuclear arms

I’ve been taking some time off from my research to consider events at Prague Castle yesterday (8 April), when the US and Russian presidents, Obama and Medvedev, signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in advance of the upcoming nuclear security summit in Washington on Monday (12 April). This was a “follow on” treaty, part of an ongoing process going back to the big set-piece START summits of the 1980s. I use the term “set-piece” advisedly because the emphasis was on the mood music rather than the substance. Remember Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington? Reykjavik? Geneva? How about Moscow? Ronald Reagan in the Evil Empire? No? Anyway, true to form, the Prague Castle treaty was signed by Obama and Medvedev with “trumpet fanfare” (AP).

Scratch the surface, however, and there is less to be cheerful about.

Even after the limited reductions brought about by the original START, the US and Russia still stock enough strategic or intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles to destroy the world “many times over” (AP). So it’s heartening to see them agreeing further reductions so that they can now only destroy the world just a couple of times over. It seems churlish to raise objections to that and ask for more, doesn’t it? These are complicated treaties after all and they take time. And as we are told ad nauseam there are plenty of unstable regimes – friendly as well as hostile – which have their own nuclear arsenals that could threaten western security in the not so distant future. But if we consider the hard evidence and not the propaganda it seems that the level of nuclear threat such countries represent appears to be inversely proportionate to the size of their nuclear stockpile.

Bear in mind first of all that the leader of the free and civilized world, America, has 2,700 warheads, while Russia has 4, 830. Then check the UK (180-200); France (300); our mutually suspicious allies India (70) and Pakistan (60); and America’s firmest ally in the Middle East, Israel (75-200). Some of these figures are maximum estimates, while the data on Israel is difficult to confirm since that country officially denies it has nuclear weapons and excludes itself from international monitoring.  But that’s still between 7,000 and 8,000 warheads for the civilized western world and its unstable friends to the east.

Now consider Iran, pinnacle of the Axis of Evil. It has no nuclear weapons. Then there’s that crazy regime, North Korea, with a grand total of between 5-15. And China, that emergent superpower we’re really rather afraid and unsure of, has a mere 176. That’s upwards of 200 altogether.

All of this goes to show why we need that nuclear security summit on Monday. It’s a very scary world out there.

(Source for data on nuclear stockpile: Volha Charnysh, Arms Control Association: http://www.napf.org/articles/pdfs/Proliferation_Table.pdf)

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