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Who wants peace prepares for war?

Equilibres mondiaux | L'Europe et le monde

The world is awash with weapons and war. Last year world military expenditures reached their highest ever level, US$2443 billion, 6.8% more than in 2022. The number of armed conflicts is also at the highest level since 1946, both the number of wars and their casualties increasing in an increasingly climate-stressed world.

The danger of nuclear war is widely assessed to be greater than ever, and rising. Arms races are underway between Russia, China and the US. We appear to be heading down the same track as in the last Cold War, which on numerous occasions brought humanity to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.

Nuclear weapons stockpiles are increasing in 6 states. For the first time in over 30 years, the number of deployed nuclear weapons is rising.

Far from disarming as they are bound to do, nuclear-armed states are extensively modernising their nuclear arsenals for the long term, underpinned by massive and growing investments – $82.9 billion in 2022. New weapons not seen before are being developed and deployed, including long-range nuclear-powered and armed cruise missiles and torpedoes, and hypersonic missiles. The effect of theselonger-range, more accurate, stealthier and faster weapons is to increase the danger of nuclear use.

Hard-won arms control and disarmament treaties have been abrogated; and nothing is being negotiated in their place. Explicit threats to use nuclear weapons have proliferated, including in the two hot wars directly involving nuclear-armed states in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine.

The Doomsday Clock stands at 90 seconds to midnight, further forward than it has ever been since its founding in 1947.

Offensive cyberwarfare and burgeoning artificial intelligence capabilities increase the number of actors and means that could start a nuclear war. Good governance, evidence-based policy-making and democracy are being undermined by disinformation. The leadership that we so desperately need for nuclear disarmament, particularly from Russia, the US and China, is lacking.

Now in Ukraine and the Middle East, as elsewhere in the past, nuclear weapons are being used to intimidate, coerce, and provide ‘cover’ and impunity for invasion and other aggressive military actions. This heightens tensions and undermines the co-operation and respect for international law we so urgently need to address global heating, pandemics, the crises of nature and biodiversity, and other complex global challenges.

Many nuclear-armed and allied states, such as NATO members, Japan, South Korea and Australia, claim to support nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. But one can’t have it both ways. While states support nuclear weapons in some hands and provide justification and assistance for their possible use, they remain part of the problem rather than the solution. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “There are no right hands for the wrong weapons”.

Every day that nuclear weapons are deployed ready for use, the acute existential risk of their use hangs over us all. If retained, they will one day be used. Once the threshold of nuclear use is crossed, rapid, large-scale escalation will almost certainly result. There can be no meaningful humanitarian response to even a single nuclear detonation on a city, let alone nuclear war. No help will come. While the early casualties from burns, blast and radiation will be cataclysmic enough, more than 10 times as many people would die from nuclear famine – as many as 2 billion people even after a war using less than 3% of the global nuclear arsenal. A nuclear war no winners. Durably preventing nuclear war requires the elimination of these global suicide bombs. They are the enemy of us all.

The only good news on nuclear weapons is the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. But only the 9 states owning nuclear weapons can negotiate their elimination. If they fail to end nuclear weapons before they end us, we will not get a second chance. As we sow, so we shall reap.