Nuclear Drama

October 11, 2022
A photo of a sunset behind a mountain

That's Enough, World Leaders.

Almost every week, we hear something new about nuclear conflict. The American president speaking about "Armageddon," threats from Russia, missile tests by North Korea. What you need to know about the state of nuclear arms – who has what – & why it matters.
"The mistakes get made, the miscalculation could occur, no one could be sure what would happen and it could end in Armageddon."

Pres. Biden after he said the following during a Democratic fundraiser: "We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis." Meanwhile, North Korea's leader said recent missile tests inform "enemies" of the nation's "nuclear response posture and nuclear attack capabilities." Russia's president recently said Russia will be "defended … by all the systems available to us."

Who Has Them:

"The world's nuclear-armed states possess a combined total of nearly 13,080 nuclear warheads; more than 90% belong to Russia and the United States." – Arms Control Association

  • Russia is estimated to have 6,000+; The United States is estimated to have 5,500+.

  • China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel & North Korea (a U.S. designated state sponsor of terrorism) are all countries *known* to have nuclear weapons.

What To Know:

  • "Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth. One can destroy a whole city, potentially killing millions, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects" (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs).

  • North Korea: Intercontinental ballistic missiles can reach the U.S. & carry nuclear warheads.

  • Russia: Reportedly has the most nuclear weapons.

  • United States: Last nuclear test was in 1992.

"Mr. Putin’s armies are in headlong retreat across much of Ukraine. His support at home looks threatened. But the threat he poses to vital American interests must not be underestimated, and the threat that he will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine is real."

Foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Fmr Dept. of Defense official Matthew Kroenig writes that the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine "could advance the Kremlin's military aims, undermine US interests globally, and set off a humanitarian catastrophe unseen since 1945."

"Putin's threats ring especially hollow because any use of nuclear weapons on territory he claims is part of Russia would be a disaster from a public and diplomatic point of view."

Dir. of Strategy, Technology and Arms Control, William Alberque, Intl Institute for Strategic Studies. He argues Russia's nuclear threats are intended to prevent Western intervention, and says that Russia has "little if anything" to gain by using nuclear weapons in Ukraine: "Breaking the 77-year taboo on nuclear use in war would only galvanize Ukraine and the West's support for it while rallying more countries to the cause."

Over the years, a series of treaties between the U.S. and Russia have attempted to limit/reduce the number of nuclear arms held by each nation, to varying or debatable levels of success. These treaties date back to the 1970s, not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (aka "NATO" – the world's largest military alliance) began military drills over Europe on Monday. Russia is also expected to begin "pre-planned nuclear tests" as well. Both are exercises we typically seen during late fall, but because of the war in Ukraine and increasingly tense rhetoric, we want to keep a close eye on them.

Here's a map: Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance (Arms Control Association)

Biden sends a careful but chilling new nuclear message to Putin in CNN interview (CNN)

North Korea On Recent Missile Launches (SmartHER News)

Matthew Kroenig, Atlantic Council, Memo to POTUS on Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Weapons (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs)

Putin Calls Up Reservists, Renews Nuclear Threat (Arms Control Association)

Opinion Editorial: Putin's Nuclear Threat Is Real (The Wall Street Journal)

Analysis: Russia is unlikely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine (International Institute for Strategic Studies)

NATO and Russia to hold long planned exercises of nuclear forces as tensions over Ukraine remain high (CNN)

by Jenna Lee,