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Nonproliferation and disarmament after Ukraine and JCPOA

Nuclear weapons have certainly prevented a global war. But the world can not sustain on the same path if security concerns rooted in the history of states are not addressed in an amicable manner rather major powers keep playing other states as mere pawns in the great game.

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At a time when there is a long queue of cars at the border with Georgia, as those Russians who fear that they might have to take part in the ongoing ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine after a call for partial mobilization, Putin has once again threatened to go nuclear. Ukraine, courtesy of easy access to apparently limitless U.S coffers in terms of military aid, has held up Russia and even started to push back.

It is certainly not the intended dreamlike scenario that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have imagined back in March when he initiated his special military operation. The war continues to linger on under the shadow of a nuclear apocalypse, real or not depending on the individual dispensation on what constitutes the term ‘rational’. For the moment let’s focus on the bigger, and consequently gloomier impact of the Ukraine war and an event of the not-so-distant past, the abrupt termination of JCPOA.

Read more: Revival of Iran nuclear agreement likely to test Middle Eastern detente

Understanding the matter better

A lot has been said about how the war in Ukraine is the most recent example of reality staring the security-sensitive states right in the face that the present world order is practically fending for itself. The security guarantees that Ukraine got against giving up the stockpile of Soviet nuclear weapons meant nothing in the end. And the same sort of assurance was given to Iran for drastically scaling back on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the freedom to do business with the rest of the world.

Given the longevity of the matter and sensitivity around nuclear weapons proliferation, at the time of its signing, JCPOA did seem like a step in the right direction. However, similar to the promises to Ukraine, it all fell apart when U.S President Donald Trump unilaterally walked out of the deal although Iran had been fully compliant with the terms of the agreement. And when the dust of war in Ukraine settles down, hopefully soon and without a major catastrophe, the west would see the scars both these events have left on the efforts of nonproliferation and even the wishful goal of nuclear disarmament.

The violence and loss of human life in the ongoing conflict in Europe are indeed condemnable. However, Russia has held a legitimate fear of encirclement ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. NATO was pushing too close to the predefined redline and the United States-led west did not give those security concerns the attention they deserved. There are several protracted ongoing conflicts around the world and states are concerned about keeping their territorial integrity intact. The war in Ukraine has signaled to the states around the world that it depends on the geopolitical mood of powerful states and how their security concerns would be perceived.

Nuclear weapons have certainly prevented a global war. But the world can not sustain on the same path if security concerns rooted in the history of states are not addressed in an amicable manner rather major powers keep playing other states as mere pawns in the great game. If it continues, there is no guarantee that more states would not begin pursuit of having their own nuclear weapons as the guarantor of security.

Read more: Russia-Ukraine war and the essence of nuclear deterrence

The belief in the security assurances and pledges of economic perks and freedom in case of compliance has shattered. The international system is broken, and it is destined for more anarchy especially as there are more poles of power than at any point since World War II. Now more than ever, North Korea is going to hold onto its nuclear weapons. It is evident from the approval of the North Korean nuclear use doctrine as recently released and endorsed by its leader Kim Jong-Un.

Saudi Arabia is anxiously monitoring the ongoing situation regarding the resumption of JCPOA, ready to go on the nuclear path if Iran seems to be getting nuclear weapons. The desired system of rules-based world order that unipolar America, at least verbally, championed at the end of the cold war is broken. It would need a serious overhaul to prevent further nuclearization once the war in Ukraine allows a relatively permanent respite.

 

The writer works as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His work focuses on ‘Developments and Militarization in Outer Space’. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.