Staunton, January 4 – Perhaps the most dangerous development of the last three years of Vladimir Putin’s rule is one that has received relatively little attention. According to historian Leonid Mlechin, “fear of weapons of mass destruction” has disappeared and consequently it will not be as hard as it was to “push the nuclear button.
In “Novaya gazeta” yesterday, Mlechin traces the evolution of attitudes toward nuclear weapons during and after the cold war, arguing that among the factors pointing to their possible use at some point are the growing number of countries with them and the real risk that terrorists will acquire a bomb (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/01/03/71057-pozvolte-prevratit-vas-v-pepel).
“But the main danger is a conflict of Russia and the United States. In [Russia] the former type of thinking has gained the upper hand – hostility to the surrounding world, an instinctive striving to hide from it behind a fence of nuclear rockets combined with a search for enemies, domestic and foreign,” the Moscow analyst says.
Russian industrialist Vyacheslav Kantor agrees: “A militarization of consciousness is taking place, especially among the young and among those who are interested in an arms race. Disarmament is something despised by the establishment. Many politicians do not recognize that the use of a single nuclear weapon would be a worldwide catastrophe.”
“They’ve forgotten,” he continues, “predictions of a nuclear winter, a situation which would involve the destruction of all life and even of those who survive the exchange of nuclear strikes. Academician Aleksey Arbatov says that a billion people could die in the case of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India alone.
Les Brown, a former British defense minister, adds that “the current generation of world leaders simply isn’t expert on these questions. And these people are leading great countries! The prime minister of England has said that his country is ready under definite circumstance to review its approach to nuclear arms. In other words, there has again arisen the conviction that nuclear weapons preserve peace.”
Arbatov provides part of the explanation for what has happened: “The reserves of nuclear arms contracted over the past quarter century, and this led to an unexpected psychological effect. An understanding that it is impossible to win a nuclear war disappeared. Note that none of the world leaders uses this formula now. On the contrary, they talk about the modernization of nuclear arms.”
And former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov adds that officials in both Moscow and Washington have forgotten the earlier commitments of their two countries not to use nuclear weapons because they do not remember that “one cannot build security on the basis of [their] use.”
“The culture of dialogue has been lost,” Ivanov says. “Specialists who were able to conduct negotiations and diplomats who for decades were involved with this have left the scene. Professional negotiators do not remain. They must again be taught. And disarmament is a special thing which requires serious preparation and talent.”
Mlechin concludes his essay by saying that “a new cold war is going on, but we have already half forgotten how to live under conditions of military times … For the younger generation of politicians who have seen war only on computer screens, nuclear weapons are not something horrible … but simply a big bomb.”
And that opens the doors to an even more horrific possibility. “It’s likely that soon people will appear who will begin to try to convince us that we will win in a limited nuclear war and that our man is sufficiently strong in spirit to again stand on his feet” afterwards.