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Great Powers and Nuclear Warfare

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Even though it is not have been named yet, we are able to claim that the World has been entered a new Cold War era which is much more dangerous than the first period given the realities of the technical features of new generation weapons. Indeed, the development of hypersonic and cruise missiles occupied for both offensive and defensive purposes, the missile defense systems generated against these weapon systems further accelerated this arms race, and recently the United States (US) and Russia cancelled some basic contracts on nuclear weapons. All these developments have emerged as a key sign of this dangerous era.

According to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, (NPT) that was signed in 1968, the five states that are legally obtaining to possess nuclear weapons are; The US, Russia, China, France and the UK issued a joint statement on n January 3, 2022, entitled “Preventing a Nuclear War and Avoiding an Arms Race.” In the statement published synchronously on the official websites of these states[1] had shown a significant example of common-sense through underlining the there will be no winner in a nuclear war, and therefore there must be no nuclear war” during the events such as the Russia-Ukraine Crisis, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/USA-Russia rivalry and the US-China tension. However, the fact that the statement in question was taken exactly from the Reagen-Gorbachev Summit in 1985 actually prometed asserting a claim of the “New Cold War” period.

In the declaration emphasizing adherence to the agreements and principles on the control of nuclear weapons, disarmament and non-proliferation, the 6th article of the NPT on this issue was emphasized and the necessity of effective cooperation for the proliferation of nuclear weapons was pointed out. It was also emphasized that the ultimate goal is a world free from nuclear weapons.

The declaration coincided with the postponement of the review meeting of the NPT, the most critical agreement on nuclear weapons, to August 2022 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Considering the crises under the shadow of nuclear weapons, the declaration is one of the most recent positive developments. In a sense, it has somewhat relieved the concern that the current crises would threaten a nuclear war at any moment. However, it should be emphasized that the actions of the states are not very compatible with these declarations and discourses.

All signatory states are rapidly continuing their work on nuclear armament and the modernization of existing weapons. In particular, the USA and Russia are developing missile defense systems that will make this arms race even more dangerous, and the classic security dilemma phenomenon continues from where it left off during the Cold War period.

On the other hand, the situation that is more dangerous than the Cold War period is that the armed forces of these states, which focused on proxy wars and avoided confrontation with their troops, now risk confronting many crisis regions of the world. In the Syrian Civil War, which started as a classic proxy war, both the USA and Russia actually sent their soldiers to the front and came face to face at times. NATO and Russian ships and warplanes, which come face to face at almost every point in the Black Sea, where Turkey has made great efforts to become a peace basin, invites a crisis that will happen at any moment. Although there is not such a intense traffic, the Baltic Sea also has the same danger.

In recent days, the allegations that Russia will invade Ukraine or that NATO will accept Ukraine and Georgia as members have gained a serious dimension. It is difficult to predict where the crisis will hit if Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, which Moscow has declared as a red line, and it is unlikely that Western states will take this risk.

The West, which has no commitment to these two states apart from its candidacy status, seems to be limited in what Russia can/will do in the event of a possible invasion of Ukraine. As a matter of fact, in both the Georgian War in 2008 and the Ukraine intervention in 2014, NATO could not go beyond applying an economic and political embargo to Russia. No progress was made on changing the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea. In fact, the differences of opinion among the NATO allies on this issue have created doubts about the solidarity and reliability of the alliance. However, it does not seem reasonable that Russia would attempt to invade in such an atmosphere. As a matter of fact, it is thought that Moscow aims to put pressure on the Ukraine via Russian soldiers who wait border.

Taking lessons from the color revolutions “organized” by the Western states in the countries that Russia sees as Russia’s backyard, the Moscow administration decided to focus on a different form of warfare in which unconventional warfare elements were more effective, rather than classical warfare methods, within the scope of the “Gerasimov Doctrine” that comes from name of the Russian Chief of General Staff Gerasimov.

The first stage of this warfare method, which Western states and especially NATO call Hybrid Warfare (Mixed War), is to push the limits of the opponent. As a matter of fact, Czech General Pavel Rus, Chairman of the NATO Former Military Committee, described the hybrid warfare tactics as “the stage before the activation of NATO’s Article 5”, and actually defined Russia’s current steps.

While Russia is testing NATO’s limits, patience and political solidarity with its compelling moves without activating the “collective defense” phase, which is NATO’s main task; By spreading these activities over time, it aims to weaken the political solidarity and deepen the differences of opinion among the alliance. As a matter of fact, it supports these moves with trump such as natural gas. The USA’s failure to consult NATO members in the process of withdrawing its troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and its exclusion of the European Union (EU), primarily France, with the AUKUS process weakens the solidarity of EU countries with the alliance and strengthens the hand of the Kremlin administration.

On the other hand, the US did not sell the PATRIOT systems demanded by Turkey, but made the S-400 purchase from Russia a crisis, and within this framework, removed it from the F-35 program, using the non-existent terrorist organization Devlet al-Iraq and al-Sham (DAESH) as an excuse and openly supporting the Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat (PYD) terrorist organization and making Greece a base next to Turkey, despite all its well-intentioned efforts, causes Turkey, one of the most important allies of NATO, to question the issue of solidarity. Although there has been information in the press recently that there will be signs of change in these crisis issues, the fact that no concrete steps have been taken yet creates a separate crack within NATO in particular for Turkey.

As a result, the new Cold War era continues with modern warfare methods instead of proxy wars. The issue of where the crises will evolve is a significant. In the statement they published, states with nuclear weapons drew attention to the “unauthorized and accidental use of nuclear weapons”. However, in these crises, the issue of where the unauthorized or accidental use of dangerous conventional weapons will lead and in such a case the war will not turn into a nuclear war as stated in the declaration is much more important. For the preservation of common sense will save the world from a nuclear disaster. However, it is useful to reiterate that; The attitudes of the parties in the recent crises are not as prudent as in the declaration on nuclear weapons.

[1]  “Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapons States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races”, Kremlin, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67551, (Erişim Tarihi: 19.01.2022).

Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
In 2019, Şafak OĞUZ received his Associate Professor title and retired in 2021 after 23 years of service in the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). Having worked for the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during his service, OĞUZ works on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism, International Security, International Organizations and Peace and Conflict Studies. OĞUZ is currently a faculty member at Cappadocia University, Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences, Department of International Relations. He is fluent in English and German.