The Cold War Era was shaped by nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapons were in the hands of the United States of America (US) and the Soviet Union, who played an important role in preserving the peace that was ready to fail at any moment during the Cold War. The 1962 Cuban Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, but the danger was averted without resorting to nuclear weapons. The détente period that started right after led the US and the Soviet Union to a gradual process of limiting and reducing nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons were limited by international and bilateral agreements such as Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).
In the first phase of the post-Cold War era, efforts to further reduce nuclear weapons continued; cooperation between the US and Russia has been expanded to include tactical nuclear weapons. Although the US’s withdrawal from the 1972 Missile Defense System Convention (1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile -ABM) in 2002 laid the foundations for the current crisis, nuclear disarmament was on the agenda frequently. So much so that President Obama started to talk about the dream of a “world without nuclear weapons” at the Prague Summit in 2009.
However, the Russian-Ukrainian War brought nuclear weapons and the nuclear armament process back to the agenda. The threat of “use of nuclear weapons” to prevent the intervention of any state or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminded once again that the danger of nuclear weapons is not far away.
Although other issues were more prominent on the world agenda, as mentioned above, nuclear armament has accelerated considerably since the US’s withdrawal from the 1972 Missile Defense System Convention in 2002 and the US’s construction of the national missile defense system. While the US is working on modern and new weapons such as Conventional Global Prompt Strike (CGPS), on the other hand, the US is also working to modernize the existing Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile systems are named LGM-35 SENTINEL (or Ground Based Strategic Deterrence – GBSD). These studies are supported by studies such as the development of missile defense weapon systems, new tactical nuclear weapons, or new tactical nuclear warheads.
Russia, on the other hand, is responding to these efforts of the USA with revolutionary developments in nuclear weapons and launch vehicles. As a matter of fact, it has been announced that weapon systems such as the SARMAT missiles, which Putin describes as “invincible”, or the “ZIRCON”, which he describes as “unstoppable” or “KINJAL” hypersonic missiles, will soon be in the inventory. Even though they are less in number compared to the Cold War period, these weapons are much more superior in terms of quality, in fact, this situation shows that the New Cold War, which started in 2002, will be again based on nuclear weapons.
The SARMAT missiles, which were said to have passed the test successfully in April 2021 and are expected to enter the inventory of the Russian Army at the end of 2022, are the longest-range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in the world with a range of 18,000 km. These missiles, which weigh about 210 tons, have liquid fuel technology and are fast enough to hit London in 3 minutes, can carry 10-15 nuclear warheads, and one missile can destroy an area as large as England or France’s territory. The weapon is also capable of carrying a large number of avangarde hypersonic cruise missiles. While introducing the weapon, President of Russia Vladimir Putin described it as “there is no such weapon in the world yet and it will not be in a long time”.
SARMAT has considerably increased Russia’s strategic and political power; this is reflected in the discourses of Russia. As a matter of fact, Britain’s harsh rhetoric and support to Ukraine during the occupation of Ukraine attracted the attention of Russia, and Russia began to implicitly threaten Britain with nuclear weapons. For example, at the end of April, while a simulation of the SARMAT Missile hitting Britain was broadcast on a Russian channel, the host of the program went further and openly threatened Britain, claiming that a SARMAT missile would wipe the entire island off the map.
After the publication of the simulation showing the complete destruction of Britain with the SARMAT missile on Russian TV, the news in the British media that Russia’s missiles will be hit with a Directed Energy Weapon or Laser Weapon clearly shows what dimensions the arms race has reached. Russia’s declaration that the studies on the SARMAT missile correspond to the CPGS studies of the USA also reveals the extent of the arms race. Again, Putin’s mention of the development of hypersonic weapons which is working with nuclear energy without a flight time limit revealed a different dimension of the danger.
On the other hand, SARMAT’s ability to fly in different orbits prevents it from being neutralized by missile defense systems. As a matter of fact, Putin stated that the weapon was able to pass all existing missile defense systems. This capability will require further development of the Missile Defense Systems run by the US and will lead to an even faster repeat of the Cold War arms race.
As a result, the increasing crisis and global competition between Russia and the West encourage nuclear armament. In this context, the abolition of bilateral or international agreements on nuclear weapons, the foundations of which were laid during the Cold War, and the removal of legal obstacles to armament accelerate the arms race. As a matter of fact, Putin’s claim that “Russia developed these weapons after the USA’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Convention” has once again revealed the importance of international agreements on nuclear weapons. Finally, on August 09, 2022, Russia’s suspension of control of the “NEW START” contract, which was not signed by the Trump Administration and was extended for 5 years after Biden came to power and signed it, has had negative effects of the fate of the last contract on the reduction of nuclear weapons. The abolition of the last nuclear weapons agreement in force between the USA and Russia in the near term will now end the quantitative limitation of nuclear weapons, and a nuclear armament that will not be included in the imagination, including strategic nuclear weapons, will become inevitable.
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