Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

The risks of Russia’s nuclear posturing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NATO countries; NPT; Bordering countries of Russia and Ukraine;

Mains level: Nuclear Policies and the Global geopolitics; NATO countries; NPT;


Why in the news?

The Russia-Ukraine war persists with no end in sight. Russia’s nuclear drills and plans to station weapons in Belarus escalate Global tensions and are deeply concerning.

What is the NPT and how does it address Russia’s actions?

  • The NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is a multilateral agreement aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons through three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of Nuclear energy.
  • It defines Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) as those that had manufactured and detonated a nuclear explosive device before 1967, with all other states considered non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS).

The NPT has addressed Russia’s actions in several ways:

  • Russia, as a NWS, is obligated under Article VI to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the salience of nuclear weapons in ways that threaten to erode this bargain.
  • The NPT’s 2022 Review Conference specifically condemned overt nuclear threats, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) called for nuclear deterrence to be delegitimized.
  • The NPT requires NNWS to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on all nuclear materials on their territories. However, the IAEA has found several states, including Russia, in non-compliance with their safeguards agreements.
  • The NPT’s review process, where state parties convene every five years to review the implementation of the Treaty, has been unable to reach a consensus on condemning Russia’s nuclear threats due to Russia’s objections.

The Shift in Nuclear Policy of Russia:

  • Criticism by Western countries:  The international community has expressed concern over Russia’s nuclear rhetoric, calling for accountability. Western states and allies condemn Russia’s actions and seek to address them through initiatives like the United Nations and the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) to uphold norms and deter irresponsible behaviour.
  • Changing Nuclear Threshold and Policy: Russia appears to be considering lowering the threshold for nuclear weapon use, which could set a dangerous precedent.
    • Traditionally, Nuclear Weapons were reserved for existential threats, but Russia is now signalling a potential first-use policy even for non-existent threats.
  • Erosion of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): For decades, the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) deterred the use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s current stance threatens this principle, suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used in conflicts that do not directly jeopardize National survival.

What are the consequences of Russia’s nuclear rhetoric for Global Security?

  • It has raised the risk of nuclear escalation and use, as Russia has purposefully increased the level of risk to discourage Western support for Ukraine and instill fear. Russia’s actions may encourage other nuclear-armed states, like Iran and North Korea, to adopt similar tactics.
    • This undermines the long-standing separation between Conventional and Nuclear warfare.
  • Undermined Strategic Stability and the Global Nuclear Order:  Russia’s actions have broken down nuclear guidelines and norms, advocating for nuclear use against Ukraine and NATO. This has contributed to the return of nuclear arms competition on the global stage.
  • It has caused alarm and fear among Russia’s neighbors, who worry that if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, it may turn aggression against other territories. Small countries like Moldova, Georgia, and even Russia’s allies like Kazakhstan fear becoming Putin’s next target.
  • It has required the international community to respond with strong deterrence and accountability measures. The West has emphasized that Russian nuclear use would have devastating consequences.
    • Holding Russia accountable through multilateral initiatives is crucial to upholding norms and deterring further irresponsible behaviour.

Way forward:

  • Strengthen International Diplomatic Engagement: Initiate high-level dialogues involving all nuclear-armed states to reinforce commitments to non-proliferation treaties and discourage the lowering of nuclear use thresholds.
  • Revise and Reinforce Security Assurances: Provide renewed and clear security assurances to non-nuclear states to discourage them from pursuing nuclear weapons. Revisit agreements like the Budapest Memorandum to ensure their effectiveness and credibility.

Mains PYQ:

Q (UPSC IAS/2022) 

(a): Russia and Ukraine war has been going on for the last seven months. Different countries have taken independent stands and actions keeping in view their own national interests. We are all aware that war has its own impact on the different aspects of society, including human tragedy. What are those ethical issues that are crucial to be considered while launching the war and its continuation so far? lllustrate with justification the ethical issues involved in the given state of affair.

(b): Write short notes on the following in 30 words each:

(i) Constitutional morality

(ii) Conflict of interest

(iii) Probity in public life

(iv) Challanges of digitalization

(v) Devotion to duty

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