The doctrine of nuclear balance and deterrence was based on two very simple ideas: all powers committed themselves to using nuclear bombs only in response to a nuclear attack; and every nuclear attack would be immediately retaliated against by another nuclear attack of massive dimensions. The threat of “mutual assured destruction” was enough, both both strategists and game theory said, to contain any temptations. Today those terms have become obsolete. The new nuclear weapons offer the promise of victory to the first to shoot. The same theory would recommend launching as soon as possible. The reality: first the United States redeployed tactical nuclear missiles intended as a response to an escalation in conflicts with conventional weapons. And this week Russia has just stated that it would use its nuclear power in the face of conventional aggression. The balance of terror has been upset.
Two years of new military-spatial race
The new nuclear race became public just over two years ago, when Putin presented a new generation of “invincible weapons” and put the prototypes on parade at the anniversary parade of the end of the WWII. This week the tests were being prepared for one of them, baptized by the press as the “torpedo of the last judgement“.
But the United States was not going to stay behind for long. In January 2019 it was testing its own hypersonic missiles while deploying tactical nuclear weapons under the theory of “escalate to de-escalate”. Russia mainly feared a deployment on European soil that would target its territory directly and immediately raised the stakes.
The framework of international agreements of the end of the cold war goes up in smoke. The US denounces the medium-range missile non-proliferation treaty because, restricted by it, it would end up losing nuclear superiority in a few years to Russia, which has been rearming for some time without openly admitting it and a China, which refuses to enter into any arms control treaty because without intensive rearmament like the current one it cannot negotiate even as a regional power in an ever more militarized environment.[…] From the U.S. anti-missile shield we have moved in record time to a general military space race and the Russian hypersonic missiles and Chinese space race. The acceleration is undeniable.
“Trade warfare takes arms“, 02/20/2019
The hypersonic missiles had changed the scenario by taking us back to the most tense moments of the cold war. Again, the UN began issuing warnings about the ongoing nuclear race. The United States plunged into a new “Star Wars” and global military spending was spiraling out of control .
The acceleration of the Covid
Between last December and today, the months in which the pandemic spread across half the world, far from being contained, the nuclear race has speeded up. At the end of December Russia announced the deployment of the “Vanguard” hypersonic missiles. The United States that allowed the powers to monitor each other, discussed returning to nuclear testing in the face of “the Chinese threat” and simulated a nuclear attack on Russia for the first time in decades.
All this in the context of a peak in tension between the United States and China, in which the hawks of the CCP and the PLA are increasingly strong and is the only way to stop the United States if it continues to exert pressure on Hong Kong, Taiwan or the China Sea.
The renuclearization of Europe
Putin’s assurances that he could use the nuclear weapon in response to conventional aggression, however, cannot be understood without putting Europe on the map of the nuclear race.
On February 7 Macron gave a speech at the “École de Guerre” in which he warned of the “acceleration of nuclear rearmament programs”. Macron described an imperialist scenario in which “the line between competition and confrontation, which used to allow us to distinguish between times of peace and times of crisis or war, is deeply diluted”. The whole of Europe was once again a potential battleground.
Europe itself is directly exposed to the consequences of this deconstruction. Let us look at the current situation: since the early 2000s, the entire security architecture of Europe, which was difficult to build after 1945 during the Cold War, has gradually cracked and then been deliberately deconstructed brick by brick. After the stalemate in the negotiations on conventional weapons, the end in 2019 of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty is the symbol of this disintegration.
Europeans must now collectively realize that, in the absence of a legal framework, they could rapidly be exposed to the resumption of a conventional or even nuclear arms race on their soil. They cannot limit themselves to the role of spectators. It would not be acceptable for them to once again become the stage for confrontation with non-European nuclear powers. In any case, I refuse to accept it.
He proposed the conversion of the French nuclear arsenal into a “European nuclear shield”, opening the door to co-management with Germany and other countries. The Franco-German alliance, Europe, had to take a step forward and enter the new nuclear race on its own. Fifteen days later, at the Munich Security Conference, Macron promoted a military project that would involve Spain, France and Germany in the construction of a new generation of bomber planes with the capacity to launch atomic bombs within the French nuclear shield. The offer openly targeted Germany, whose “Tornado” is now obsolete and is forced to renew it by virtue of its nuclear role in NATO. Germany has no nuclear bombs but stores NATO warheads under US surveillance and supplies the bombers that would transport and deliver them in the event of a conflict. Shortly afterwards, however, Germany’s defense minister, Merkel’s ex-successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, promised that the replacement of the “Tornado” would be done with planes bought from the US. A letdown for France… in theory.
Because the new rapprochement between Germany and France in May radically reconsiders the European military question. Only yesterday, the SPD parliamentary spokesman formally proposed Germany’s exit from NATO’s nuclear system. This is the preliminary and necessary step to negotiate a possible European nuclear army with France. Also a drastic break with the US. The German bourgeoisie is cautious about this kind of proposals, and in general it seems to be pushing for its discussion to be delayed at least until November. They do not lose hope for an electoral victory of Biden in the American presidential elections that would allow them to negotiate with more alternatives and therefore strength, with the French neighbor, the “military dimension of the European project”.
Further reading in Spanish
The nuclear threat comes back
In less than two years, technological change and rising imperialist tensions have shattered the “balance of terror” and the strategic doctrine that mitigated the danger of actual use of nuclear weapons. Today, the major nuclear powers are embracing the doctrine of “escalation to de-escalation”–that is, they are claiming that they would use limited nuclear strikes to regain leadership if a localized war gets out of hand or jeopardizes strategic interests. Hypersonic missiles promise the possibility – if enough of them are used – of nuclear attacks so rapid that they would make it impossible for the opposite party to respond.
In regions as unstable as the Persian Gulf, a real regional nuclear race is already underway. Helped by the US two oil autarchies in crisis as Saudi Arabia and Emirates could be the next nuclear armies. Iran follows closely and is enriching more uranium than ever before, as does North Korea. The risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan is higher than ever before … and each step by one state makes forces changes in other countries, be they competitors or alleged allies.
Nuclear proliferation is a real threat to all mankind. It starkly reflects that the severity of the crisis of the system is far greater than what the media tells us and that the urgency of affirming a global alternative goes well beyond a “recessive economic moment”.