Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump recently revealed their intentions, one after another, to enhance the nuclear capabilities of their countries. As Vladimir Putin asserted on Dec. 22, “We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces”; Trump countered, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” These remarks from the world leaders of two great nuclear powers pose a significant challenge to the international nonproliferation system. It should be obvious that they would also turn efforts to solve the North Korean nuclear problem, a key to peace and stability in northeastern Asia, into a serious political deadlock.
This is not the first time either Trump or Putin has made a comment in support of nuclear weapons. They have advocated for the nuclear armament of their countries as if they were in a competition. Putin has used Russia’s nuclear weapons as a political card at every opportunity. For example, he threatened to instigate the Kremlin’s nuclear forces if the West intervened in Ukraine. He also deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in November to a region where the weapons could hit targets as far away as Western Europe. It is his intention to recreate Cold War-era competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, an analysis indicates. Trump, who asked a foreign policy expert why the U.S. could not use nuclear weapons, is not particularly less worrisome than Putin.
If these two world powers, which possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, choose to pursue nuclear armament, international efforts to reduce nuclear weapons will inevitability be in vain, because their decision will provoke China to enhance its nuclear capability, which would likely lead to a global nuclear domino. In addition, their pursuit will lead both South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear programs. Consequently, the enhancement of U.S. and Russian nuclear capabilities could instigate a vicious cycle of nuclear proliferation across the world. Moreover, it is highly likely the North Korean nuclear issue will be put on the back burner if Beijing joins the nuclear arms race between Washington and the Kremlin – China will see North Korea as a strategic buffer zone and will not actively engage in solving the issue. It should be obvious that a huge chasm in international efforts to pressure North Korea would follow. With the political cause of nonproliferation invalidated, the political legitimacy for deterring the North Korean nuclear threat will collapse, and the instability in northeastern Asia will escalate further.
A nuclear weapon has the catastrophic ability to drive the entire human race toward total destruction in a single blast. This in particular is why the international community has restricted the development and enhancement of nuclear weapons for the sake of national security. Trump and Putin should immediately scrap their nuclear armament policies, which would destroy world peace, and they should be pressed and persuaded by the international society. The clock of history must not be turned back to the Cold War era.