Nuclear Threats Like We Have Never Seen

Photograph Source: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – CC BY 2.0

There will be on Japan, “A rain of fire from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this Earth.” President Harry Truman, July 26, 1945

Aiding Ukraine’s defense Russian invasion, “Would lead to consequences you have never seen”. President Putin February 24, 2022

Threats to use nuclear weapons are as old as nuclear weapons. Threats to use nuclear weapons may even be their main function. Increasingly bellicose statements by Putin and Russian State media during Russia’s hot war in Ukraine are unprecedented, and must be taken seriously.

“All the world should be prepared for the possibility that Vladimir Putin could use nuclear weapons on Ukraine”, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Sunday, Putin’s Kremlin TV mouthpiece Dmitry Kiselyov called for Russia to obliterate England with its new SARMAT missile, and drown Ireland in a 1600-foot radioactive tidal wave created by its new Poseidon torpedo. There appears no preparation in Russia for such a barbaric attack, nor any heightened alert levels from US or NATO counterforces. But such desperate threats to use weapons of mass destruction are concerning, obscene…

And illegal. Under an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 1996, threatening a nuclear attack beyond the standard of war for self-defense is illegal. The ICJ stated that while nuclear weapons were not technically illegal, their use must adhere to the war doctrine of “necessity and self-defense.

Certainly, drowning Ireland or nuclear bombing Mariupol, Ukraine would not meet that standard of necessity and self-defense. Threatening to use nuclear weapons in Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine is also an international crime.

Protocol I of the Geneva Convention prohibits the deliberate or indiscriminate attack on civilians or civilian objects. Of course, these are precisely the objects of nuclear weapons regardless of the ICJ’s parsing.

Threatening nuclear weapons attacks would not top the list of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. But threatening to ignite a nuclear war must be acknowledged as a war crime; the inhumanity of a nuclear war is incalculable, and threatening it should be indicted in the court of international morality.

The ICJ does not define the use of nuclear weapons though. Every opening of the United Nations General Assembly since 1975 votes to eliminate nuclear weapons. The General Assembly has initiated international nuclear weapons treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968 and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 2017.

The majority of countries in the world are members of nuclear free zone treaties, NFZT. The international community is increasingly impatient with the progress of nuclear disarmament as agreed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1968. The nuclear armed nations can destroy the world many times over, but are increasingly held to a higher moral and human standard by the international community.

However much the United States abhors the nuclear threats from Russia in Ukraine, we still maintain the right to use nuclear weapons first, and at our discretion. With the absurdity of the Russian nuclear arsenal being jammed into Russia’s Ukraine invasion debacle, the alternative to nuclear weapons could never be stronger or clearer.

Even the use of “small tactical nuclear weapons” in Ukraine or anywhere else leads to disaster. Every war game conducted for years that includes tactical nuclear weapons eventually ends in total nuclear war.

It is time for the United State to finally follow the world’s moral lead and forswear the first use of nuclear weapons. The 10th Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations in New York City in August provides the next and perfect opportunity for the Biden Administration to commit to the spirit of the NPT:

“We will not use nuclear weapons first, we will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations, we will adhere to the NPT and we reduce and eventually eliminate our nuclear arsenal.