Opinion | A nuclear weapons paradox has changed conflict forever


South Korea Defense Ministry via AP

South Korea’s military launches an Army Tactical Missile System during a military exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea on Thursday.

By Livia LaMarca, Staff Columnist

The human mind is only capable of so much. We are incredibly advanced and complex beings, yet we struggle to comprehend just how large certain numbers are. While people may think they have a grasp on how large the universe is or how much money Jeff Bezos’ truly has, in actuality, most of us really don’t. 

According to research published in 2018 the Journal Safety, it would only take about 100 nuclear weapons to completely destroy society across the globe. In the nine nations that have a nuclear arsenal — the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea — there are enough weapons to commit such an act 130 times. These numbers are a little more understandable to the human brain compared to trying to comprehend the sheer amount of those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 77 years ago — between 129,000 and 246,000 people.

The horrifying conflict between Russia and Ukraine has raised many questions about NATO’s involvement, especially in regards to the potential usage of nuclear weapons. Between the nine countries that own nuclear weapons, all of which are major players on the world stage, there are around 13,000 stockpiled nuclear weapons available for use. Nuclear warfare during a potential WWIII is a conceivable reality.

But therein lies an unfortunate paradox — the reason that North Korea refuses to stop its research and the reason Ukraine is so vulnerable to attacks from Russia despite legally binding peace and recognition for the last three decades. If countries cease research and destroy their nuclear supply, they become susceptible to the countries who continue to keep their nuclear weapons. But, when countries choose to keep their nuclear weapons, the threat of nuclear warfare is always imminent. Unless all nine countries agree to give up their stockpiles, nobody will be willing to give up their research and weaponry due to the threat of those who refuse to comply.

Thanks to the creation of these abominable weapons, war and international conflict as we once knew it will never be the same. When America dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the tides of conflict shifted as never-before-seen casualties and sickness swept Japan. Now, 77 years later, some nuclear weaponry has advanced to a point that is up to 3,000 times as powerful, and the threat of nuclear casualties is always lurking in times of international unrest.

When North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty in 2003 and began their nuclear research in 2006, the autocratic nation caused more than a decade of uncertainty in the United States and around the world. The fear has only grown over the last few years as North Korea has been testing intercontinental missiles and intimidating their neighboring countries of Japan and South Korea. Discussions of peace and compromise in relation to the destruction of their nuclear arsenal have all been met with failure. North Korea wants to keep their arsenal, otherwise they’d be defenseless against the extreme powerhouses who would continue to have access to these detrimental weapons.

North Korea has made a lot of enemies in this world. If they lose the threat of their weapons, they lose their bargaining chip on the world stage. South Korea, a country smack dab between two nuclear weaponized countries, is now seeing an all-time high of their population wanting to create their own nuclear stockpile. As of right now, the country is susceptible to the nuclear capabilities of their neighbors. If they had their own weapons in supply, they would no longer be as vulnerable. Both North and South Korea are stuck in this paradox, and there is no clear way out.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union a few decades ago, Ukraine briefly held the third largest nuclear weapons supply, but quickly got rid of them in exchange for a security guarantee. The Budapest Memorandum was made with the United States, the UK and Russia as a recognition of the Ukrainian borders, but as we are seeing now, Russia has clearly violated the original peacekeeping objective. Unfortunately, now, many Ukrainians are regretting the decision their government made 30 years ago.

Ukraine did a very good thing in an effort to lessen the amount of nuclear weapons in the world back in the ‘90s. But now, their good intentions have backfired on them as they stay at increasingly intense odds with the Russian government. Here, we are seeing what happens when you try to remove yourself from the paradox — you become vulnerable to those with nuclear weapons. While Vladimir Putin has made very thinly veiled threats of nuclear violence, hopefully he is standing far away from the launch button. But nuclear warfare is now in everybody’s thoughts and especially in the minds of every Ukrainian whose life is at stake every passing moment.

Mutually assured destruction as a result of nuclear war is an almost certain thing and is on everyone’s minds during times of heightened conflict. Unless all nuclear weapons across all countries are gotten rid of, this fear will forever be stagnant. But on the chance that even one country decides to keep their stock, no country will get rid of theirs without very good reasoning. No war or strife in this kind of gridlock can ever be perceived without the looming threat of nuclear warfare. Our battles have to be fought in a way that doesn’t provoke the world’s superpowers to commit such cruel and immeasurable amounts of damage to the world. All we can do is hold out hope that an era of peacekeepers will decide to destroy the stockpile of nuclear weaponry as soon as possible.

 Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. #nowarinukraine Write to her at [email protected].