There was a time, at the height of the Cold War between the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) when the world lived in constant fear of nuclear war between the two superpowers. Each of them had thousands of missiles with nuclear warheads pre-programmed for target cities. These were kept ready in underground silos or carried aboard strategic bombers continually in the air, or aboard submarines roaming the oceans.
With a mutual threat of “massive retaliation,” the two nations reached an uneasy stand-off. They were well aware that in a nuclear war, both would be losers, along with the rest of the world, as such a war would render the entire world unlivable with the lingering radioactivity. Thus they decided in 1991 on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to reduce their nuclear weapons from a total of some 12,000 warheads to 1,500. This was still a massive number but it was a tremendous reduction from the original held by the two nations. They also ceased threatening each other.
There are six other states with nuclear weapons today – the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons but it has not acknowledged it. Worldwide, including the 1,500 held by the US and Russia, the total number of nuclear weapons is estimated at 9,920 in 2017, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Nuclear Notebook.
In recent months, North Korea (NK) has been making a lot of noise about its tests of long-range missiles capable of reaching the US mainland. US officials believe North Korea is now capable of making good on its threat and new US President Donald Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” that country.
Several countries in the region are now talking about developing their own nuclear weapons in the face of North Korea’s threats, among them Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Myanmar, and South Korea. Japan has had a pacific constitution since the end of World War II, but the continued belligerence of North Korea has moved Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to campaign for a military buildup. With its present stockpile of material from its nuclear power plants, Japan could very quickly produce a nuclear bomb.
The threats and insults between the US and North Korea have thus grown to involve many other countries in this part of the world. They see a need to have their own nuclear deterrent. If they now proceed with such plans, we would be back in the Cold War era when the whole world lived in fear of one incident that could explode into a nuclear war with all its dire consequences for the entire world.
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