Relation Of Nuclear Weapons To War In Ukraine

Los Alamos

The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to dominate print, radio, and TV media in much of the worldIn recent weeks we’ve read much about the possible usage of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The existence of large nuclear arsenals in Russia and the USA plays a significant role in this war; it may even have been a strong reason why Putin started it. There’s an interesting irony in this. During the cold war our government said the large nuclear arsenals were responsible for preventing a major war. Remember the superb acronym, MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. In the present case, the existence of these weapons has actually facilitated the war, perhaps even promoted it. It has surely affected the responses of NATO and the USA.

We’ve read, heard, and seen the horrific events occurring daily in Ukraine; scenes that remind of WWII and the wars that succeeded it. This might be very different and may not have happened at all if there were no nuclear weapons. At present there are nine countries that have such weapons; there are several which could make them quickly if they felt it necessary. Remember what Einstein once said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.

I’ve been to Russia 7 times on business; I’m a physicist whose field for over 50 years is nuclear safeguards, nonproliferation, and arms control. I’ve worked closely and happily with many Russians. I consider some friends, not just colleagues; I know some of their families. Russians are just like us; they love their families, their pets, and their country.

Russia is very large in area; it’s 1.75 times the area of the USA. It’s population is 44% of ours. It’s GDP 44% or ours, and per capita it’s 40% of ours. However, it’s nuclear arsenal, deliverability, and readiness are basically equal to ours.

Ergo, NATO and the USA must consider very carefully, how to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. We surely do not wish to cause WWIII, much less a nuclear war. President Putin knows this and threatens to use so-called tactical, low-yield, nukes in the war. Tactical and low-yield are misleading terms; both countries have them and are designing and building more. Some of ours have yields similar to those of Little Boy and Fat Man which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. These killed around 300,000 people and leveled two major cities.

At present the world has roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons; most of which are much more powerful than those we dropped on Japan. I believe we must lower, or even eliminate, nuclear weapons in all the nine states that have them.