said Randall Jibson, USGS scientist and lead author of this study. “Not every earthquake will trigger landslides, but we can use landslide distributions to estimate characteristics of earthquake energy and how far regional ground shaking could occur.”
“Scientists are confirming with empirical data what more than 50 million people in the eastern U.S. experienced firsthand: this was one powerful earthquake,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Calibrating the distance over which landslides occur may also help us reach back into the geologic record to look for evidence of past history of major earthquakes from the Virginia seismic zone.”
This study will help inform earthquake hazard and risk assessments as well as emergency preparedness, whether for landslides or other earthquake effects.
“What makes this new study so unique is that it provides direct observational evidence from the largest earthquake to occur in more than 100 years in the eastern U.S,” said Jibson. “Now that we know more about the power of East Coast earthquakes, equations that predict ground shaking might need to be revised.”
It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population could have felt last year’s earthquake in Virginia, more than any earthquake in U.S. history.
About 148,000 people reported their ground-shaking experiences caused by the earthquake on the USGS “Did You Feel It?” website. Shaking reports came from southeastern Canada to Florida and as far west as Texas.
In addition to the great landslide distances recorded, the landslides from the 2011 Virginia earthquake occurred in an area 20 times larger than expected from studies of worldwide earthquakes. Scientists plotted the landslide locations that were farthest out and then calculated the area enclosed by those landslides. The observed landslides from last year’s Virginia earthquake enclose an area of about 33,400 km2
, while previous studies indicated an expected area of about 1,500 km2
from an earthquake of similar magnitude.
“The landslide distances from last year’s Virginia earthquake are remarkable compared to historical landslides across the world and represent the largest distance limit ever recorded,” said Edwin Harp, USGS scientist and co-author of this study. “There are limitations to our research, but the bottom line is that we now have a better understanding of the power of East Coast earthquakes and potential damage scenarios.”
News of Russian tanks running out of gas and soldiers scrounging the countryside for food was good news in the early days of the war. But apparent weaknesses in the Russian military, and in President Vladimir Putin‘s standing abroad and at home, could increase the chance that Russia resorts to nuclear weapons in the conflict, military experts say.
Russia already escalated the conflict when its forces failed to make quick work of the Ukrainian military with intense and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets. If Russia’s campaign stalls again, nuclear weapons could wind up being a fallback option for Putin. “If the Russian campaign starts to feel like it’s a military catastrophe, that’s where escalation to nuclear weapons comes into play,” says Barry Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT.
Military experts interviewed by Newsweekbelieve that such a nuclear conflagration is not likely at this point. Although Putin announced that Russia’s nuclear forces have been placed into “special combat readiness” and made an implicit threat to use them against “whoever tries to interfere with us,” he probably intended the tough talk to deter NATO from sending troops or planes into the battlefield, analysts say.
The notion that nuclear war, despite the situation in Ukraine, is still a low-probability event offers little solace, however. “Probability is the wrong concept to apply to this situation,” says Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament research in Geneva, Switzerland. “What seems impossible now could in fact happen. This war is a one-off irreproducible event.”
Little is known about the dynamics of nuclear escalation on the battlefield. The only experience of nuclear weapons being used in a conflict came in August 1945, when the U.S. dropped two bombs on Japan at the end of the Second World War. There are no reliable assessments of the risk of a battlefield nuclear exchange escalating into a wider conflict involving Russia and the U.S., who each have thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at one another.
At issue in Ukraine is not so much ICBMs as “tactical” nuclear weapons delivered on short or medium range missiles. Russia is thought to have about 2,000 of these weapons, many of them available for use in Ukraine. Although the U.S. and its allies have been adamant about staying on the sidelines to avoid a direct confrontation with Russian forces, military experts see many scenarios in which the Ukraine conflict could degenerate to the point where Russia deploys a nuclear weapon. A mistake or misunderstanding of some sort—such a Russian plane crossing into NATO territory or a NATO plane into Ukraine airspace—could bring the nuclear superpowers into direct conflict, leading Russia to use one of its tactical nukes.
Although the nuclear threat seemed to fade from public view after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cold-War-style nuclear fears are once again front and center. Ukraine is unlikely to be the last conflict between the so-called Great Powers—the U.S., China and Russia—that takes place under the cloud of potential nuclear war. It’s not hard to imagine other conflicts arising on Russia’s western border or off China’s eastern coast in the not-too-distant future.
“Nuclear weapons are back, but they never really went away,” says Caitlin Talmadge, Associate Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University. “What’s new in the present era is that the three great powers with nuclear weapons are entering a period of renewed competitive relationships. We’re talking about a world where in peacetime, in crisis and in conflict there is a nuclear shadow over states’ interactions.
“We’re getting a preview of that shadow in this war.”
Nuclear threshold Putin has already taken the first step by escalating the conflict with conventional forces. He may initially have thought that the government in Kyiv would topple quickly and collapse without much of a fight. When Russian forces encountered resistance, he needed a way to break the stalemate. His use of missiles and mortars against civilian targets may be a prelude to laying siege to major cities in Ukraine, which would leave civilians trapped without access to food, water and power, with the goal of ratcheting up pressure on the Ukrainians and the West to come to terms.
The threshold for Putin’s use of tactical nukes, should this plan go awry, is difficult to gauge, military scholars say. A decision to use nukes would take into account domestic Russian politics, international politics and the state of the campaign in Ukraine. If Putin can maintain control of the home front, either by suppressing dissent or because Russians acquiesce to the war; if fissures arise in the Western coalition; and if Russia’s Ukraine campaign goes smoothly from here on out, there’d be no need for a nuclear option. But if demonstrators in Moscow take to the streets, and Ukraine continues to stave off the assault, and NATO stands united, Putin could be backed into a corner. He could make the cold-hearted calculation that a few tactical nukes couldn’t make his position any worse, and just might make it better.
This logic may be evil, but it is not Putin’s invention. Something similar has been standard military doctrine for decades. During the Cold War, NATO’s nuclear posture was to use nuclear weapons as a last resort in repelling what was then perceived as overwhelming Russian conventional forces in Europe. The same is true for Pakistan’s nuclear strategy against the superior conventional forces of India, and for North Korea’s against the forces of South Korea and the U.S. Inferiority in conventional forces is a major reason nations want nuclear weapons in the first place.
Spillover An escalation doesn’t necessarily have to result from a well-thought-out decision. It could happen inadvertently—the result of a moment’s misunderstanding or miscalculation. For instance, as the war intensifies and Western nations continue to funnel arms to the Ukrainians, the risk of an encounter with the Russian military rises. When Putin threatened to go nuclear against anyone who intervenes, did he have in mind supplying arms via the western border of Ukraine? What about NATO trainers and support personnel assisting with weapons, tanks and fighter jets?
If the war goes badly for Russia and its generals believe that the supplies coming in from the west are a problem, they could seek to interdict them by running airstrikes along the Polish, Slovakian and Romanian borders. That would bring Russian jet fighters close to NATO’s borders. It’s not hard to imagine a Russian plane shooting at a NATO target by mistake, which would greatly escalate the conflict.
What, then, would NATO do? With Russia looking like it could lose the war, does it give in to the entreaties by President Zelensky and others to create a no-fly-zone over Ukrainian territory? That would immediately escalate the conflict to one between NATO and Russia. “This all sounds like fantasy,” says a military analyst who prefers to remain anonymous. “It’s not fantasy now. This is all very possible.”
Misunderstandings have flared up into accidental engagement before. During a period of heightened concern over nuclear conflict, the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger liner in 1983, killing hundreds of civilians. Iran shot down a civilian airliner in early 2020 shortly after the U.S. assassinated Qasem Soleimani of Iran. In 2014, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Even though Russia’s nuclear threats are most likely meant as deterrence, they also have a self-fulfilling aspect—they can lead to “cycles of action and reaction on both sides,” says Talmadge. Surrounding NATO states may respond by deploying troops and weapons to their eastern borders and putting them on high alert. If the Baltic states, which are vulnerable to a Russian ground attack, move troops and weapons to forward positions on the border, Russians could read that as offensive in intent. Tensions rise, a shot is fired, and suddenly Russia and NATO are in conflict.
“I don’t like the discussions I’m hearing from the fringes of the establishment,” says Posen. “I don’t like the emotions running hot. I don’t like the weird appearance on our side, way too early, of a kind of victory disease: ‘Let’s win this thing. Maybe Putin will fall’.”
Despite Putin’s talk about putting his nuclear forces on alert, so far there is no evidence that it has taken its tactical nukes out of storage and moved them to their delivery vehicles, says Olga Oliker, a Russia expert and director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at the International Crisis Group. “If I see Russia moving its nuclear weapons in a way that suggests they’re planning a strike on something, I will worry very very much,” she says. “We should be very reassured by the fact that there is no evidence that Russia has changed anything about its alert status.”
The action in Europe could presage rising nuclear tensions around the world. Oliker worries that Western nations will walk away from the conflict feeling that they screwed up and resolve, the next time a superpower gobbles up a smaller nation, to fight. “There’s going to be the clamor that Ukraine was a Munich, that we made a mistake,” she says. In Europe, the response may be to build up NATO forces in Europe and prepare for a future conflict with Russia, which would raise the risks for a high-stakes confrontation. “The risk that a war between NATO member states and Russia goes nuclear is real,” she says.
China’s leaders, meanwhile, may be watching Russia’s Ukraine campaign with thoughts of Taiwan. Last year, China reportedly tested missile technology that could conceivably deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States from the south, beyond the scope of the U.S.’s northward-pointing ICBM early-warning radar. Beijing denied the reports.
The nuclear posturing continues.
Correction (3/6/22, 12:07 EST): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Olga Oliker’s title. She is director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at the International Crisis Group.
When would the global political leadership unite to de-nuclearise the planet
Ukraine war once again underlined the danger of total annihilation. As the talk of nuclear option surfaced up, the world once again realised that how dangerously we are placed on the precipice of absolute devastation.
It invoked the memories of cold war, when the US and the USSR were seen as locking horns, pushing the planet towards a nuclear confrontation. It was after long and winding negotiations that some treaties were formalised to minimise the danger of a nuclear war.
It was the result of relentless efforts that the two super powers agreed to place a check on the nuclear capabilities. As the USSR disintegrated, and the balance of power shifted completely in favour of the US, the danger of a nuclear war was thought to be averted. If there was a talk on this danger it was in context of some other countries, like Indo-Pak, or North and South Korea.
We also saw this nuclear talk gaining pitch when the talks between the US and Iran on a nuclear deal rushed into rough weather. Besides, when armed groups gave a different twist to the crisis in Iraq and Syria, the world got very concerned about the nuclear capabilities falling into the hands of non-state actors.
All this while there were saner voices that consistently drew attention towards the looming threat of a nuclear catastrophe, and wanted all the nations on this planet to work towards a nuclear weapons free world. The theoretical argument against the nuclear weapons has grown too strong to be ignored, but the ground realities remain the same.
The military powers consider nuclear arsenal as strategic weapons that can be used to threaten enemy, or ward off any danger from a presumed adversary.
Those in the nuclear club are least ready to de-weaponise, and the threat of annihilation hovers on our skies as it would when we passed through events like Cuban crisis.
The questions still remains unanswered; is the human race being held hostage by the military minded leadership of the the great powers. When would the political leadership of the world unite to declare the possession of nuclear weapons as a criminal act
The demands, made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday and dismissed by U.S. officials on Sunday, came as Western and Iranian officials said they were near to reaching a deal to restore the nuclear pact, which lifted most international sanctions on Iran in exchange for tight but temporary restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear programs.
Western officials said they wanted a deal on the nuclear file in place this week. Chief negotiators from European powers left Vienna to return to their capitals Friday as they waited for Iran and the U.S. to try to solve the final differences between them. These included precisely which sanctions Washington would lift and the exact sequence of steps the U.S. and Iran would take to return into compliance with the 2015 deal.
While Iran says it isn’t trying to build nuclear weapons, a look at its key facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. WSJ breaks down Tehran’s capabilities as it hits new milestones in uranium enrichment and limits access to inspectors. Photo illustration: George Downs The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
“We’ve made real progress in recent weeks…and I think we’re close, but there are a couple of very challenging remaining issues and nothing’s done until everything’s done,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CBS’ Face the Nation program on Sunday.
Advances in Iran’s nuclear work mean Western officials have warned that it could very soon be impossible to restore the 2015 nuclear deal because it would no longer be possible to re-create the central benefit for the U.S. and Europe of that agreement—keeping Iran months away from being able to amass enough nuclear fuel for one nuclear weapon.
A confidential report from the United Nations atomic agency circulated Thursday showed that Iran had now produced 33.2 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, around three-quarters of what it would need to have enough weapon-grade 90% fuel for a nuclear weapon. Experts say it would take Iran just a few weeks to amass enough weapons grade nuclear fuel.
It was always understood by Western officials that Russia’s specific role within the 2015 nuclear deal would need to be protected from sanctions. That includes receiving enriched uranium from Iran and exchanging it for yellowcake, Russia’s work to turn Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility into a research center and other nuclear-specific deliveries to Tehran’s facilities.
However, Mr. Lavrov appeared to demand far more sweeping guarantees that could introduce major loopholes in the tight financial, economic and energy sanctions the West has imposed in recent days because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We have asked for a written guarantee…that the current process triggered by the United States does not in any way damage our right to free and full trade, economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic State,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Soon after Mr. Lavrov’s comments, Russia’s chief negotiator at the nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that he had raised questions that needed tackling with a senior European official “to ensure smooth civil nuclear cooperation with Iran.” That suggested Russia’s real demands at the talks were narrower than Mr. Lavrov had suggested.
Mr. Blinken told CBS that the western sanctions on Russia “have nothing to do with…the Iranian nuclear deal.”
“These things are totally different and are just are not in any way linked together, so I think that’s- that’s irrelevant,” he said Sunday.
The Iranian delegation in Vienna said this weekend they were awaiting clarification from Moscow.
A Western diplomat said that if the guarantees are purely about the work Russia would do in Iran under a restored nuclear deal, “that can be managed.”
“But if Lavrov is using this as a play to try to carve a huge hole out of the overall Ukraine sanctions, that’s a different story,” the person said.
An Iranian official said his delegation was awaiting clarification from Moscow.
Either way, the Russian demands now look set to kick talks into next week, two Western diplomats said.
“In my view, a deal is still more likely than not. Critically, both Washington and Tehran want to get this done,” said Henry Rome, a director covering global macro politics and Iran at Eurasia Group. “Russia throwing sand in the gears may actually bring these two adversaries together to reach creative solutions to get the deal signed.”
Since talks began last April, Iran has refused to negotiate directly with the U.S. Instead, the other parties to the agreement—Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China and the European Union—have served as intermediaries.
Russia had played a generally constructive role in the talks, Western diplomats have said, at times pulling Iran back from unreasonable demands and pressing Tehran—publicly at times—not to drag the talks out too long.
However, senior Western officials said that over the last few days, with the Ukraine conflict in the background, Russian officials at the talks had been more hesitant, telling their counterparts they needed to check new ideas with Moscow.
While the talks in Vienna appeared to stall again, one potential hurdle to reviving the nuclear deal might have been removed Saturday following a trip to Tehran by Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Mr. Grossi went to Tehran to seek an agreement about the handling of a probe the agency has been doing for three years now into undeclared nuclear material found in Iran. Tehran has been stalling on the investigation and had pushed in Vienna for the files to be closed as part of restoring the nuclear deal, something the agency and Western officials refused.
A joint statement said that the IAEA would aim to present a conclusion on the probe to its Board in June if Iran cooperated. However Mr. Grossi said Saturday evening when he returned to Vienna that a report could leave questions open which the agency would need to keep pursuing.
“You may come to the conclusion that what you have is not enough and more is needed,” he told reporters.
Beijing has poured billions of dollars into defence modernisation in recent years as it aims to transform its huge military into a world-class force rivalling that of the United States and other Western powers.
Military tensions have dramatically increased over the past year between China and rivals including the US and India as Beijing has overseen an island-building spree in the South China Sea, clashes on the Himalayan border and sabre-rattles over Taiwan.
VIENNA — Moscow is throwing up last-minute demands that could scupper an international nuclear deal with Iran — and the timing is unlikely to be coincidental as the Kremlin frets about the growing threat to its critical oil revenue after its invasion of Ukraine.
Hopes had been high that international negotiators from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the EU would be able to secure a deal with Tehran on Saturday to put strict limits on Iran’s atomic work in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic.
Such a deal would bring significant volumes of Iranian crude oil back to global energy markets in the months ahead, and that could spell trouble for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The return of Iranian supplies would help offset market turmoil and price spikes if the West were to ramp up its sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine and ban Russian crude sales.
Oil sales are critical to Russia’s budget. Although Western countries have not yet directly targeted oil and gas, they have said they are prepared to do so and many oil traders have already started imposing an effective embargo.
At the Iran talks, Russia is demanding guarantees from the U.S. that the sanctions targeting the Kremlin over its invasion of Ukraine would not hinder its trade with Iran.
This fresh demand, which one Western senior official called a potential “trap,” could up-end negotiations aimed at securing a return to a 2015 accord on Iran’s atomic work. It has created yet another twist in a long-running saga that has seen the nuclear talks nearly fall apart over and over.
Russia would play an important role in implementing a renewed Iran agreement, which negotiators say they are close to achieving after 11 months of talks. The plan would be for Moscow to ship excess enriched uranium out of Iran to Russia and support the conversion of Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant into a research facility, among other things.
But with the international community moving to economically sever ties with Russia following its assault on Ukraine, Moscow says it wants assurances that it will still be able to benefit from a revived Iran accord. “We have asked for a written guarantee … that the current process triggered by the United States does not in any way damage our right to free and full trade, economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday.
The question is whether Moscow is actually demanding protection from sanctions in order to fulfill its key role in implementing a restored nuclear deal, or if it’s a ploy to demand broader sanctions relief, officials said. Western officials appeared to still be scrambling to understand which one of the two scenarios was at play.
“If they stretch the domain of sanctions exceptions, we will get a political and not a technical problem, and that could be lethal for the agreement,” the senior official said.
Another senior Western official said that if Russia’s demands went beyond sanctions waivers to fulfill the role in implementing a restored nuclear deal, they could potentially “take hostage the entire agreement and put at risk their relationship with China.” Beijing is already importing significant amounts of Iranian oil and will do even more so under a restored nuclear accord.
The U.S. State Department said sanctions over Ukraine are “unrelated” to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran deal is formally known. “The new Russia-related sanctions are unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on its potential implementation,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said. “We continue to engage with Russia on a return to full implementation of the JCPOA. Russia shares a common interest in ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.”
The threat of additional Ukraine-related sanctions already is having an impact on Russian’s oil revenue. Almost three-quarters of Russian crude trade is frozen in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, Bloomberg reported, citing consultant Energy Aspects. Russia has been exporting about 5 million barrels a day, equal to about 5 percent of global consumption, it said. Iran, meanwhile, has ambitions of supplying well over 2 million barrels per day.
“It’s hard to say whether this is a technical hiccup or a political pivot,” said Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group. “The JCPOA’s collapse is not in Russia’s medium to long-term interest, even if in the short-run it might help keep the global energy prices up as a means of imposing pressure on the West,” Vaez said.
“As soon as nuclear negotiations in Vienna are concluded, we can reach our maximum oil production capacity in less than one or two months,” Iran’s oil minister, Javad Owji, said on Thursday, according to a Reuters report citing SHANA, the official oil ministry news agency. Iran produced 2.4 million barrels per day on average in 2021, and plans to increase that to 3.8 million barrels if restrictions are lifted.
Europe and the U.S. were beginning to worry about soaring oil prices as a result of Russia’s incursion against Ukraine. Iran analyst Henry Rome at the Eurasia Group argues that “the war puts intense pressure on Western policymakers to secure a deal that brings more Iranian oil onto the market to temper high oil prices and potential further sanctions and disruptions.” The calculation is that a revived Iran deal could help to stabilize the energy market, analysts say.
In recent days, Western officials have said negotiators were within reach of an agreement, insisting only a few outstanding issues needed to be resolved. Among the outstanding issues are the scope of sanctions relief, including Iran’s demand that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be taken off Washington’s terror sanctions list.
“We are very close to an agreement,” said British chief negotiator Stephanie Al-Qaq on Twitter before departing to London for what appeared to be final consultations. “Now we have to take a few final steps.”
Negotiations had advanced to such a stage that preparations to close the deal were even visible outside Palais Coburg, the main venue of the talks in Vienna. Police have begun to erect additional barricades around the luxury hotel in preparation for a meeting of ministers from Russia, China, Iran, Britain, Germany and France. Invitations were even sent out more than a week ago in anticipation of a formal adoption of a restored deal at ministerial level; that meeting is now postponed.
Western negotiators have warned over the past few months that Iran was only weeks away from having enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. They argued that time was running out for a successful conclusion of the talks as Iran’s nuclear advances were eroding the very basis of the JCPOA.
Underscoring this point, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its latest confidential quarterly report circulated on March 3 to member states and seen by POLITICO, that Iran had doubled its amount of 60 percent enriched material. That’s “a hair’s breadth away” from weapons grade, Eurasia Group’s Rome wrote in a note.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine also loomed large over the final days of the negotiations with officials emphasizing the need to quickly seal the deal as they were beginning to scramble with the fallout of this aggression on European territory.
While diplomats were able to shield the sensitive talks from global developments during the past eleven months, the recent scale of the Russian aggression in Ukraine made close interaction between Russia’s chief negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov and U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley more difficult by the hour.
Meanwhile, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with documents that will answer questions into its past nuclear weapons program, potentially removing a major hurdle for the restoration of the nuclear deal. That agreement was reached on Saturday during a visit by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to Tehran.
Iran had demanded that the probe into the past nuclear weapons program be closed once and for all as a precondition for Tehran returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. The investigation by the UN nuclear watchdog looks into the origin of decades-old uranium traces found by IAEA inspectors inside Iran at several undeclared sites in 2019 and 2020.
Upon his return from Tehran on Saturday evening, Grossi told reporters at Vienna airport that “there is no artificial deadline, there is no pre-defined outcome,” highlighting that the IAEA would continue to press Iran on those questions also beyond the June deadline should Tehran’s answers be inconclusive.
The IAEA has thought for some time that the undeclared sites could have been active in the early 2000s and insisted that it needed credible answers from Iran on the origin of the traces. The traces were found by inspectors on the ground after the IAEA reviewed intelligence material stolen by Israeli Mossad agents in a high-risk operation inside Iran in 2018.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was originally agreed upon in Vienna in 2015 by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany. The European Union acted as mediator and coordinator of the talks.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed nuclear-related sanctions along with new ones related to terrorism and human-rights abuses. In response, Iran began to incrementally ramp up its nuclear program beyond the limits of the JCPOA. Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.
But this war also has the potential to be a global public health catastrophe, as well. That’s because Russian President Vladimir Putin has all-but threatened to use weapons of nuclear annihilation.
Just as COVID-19 exposed the deep fault lines in global health-care systems, Putin has exposed the fault lines in our institutions of global nuclear governance and collective security from weapons of mass death.
Together with his counterparts in other nuclear weapons states — including to greater and lesser degrees the U.S., China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, North Korea and possibly Israel and Iran — Putin has failed to act in good faith on nuclear weapons controls.
He has scorned commitments to arms reduction by his predecessors in the Kremlin, and has restarted a nuclear arms race that is now again quickly driving us towards the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.
It is a chilling reminder that nuclear war is a global vulnerability that is largely of our own making — not just in Russia, but in Western Europe, North America, the U.K., Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.
Global institutions have failed us, and countries have walked away from their disarmament treaties and obligations. The United Nations Security Council is dysfunctional, and paralyzed through the power of veto. Wasn’t the UN Charter set up to prevent this type of conflict in which nuclear annihilation is threatened?
The architecture of the UN has a multitude of systemic flaws beyond its inherent underfunding. To address the collective security mechanism of the UN Charter, the intervention of an established International Peace Force may have deterred such an overt assault on a sovereign member state. But that never happened.
The Ukraine crisis with all its nuclear perils spotlights the need for reforms to the central institutions of the UN and a new global governance system for nuclear weaponry. Neither Ukraine nor the rest of us can afford the luxury of time. We’re minutes — or maybe even just seconds — from nuclear midnight.
But as we do that, we also call on the government of Justin Trudeau to immediately undertake world leadership in efforts to permanently ban and dismantle nuclear weapons wherever they exist.
As a first step, Canada must sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. When Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau retired from politics in 1984, he made nuclear disarmament his deeply impassioned project. In meetings around the world, he championed this cause.
At the end of the Cold War, the entire issue faded from the public limelight. But it has continued to fester and to grow ever more horrifying. Today we call upon Justin Trudeau to take up his father’s cause again.