The 85-year-old Cold War-era leader, the eighth and final head of the Soviet Union who played a big part in the dissolution of the Cold War and in the nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev, has warned of a possible nuclear war in the face of the “militarization of politics and the new arms race.”
Gorbachev’s warning comes as the United States and NATO on one side, and Russia on the other, have increased the military presence on Russia’s border to counter what NATO portrays as Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
China has also moved long-range missiles, which can carry 10 nuclear warheads up to 8,700 miles, to the Russian border to “force” the U.S. to respect China; following Donald Trump stoking a diplomatic row by accusing China of flexing its muscles in the disputed territory of the South China Sea.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
Terming the current situation too dangerous, the winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize penned a powerful op-ed published in the TIME magazine:
“More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank.
“While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.
“Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.”
In November 1985, the historic handshake between the 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev started a process of reducing nuclear weapons and lowering the nuclear threat. Reagan and Gorbachev not only agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” they also declared that nuclear weapons must serve only one purpose: to prevent war. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia saw a significant reduction in nuclear arsenals.
Calling for a repeat of the Geneva summit between the leaders of two nuclear powers, Gorbachev urged American president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin — the presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility — to push for a United Nations resolution to outlaw nuclear war.
“Today, the nuclear threat once again seems real. We must break out of this situation. We need to resume political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action. In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war — not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.
“I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.”
This isn’t the first time Gorbachev has warned of a global conflict. In November 2014, Gorbachev warned that tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine (Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014) had put the world on the brink of a new Cold War. In October 2016, he warned that the world had reached a dangerous point as tensions between the U.S. and Russia soared over the Syria conflict.
“The worst thing that has happened in recent years is the collapse of trust in relations between major powers. The window to a nuclear weapon-free world is being shut and sealed right before our eyes. As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used as a result either of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man — an insane person or terrorist.”
Recently, scientists at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the metaphorical Doomsday Clock to two minutes and 30 seconds before midnight — the time that represents when a catastrophic nuclear event can annihilate the Earth. It’s the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, at the height of the Cold War.
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