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Since the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the whole world has been in fear of nuclear war, for the first time in our history we can completely destroy the world. During the era of super power confrontation, the world came very near to nuclear annihilation on more than once. But now that the era of super power confrontation has ended with the fall of communism and the collapse of the USSR, what are the implications for nuclear stability? 80

Whilst during the cold war, there were only two sides to the confrontation, USA and its NATO alliances and the USSR and its Warsaw pact alliances, there are now many countries with Nuclear capabilities. The problem of nuclear stability is now multi lateral where it once was bi-lateral. It has also become regionalised, whereas during the cold war, the confrontation seemed to be on a global stage, there are now regional conflicts where nuclear arms play a key role. Also, the relationship between the USA and Russia needs to be brought into question as whilst they are making efforts to reduce their arms, they still have enough to destroy each over many times over and can respond to an attack at a moments notice. 124

Arguably, the ending of the era of super power confrontation has brought about a decrease in nuclear stability. During the cold war there was unwritten codes and conducts of behaviour. Whilst both sides built up huge stockpiles of weapons to act as deterrence, they were both too afraid to use them because of the consequences. But now, there are many nuclear powers, the US and Russia are uneasy about the thought of abolition. Then there are the logistical fears with Russia’s ageing and under protected nuclear arsenal and the current internal situation in Russia i.e. Chechnya. Is there more Nuclear stability at all? 103

So how has the relationship between the US and Russia changed and what are the implications for nuclear stability? “The cold war could end only when two things occurred: first, when a soviet leader abandoned the Marxist – Leninist conception of the world?and second, when the west would come to recognise that fact and abandon its no longer relevant image of an ideologically committed permanent adversary and the derived foundation for its containment policy”, (Garthoff, L. 1999, p 65). 78

During the cold war the relationship was tense yet secure. “Fear of the consequences of nuclear war not only made it exceedingly improbable that either superpower would deliberately seek a military confrontation with the other; it made their leaders extremely reluctant to take any action that they considered would seriously raise the risk of war” Lebow, N. 1999, p83). 59

One would be quick to assume that the two sides are striving for nuclear abolition after the years of tension, but it is arguably not the case. The SALT 2 treaty, which was signed in 1979 to put limits on the growth of strategic weapons, has still not been ratified, this was initially to do with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but the US senate has still not ratified the treaty. Also the START 2 treaty which called to cut the number of strategic weapons to half, however this is still to be ratified by the Russian Duma. Although with Russian presidential elections around the corner and a new Russian government in place, this may alter things for better or for worse. 122

So whilst the two leaders seem to be going through the motions for nuclear disarmament, they still seem to be keeping the same cold war stances. Whilst many in the west advocate nuclear abolition: Britain has reduced its arsenal to the trident submarines and France has withdrawn its land based force, “neither Russia or the US have been willing to complement the slow and cumbersome process of treaty negotiations with actions that could be implemented far more rapidly”. (JumpStart – www.stimson.org/pubs/policy/start.pdf). 80

Both states still have enough weapons to destroy one another many times over, and both still have their weapons on hair trigger alert. An example of the danger this poses was in January 1995, when a Norwegian scientific rocket was fired in the North Sea. Russian early warning systems mistook it for a missile attack by the west and the briefcase containing the Russian nuclear missile launch codes was activated for the first time before the launch was deemed peaceful. 80

Whilst it would be unfair to accuse the US and Russia of not trying to reduce the number of missiles, it could be argued that Russia and the US still keep some of their cold war paranoia and posturing. Although both countries were aware that a nuclear war could not be won, they appear to only be willing to reduce their arsenal not remove all their nuclear weapons. 68

In October last year, Russia announced that it would not ratify the Comprehensive test ban treaty until its technology caught up with the US. “The Head of the Russian parliaments defence committee, Roman Popkovich said that the US had sufficient technology to simulate nuclear weapons tests, and Russia was postponing its ratification until this discrepancy was removed” (www.bbc.news.co.uk. Russia Shies from Nuclear treaty. 14/10/99). 64

As well as this, in December last year, Russia announced the successful testing of its TOPL – M single warhead missiles. “Military commanders said that its introduction is crucial to help Russia maintain its military capability as it goes ahead with cuts in its forces”. (www.bbc.news.co.uk Russia launches new generation missile 9/12/99). 51

Also, the 1994 Helsinki pact between Clinton and Yeltsin agreed not to aim missiles at each other, whilst this has happened, the missiles can be reactivated within minutes. However supporters of nuclear weapons argue that di-munition can lead to serious inflexibility” (Martin, L) and that aboliting nuclear weapons can leave a country open to attack. 55

But, the change in the relationship between the US and Russia has had implications for nuclear stability. “The stable deterrent stand off that emerged between east and west in the cold war did so across clear cut lines of demarcation and over a long period of mutual learning. Peace keeping crisis management by definition springs its challenges unexpectedly and in unanticipated forms and contexts” (Martin, L). 66

An example of the delicateness of their post cold war relationship was Boris Yeltsin’s statement regarding Bill Clinton’s remarks that criticised the conflict in Chechnya. At the annual China/Russia summit meeting, Yeltsin was reported to go out of his way when walking past reporters to say: 46

“He must have forgotten for a moment what Russia is. It has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. I want to tell President Clinton that he alone cannot dictate how the world should live, work and play. It is we who will dictate” (www.bbc.co.uk) 44

The current conflict in Chechnya has brought East West relations to a strain, the west has been critical of Russia’s civil war in Chechnya, yet Russia has carried on regardless with maintained support from China. Whilst, during the cold war the east west relationship was secure, now it appears to have become a lot more unstable. 56

Some theorists argue that the reason for the end of the cold war was that Russia had become bankrupted through trying to keep up in the arms race, others argued that the country merely imploded due to weakness in its governance (Goldstein, J. 1996 p 43). But whatever the reason was, by the time Gorbachev came to power the country was in dire need of Perestroika (economic reform). 68

When the USSR collapsed the economy of Russia and therefore the military were in a very poor condition. Russian military planning aspires to maintain a minimum force of 1.5 million. The financial requirements of this are estimated at $200 billion, yet spending on Russian defence is estimated at approximately $20 billion (Steinbruner, J. 1999, p141). These are only approximate figures, but Russia’s army is on the brink of collapse, especially after the conflict in Dagestan and the current conflict in Chechnya. 81

Storage, security and the condition of missiles are three of the main problems facing the Russian army. In 1991, George Bush ordered the withdrawal of all US nuclear weapons aboard US naval vessels back to the US. Gorbachev acted in return, by withdrawing all USSR missiles from Warsaw pact countries. This has resulted in missiles being stored in over crowded and unsecured conditions. 63

In September 1998, a team of US experts visiting Moscow was shown a building containing100kg of highly enriched uranium, which was completely un-guarded, as the facility could not afford the $200 a month security guard. In some storage facilities entire security systems do not work as the electricity has been cut off, as they have not paid the bills. As well as this, in silos all over Russia there are 20 year old ICBMs which have a service life of 10 years (Jump-Start – www.stimson.org). These are just three examples, but there seems to be incidents occurring weekly. A list can be found at this address – http://www.stimson.org/policy/nucleardangers.html. So, what are the real implications of the state of Russia’s army? 118

The perceived threat of a terrorist organisation gaining nuclear capabilities is unlikely. Although it would be possible to obtain the nuclear material it would be very difficult to obtain the technology necessary to launch a nuclear attack. Also, any terrorist organisation with confirmed nuclear capabilities would be the target of every intelligence agency in the world. 56

The threat from the Russian Mafia is also negligible, as they would not want to risk the government (with whom, they are alleged to have a “comfortable” relationship with) forcing a serious crack down on their activities. 37

The risk of attack from old USSR republics that have old Russian nuclear weapons is also slight, as only the Ukraine is believed to have the technology to launch a nuclear strike. Also many of the states are fear full of the international responses they would face, if they declared them selves to be nuclear states. 56

However, the real risks posed are, firstly: the environmental risks. With many warheads kept in inadequate conditions, it may not be long before a severe accident on a par to Chernobyl occurs. 32

The condition of the early warning technology also poses severe dangers. The 1995 Norwegian Scientific rocket incident is a good example of this. 23

There are also many reports of extremely low moral in the Russian army. In September 1998 a sailor went on a killing spree on an Akula Class nuclear attack submarine, then barricaded himself in the nuclear reactor for 20 hours, he either killed himself or was killed by Russian security services (Jump – Start, www.stimson.org). 54

With the crisis in the Russian army deepening, it may not be long before Russia is involved in a major conflict, where it may quickly arrive at the situation where it has only its nuclear weapons to fall back on. 40

Now that the cold war has ended, the problem of nuclear stability is now much more complex. The number of nuclear states has increased and we are now seeing potential nuclear conflicts on a regional not global scale. 38

Under the Nuclear Non proliferation treaty the five nuclear powers (USA, Russia, Britain, France, China) were obliged never to transfer nuclear technology and other countries were forbidden from acquiring nuclear technology. 31

However: Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, India and North Korea are believed to have nuclear capabilities. Also Libya and Iran are believed to be working on developing nuclear weapons. The recent seizure of scud missile parts en route to Libya makes this claim seem to be true. South Africa stopped their nuclear program years ago; however, it is believed that it could be restarted at very short notice. 66

Britain and France have both ratified the Comprehensive test ban treaty and China is also aiming for ratification. “Our aim is to get ratification of the treaty” Jiang Zemin (www.cnn.com. Jiang Zemin says China wants to ratify nuclear pact). 39

However whilst Russia and the USA remain as nuclear powers, less developed countries will want to stand up to them and develop their own nuclear weapons programs. An example of this is North Korea. North Korea signed an agreement with the USA in 1994, which froze its nuclear program. However, in a report by former US defence secretary William Perry, it is claimed that; “North Korea would be able to produce a “significant number” of nuclear weapons if it renounced the 1994 freeze”. He also said; “that in the event of an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula, the intensity of combat, would be unparalleled in U.S experience since the Korean War” (www.cnn.com. Korea capable of making significant number of nuclear weapons). 123

The current situation in India and Pakistan is another indicator of how Nuclear weapons are now a truly global problem. India and Pakistan are the two newest declared nuclear powers. In May 1998, India’s new Hindu supremacist government began Nuclear weapons tests. A few days later, Pakistan, whose nuclear program has been helped by its close allie China, carried out its own Nuclear weapons tests. Although both countries faced heavy sanctions (which lasted for 18 months), they both carried out further tests in the second half of last year. Both countries were hit hard by international sanctions, but both were determined to show that they could be equal with the west and with each other on the nuclear stage. Like in North Korea, the age-old conflict between the two states now has the potential for nuclear war. 138

What are the implications for nuclear stability now that the cold war is over? During the cold war, it could be argued that there was nuclear stability, although it was a very tense stability. The relationship between Russia and the USA was well worked out and both sides knew where they stood with each other. However, the end of the cold war changed this situation drastically. Russia and the USA’s relationship is significantly less stable, President Yeltsin’s recent remarks are an indicator of this. The collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in Russia being unable to maintain its nuclear arsenal in a safe and secure manner and its army is on the brink of collapse. And despite the numerous treaties which have been negotiated to reduce nuclear weapons, both Russia and the US have enough missiles to destroy one another at a moment’s notice. As well as the change in Russian/US relations, there is now the added factor of nuclear proliferation in numerous states. The recent nuclear tests in Pakistan and India have shown how nuclear weapons can be used for regional conflicts. And also, the recent seizure of scud missile parts to Libya have shown that many states want to have nuclear capabilities regardless of the lessons learnt during the era of super power confrontation. 217


Booth, K (ed) Statecraft and security. 1998. Cambridge

Chapters used

Lebow, R, N and Stein. J, G Nuclear lessons of the cold war.

Garthoff, J Who is to blame for the cold war?

Streinbruner, J. Can the United States lead the world?

Goldstein, J International Relations (2nd ed). 1996. Harper Collins


www.cnn.com CNN Web site

Stories used

Galeotti. M, Dr. The Real risks of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

“Yeltsin warns US not to meddle in Chechnya, cites nuclear weapons” 9\12\99

Kennedy, B Nuclear close calls.

“Jiang says China wants to ratify Nuclear pact” 24/12.99

“Korea capable of making `significant number` of nuclear weapons” 13/10/99

“Richardson appeals to India for Nuclear restraint”"28/10/99

www.encarta.com MSN Encarta encyclopaedia

Articles used

Martin, L, Sir. Nuclear weapons after the cold war.

Luttwak, E, N Cold war aftermath

www.bbc.co.uk BBC news web site

Articles used

“Clinton dismisses nuclear outburst”. 9/12/99

“Russia launches new generation missile” 9/12/98

“Russia shies from nuclear treaty” 14/10/99

“The worlds nuclear arsenal” ` 4/6/98

“Indian Nuclear sanctions eased” 17/12/99

“India tests ballistic missile” 11\4\99

“Pakistan goes it alone” 3/5/99

“Pakistan Nuclear test warning” 25/11/99

www.stimson.org The Henry L Stimson Centre web site.

Essays used

“Jump Start. Retaking the initiative to reduce post cold war Nuclear dangers” 25/02/99

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