Armas nucleares

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Hassan Firouzabadi, then head of the Iranian military, look through binoculars during the test firing of short- and medium-range missiles on Sept. 18, 2004. AFP via Getty Images

Will Iran ever acquire nuclear weapons? What would happen if it did? The answer to the first question seems increasingly to be yes. The second question, however, is as unclear as ever.

The Islamic Republic has been at odds with the United States and many of its neighbors for 45 years, ever since the revolution that toppled the shah in 1979. The United States backed Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (even though Baghdad had started the conflict), and then-U.S. President George W. Bush included Tehran in his infamous “axis of evil”. The Obama administration eventually signed a nuclear deal with Iran, but it also collaborated with Israel to conduct a major cyberattack on Iran’s enrichment infrastructure.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The Kremlin on Monday issued an angry statement announcing that Russia would soon conduct a tactical nuclear weapons exercise near Ukraine.’ Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL/EPA

Frustrated by the precarious state of Ukraine’s war effort and the long delays in US aid, leaders in France and Britain have stepped up their promises to Ukraine in the last few days. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, repeated in an interview last week that he might send ground forces to shore up beleaguered Ukrainian defenses. Meanwhile, speaking in Kyiv, the British foreign minister, David Cameron, gave Ukraine the green light to strike into Russian territory, clearly signaling that the UK wants a more aggressive approach to the war.

Their frustration is understandable, as is the temptation to get more directly involved in the war, with more powerful weapons and more guarantees of long-term backing for Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

El dictador norcoreano Kim Jong-un, durante unos ejercicios militares. EFE

Durante los últimos días, el vigor de las sanciones impuestas por la comunidad internacional para conseguir la desnuclearización de Corea del Norte ha disminuido.

Los principales culpables de esta disminución son China y Rusia, dos miembros permanentes del Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas.

El problema también deriva del hecho de que 62 de los 192 estados miembros de la ONU nunca presentaron informes nacionales de implementación de las sanciones contra Corea del Norte hasta 2022.

China y Rusia se han comprometido secretamente con Corea del Norte. Ambos países instigaron las ambiciones del programa nuclear de Kim Jong-un, lo que le permitió a Corea del Norte desarrollar con éxito misiles balísticos intercontinentales (ICBM, según sus siglas en inglés) y satélites de reconocimiento.…  Seguir leyendo »

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 2024. Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

Last year, less than a month before Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel changed everything, Israel and Saudi Arabia were negotiating an agreement to normalize ties. After decades of icy relations, Riyadh’s price for peace was admittedly high: in addition to U.S. security guarantees and at least token Israeli concessions on Palestinian sovereignty, Saudi negotiators were demanding access to civilian nuclear technology. Today, despite a fresh push by the Biden administration, such an agreement remains only a remote possibility. With the Israel-Hamas war raging on, even if Saudi officials were interested in talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they would likely find it impossible to negotiate a lasting peace while Arab publics, including their own, are outraged at the humanitarian crisis Israel’s military campaign has created in Gaza.…  Seguir leyendo »

A test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kapustin Yar training ground in Russia's southern Astrakhan region near the Caspian Sea (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A month after the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, a junior Israeli government minister, Amihai Eliyahu, suggested that an atomic bomb could be dropped on Gaza.

Almost all analysts and certainly all governments took his remarks as an empty gesture aimed at a specific domestic audience – the minister later said his comments in the radio interview were metaphorical, and he was suspended from the government.

Behind the headlines and resulting fury, however, is a long-held common understanding that Israel has an undeclared nuclear weapons capability, and that Iran is closer to crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made little secret of his desire to address Iran’s developing capacity with military force.…  Seguir leyendo »

Showcasing intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, October 2019. Jason Lee / Reuters

China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is on track to amass 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, up from around 200 in 2019, according to Pentagon estimates. This nuclear buildup, combined with China’s broader investments in modernizing its armed forces, has caused deep concern in Washington. In 2023, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States insisted that China’s nuclear expansion should prompt U.S. policymakers to “re-evaluate the size and composition of the U.S. nuclear force”. In March, Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned, “we haven’t faced a threat like this since World War II”.…  Seguir leyendo »

The debate about America’s nuclear deterrent breaks along two lines. One views the discussion through the lens of arms control. The other focuses on the level of deterrence required in a world in which America will soon face two potential adversaries with nuclear forces as big as its own: Russia and China.

Arms-controllers are concerned with remaining within the limits of New START, an arms-reduction treaty between America and Russia which took effect in 2011, and with negotiating further reductions in warheads. For those more concerned with deterrence, that approach misses the key questions: “Why do we have nuclear weapons?” and “How has the international security environment changed since New START entered into force?”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cillian Murphy stars in Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures

In a key scene of Christopher Nolan’s biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, addresses a crowd of foot-stamping scientists, engineers, and staff. The father of the atomic bomb exudes an uncharacteristic ferocity: “The world will remember this day. It’s too soon to determine what the result of the bombing are, but I’ll bet the Japanese didn’t like it. I’m so proud, so proud of what you have accomplished. I just wish we’d had it in time to use against the Germans”.

Filmgoers know what comes next—the blinding flash, the deafening roar, the carbonized corpse—victory turned to ashes in the cheering mouths of those who forged an artificial sun.…  Seguir leyendo »

Richard Gigger, a la derecha, discutiendo una partitura. Cortesía de la familia Kaminer

El cielo ensombrecido se extiende sobre kilómetros de arena desértica mientras, a lo lejos, desde un andamio iluminado, se eleva el objeto que cambiará el mundo. La primera prueba atómica es la escena que define Oppenheimer, ganadora de siete Premios de la Academia el domingo por la noche, incluido el de mejor película. La escena se desarrolla durante casi siete minutos de tensión in crescendo: nadie sabía si la bomba estallaría esa noche y, en caso de que sí, si incineraría al mundo entero.

Cuando vi la película, en el fin de semana del estreno, la escena me pareció insoportable, a pesar de que la historia ya había registrado lo que pasaba.…  Seguir leyendo »

¿Está de regreso la proliferación nuclear?

Ya están avanzados los preparativos de la Conferencia de Revisión de las Naciones Unidas de las Partes del Tratado de No Proliferación de Armas Nucleares (NPT, por sus siglas en inglés), firmado originalmente en 1968 y que se actualizará en 2026. Muchos esperan un evento conflictivo. Algunos países están pensando mejor el principio de no proliferación, ya que se preguntan si Rusia hubiera invadido Ucrania en 2022 si este país se hubiera quedado con las armas nucleares que heredó de la Unión Soviética. A su vez, estos contrafactuales han renovado los temores de otros países a la proliferación nuclear.

Por supuesto, estas preocupaciones no tienen nada de nuevo.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Russian-crewed spacecraft blasting off to the International Space Station, Baikonur, Kazakhstan, September 2023. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Then Mike Turner, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a cryptic warning last week about the “serious national security threat” represented by a secret Russian military capability, the Republican representative from Ohio generated a wave of anxiety. Concern about Turner’s statement deepened when White House spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that Moscow is developing a “troubling” antisatellite weapon. Soon, multiple news outlets, such as The New York Times, were reporting that Moscow might be preparing to deploy a nuclear weapon in space.

The purpose of such a weapon may well be to destroy the large-scale satellite constellations used for communications and reconnaissance.…  Seguir leyendo »

Banderas de Corea del Norte y Rusia junto a una estación de tren por la visita de Kim Jong Un a Vladivostok, el 25 de abril de 2019. Reuters

Es difícil precisar el número exacto de trabajadores norcoreanos que viven hoy en Rusia ya que muchos de ellos regresaron a Corea del Norte en 2019 tras la adopción de la Resolución 2397 del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, que les obligaba a ello. Moscú dijo que había repatriado a la mayoría de los trabajadores norcoreanos a finales de 2019, dejando sólo unas 1.000 personas. Sin embargo, las cifras rusas parecen ser falsas.

Según el Informe 2023 sobre Trata de Personas del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos, Moscú expidió 4.723 visados a norcoreanos en 2022 para eludir la resolución de la ONU que prohíbe la mano de obra norcoreana en el extranjero.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is This a Sputnik Moment?

Earlier this week, veiled comments started to emerge on Capitol Hill regarding an unnamed and “serious national security threat”. By Thursday, a White House spokesman, John Kirby, let the American public in on what members of Congress were talking about: a new Russian space-based antisatellite capability that violates the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, suspected of being a space-based nuclear weapon.

Officials say the system is not active, and they have not detailed what it can do. But if it is what the White House suggests, we may now find ourselves facing this generation’s Sputnik moment. In 1957, when the former Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite and shocked Americans, the Eisenhower administration had known about the Soviets’ satellite capabilities for almost two years.…  Seguir leyendo »

At a rally in support of Palestinians, Tehran, November 2023. Majid Asgaripour / Reuters

Since the start of the war in the Gaza Strip, Iran’s government has sounded bullish, even triumphalist notes. “The Zionist regime’s defeat in this event is not just the defeat of the Zionist regime”, contended Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech last month, referencing Israeli setbacks on the battlefield. “It is also the defeat of the U.S”. At the beginning of January, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi boasted that his country’s enemies “can see Iran’s power, and the whole world knows its strength and capabilities”. And a few days later, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson declared that the so-called axis of resistance—the network of partners and proxies Iran backs across the region—is more “coherent, resilient and united than ever”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian intercontinental ballistic missile systems being paraded through Moscow, May 2023. Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

To hear U.S. officials tell it, there is little risk that the war in Ukraine will lead to nuclear escalation. “We don’t have any indication that Mr. Putin has any intention to use weapons of mass destruction—let alone nuclear weapons”, said White House spokesperson John Kirby in January. At a Senate hearing in early May, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines stated that Russia was “very unlikely” to use its nuclear arsenal. Yes, CIA Director William Burns said a February speech, the United States must take Putin’s nuclear saber rattling seriously. But the purpose of such rhetoric, Burns continued, was “to intimidate us, as well as our European allies and Ukraine”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Prevenir el Armagedón nuclear de la IA

Ya no es ciencia ficción: la carrera por aplicar la inteligencia artificial a los sistemas de armas nucleares está en marcha, un avance que podría hacer más probable una guerra nuclear. Ahora que los gobiernos de todo el mundo actúan para garantizar el desarrollo y la aplicación seguros de la IA, existe una oportunidad de mitigar este peligro. Pero si los líderes mundiales quieren aprovecharla, primero deben reconocer cuán grave es la amenaza.

En las últimas semanas, el G7 acordó el Código Internacional de Conducta del Proceso de Hiroshima para organizaciones que desarrollan sistemas avanzados de IA, con el fin de “promover una IA segura y confiable en todo el mundo”, y el presidente de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden, emitió una orden ejecutiva que establece nuevos estándares para la “seguridad y protección” de la IA.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, October 2019. Thomas Peter / Reuters.

Among the many issues surrounding China’s ongoing military modernization, perhaps none has been more dramatic than its nuclear weapons program. For decades, the Chinese government was content to maintain a comparatively small nuclear force. As recently as 2020, China’s arsenal was little changed from previous decades and amounted to some 220 weapons, around five to six percent of either the U.S. or Russian stockpiles of deployed and reserve warheads.

Since then, however, China has been rapidly expanding and modernizing its arsenal. In 2020, it began constructing three silo fields to house more than 300 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A year later, it successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle that traveled 21,600 miles, a test that likely demonstrated China’s ability to field weapons that can orbit the earth before striking targets, known as a “fractional orbital bombardment system”.…  Seguir leyendo »

The nuclear talks could lay the groundwork for crucial agreement on risk reduction

After many years of fruitless ‘talks about talks’, China and the US have just met in Washington for what is hoped to be the first in a series of discussions on nuclear arms control, the first since the Obama administration.

The meetings, said to be at the ‘working level’, will likely focus on developing a new approach based on increasing transparency and risk reduction rather than on numbers and inspections. It is hoped that this discussion will feed into a high-level meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in San Francisco later in November.

Until now, China has resisted attempts to enter into talks with the US on either a trilateral (with Russia) or bilateral basis, saying that until the US and Russia reduce their numbers down to China’s level – or until China’s build-up matches the numbers of Russia and the US – they would not join the talks.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Return of Nuclear Escalation

Nuclear weapons once again loom large in international politics, and a dangerous pattern is emerging. In the regions most likely to draw the United States into conflict—the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, eastern Europe, and the Persian Gulf—U.S. adversaries appear to be acquiring, enhancing, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. North Korea is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States; China is doubling the size of its arsenal; Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons in its war in Ukraine; and according to U.S. officials, Iran has amassed enough fissile material for a bomb. Many people hoped that once the Cold War ended, nuclear weapons would recede into irrelevance.…  Seguir leyendo »

A mushroom cloud is seen during a French nuclear test in French Polynesia in 1970. (AFP/Getty Images)

Sixty years ago, the Limited Test Ban Treaty halted the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. It was heralded as a great step forward. But in the long run, it has had a perverse effect.

It has led to our massive modern stockpile of nuclear weapons and the belief that these weapons are meant to be used to fight a war — not, as originally intended, to end one.

Worse, it has created a dangerous amnesia. People have forgotten how much destruction a single nuclear weapon can cause. They have lost their sense of horror.

That Russian President Vladimir Putin openly talks of using a tactical nuclear weapon in the war in Ukraine, and of revoking the test ban treaty, should be terrifying.…  Seguir leyendo »