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Is nuclear war more likely than you think?

I have to admit I feel a bit of a kook every time I write about this but I’m increasingly convinced that the situation is getting worse (or maybe I’m just getting old). Consider the following.

We have several geo-political flashpoints that are concerning:

  1. North Korea (has nuclear weapons)
  2. Iran (wants nuclear weapons)
  3. Kashmir (India, Pakistan and China all have nuclear weapons)

You can throw in a few more wrinkles to all this by considering how nations are talking of protecting their satellites and also arming satellites. Life in many nations is going to get tricky very quickly when a few satellites get knocked out of commission.

Then add into the mix that the treaties that had sought to reduce or restrict nuclear arsenals are falling to the wayside. The US has recently pulled out of a treaty with Russia (mostly because it wants a new treaty that includes China – which isn’t going to happen).

According to this article in Foreign Affairs which also starts with a very plausible war-starting scenario.

In short, in less than two years, the last remaining agreement to limit and monitor the deployment of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces could unravel completely. If it does, any remaining transparency of both sides’ nuclear arsenals, including on-site inspections by each country, will vanish with it.

At the same time as checks on existing weapons are falling away, new technologies threaten to further destabilize the military balance.

Which is not very encouraging. Nor is the BBC’s article asking the question: Are the rules which have stopped nuclear war broken? To which the answer is a qualified, ‘yes’.

Experts conclusions are pretty bleak when considering the state of affairs:

Today, however, clashing national interests, insufficient dialogue, eroding arms control structures, advanced missile systems, and new cyberweapons have destabilized the old equilibrium. Political polarization in Washington has only made matters worse, undoing any remnants of a domestic consensus about U.S. foreign policy toward Russia. Unless Washington and Moscow confront these problems now, a major international conflict or nuclear escalation is disturbingly plausible—perhaps even likely.

So earlier in the summer a few clever maths people tried to figure out the Probability of a Nuclear War. They reckon each year the chance of a nuclear war is about 1%. Which seems fine, manageable and certainly not anything to worry about. Except that means the chances of a nuclear war in the lifetime of my kids is about 60%.

Deep breath, follow the link and consider that number again: 60%.

We’re still in living memory of nuclear bombs being dropped (just over 74 years ago) – it would be foolish to think it can’t or won’t happen again. So I’m inclined to agree with Tyler Cowen when he says,

One of the most striking facts of today’s world is that young people do not seem to worry very much about nuclear war. Climate change is by far the larger concern, while nuclear war is seen as a threat of the past…In contrast, I am inclined to think that the risk of nuclear war remains the world’s No. 1 problem, even if that risk does not seem so pressing on any particular day.

Are there grounds for optimism? Sure but as Cowen notes:

Yes, the arguments for optimism often appear stronger than the arguments for pessimism, and indeed they are. When it comes to nuclear weapons, however, the arguments for pessimism only have to be true once — and that is likely to happen sooner or later, no matter how positive the general trends.

I’m convinced (and I may make the case here) that the only possible position for a Christian is to be against the use and possession of nuclear weapons.

I personally don’t have much confidence that any state that has nuclear weapons will get rid of them (I even think it more likely that we’ll see new nations added to the list and therefore increasing the risk) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still campaign against them.

And in case you want to know What You Should Do if a Nuclear Bomb Explodes Nearby the answer is go inside and definitely not in your car.

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