The use of nuclear arms had been considered practically unthinkable for the 77 years since the US proved their destructive power. But a distinctive feature of Russian military policy is an express willingness to introduce nuclear weapons into an otherwise conventional war. That helps explain why President Vladimir Putin’s saber-rattling about his nuclear arsenal since launching war on Ukraine in February has been so worrisome. What’s of particular concern with Russia is its posture on so-called tactical, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons.
1. What has Russia done to raise concern?
In a speech laying out Russia’s reasons for invading Ukraine, Putin warned that any nation that interfered would suffer “consequences that you have never experienced in your history.” That was widely seen as threatening a nuclear strike. On Sept. 21, in the wake of a Ukrainian counteroffensive helped by US intelligence and weapons donated by the West, Putin portrayed the war as a fight to the death with the US and its allies and vowed to “use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.” Rhetoric aside, Russia regularly holds drills to test its strategic weapon delivery systems, including practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and shorter-range cruise missiles; one was held just days before the invasion. Military experts have considered how Russia might use a tactical weapon in a conventional conflict, like the one in Ukraine.
2. What’s a tactical nuclear weapon?
“Tactical” is an inexact term for a nuclear weapon that could be used within a theater of war. Generally speaking, that means it has a less powerful warhead (the explosive head of a missile, rocket or torpedo) and is delivered at a shorter range — by mines, artillery, cruise missiles or bombs dropped by aircraft — than the “strategic” nuclear weapons the US and Russia could launch at each other’s homeland using ICBMs. Arms control accords between the US and the Soviet Union (and, later, between the US and Russia) starting in the 1970s generally focused on reducing the number of strategic nuclear weapons, not tactical ones.
3. How powerful can a tactical nuclear weapon be?
Where today’s most powerful strategic warheads are measured in the many hundreds of kilotons, tactical nuclear weapons can have explosive yields of less than 1 kiloton; many are in the tens of kilotons. For some perspective, the atomic bombs dropped by the US on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 had explosive yields of about 15 kilotons and 20 kilotons, respectively.
4. How does a nuclear strike fit into Russia’s military doctrine?
Since 2000, Russia’s publicly shared military doctrine has allowed for nuclear weapons use “in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.” The Russian strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate” contemplates using a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield to change the course of a conventional conflict that Russian forces are at risk of losing. John Hyten, who served as the top US nuclear weapons military official, says a more accurate translation of the Russian strategy is “escalate to win.” Russian diplomats, in a bid to dial back fears about what might happen in Ukraine, have said nuclear weapons would be used against conventional forces only if Russia’s “very existence” were “in jeopardy.”
5. What’s in Russia’s arsenal?
The US Department of Defense reported in 2018 that Russia had “significant advantages” over the US and its allies in tactical nuclear forces and was improving delivery capabilities. Researchers at the Federation of American Scientists estimated that entering 2022, Russia had 4,477 nuclear warheads, of which 1,525 — roughly one-third — could be considered tactical.
6. What would a tactical nuclear strike look like?
Nina Tannenwald, author of “The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945,” paints a scenario of even a small nuclear weapon, one with an explosive yield of 0.3 kiloton, producing “damage far beyond that of a conventional explosive.” It could, she wrote in Scientific American in March, “cause all the horrors of Hiroshima, albeit on a smaller scale.” It’s possible, however, that if detonated at the right altitude, a small-yield warhead might wipe out opposing forces beneath without leaving behind long-term radiation damage that leaves the battlefield off-limits to all.
7. How would the world respond?
Because Ukraine isn’t a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — Putin has demanded that it never be allowed to join — the US and its allies are not obliged to come to its defense. But the West would be under great pressure to respond to a nuclear attack, perhaps even with a tactical weapon of its own. From there, it would be anyone’s guess. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily use tactical nuclear weapons and not end up with Armageddon,” Biden warned. The US is thought to have about 150 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs — ones dropped from aircraft, with variable yields that can be as low as 0.3 kiloton — stationed in five NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. Two other NATO members, the UK and France, are known to have nuclear weapons of their own. And Poland recently expressed interest in “sharing” US nuclear weapons, which could mean anything from offering escort or reconnaissance jets for a nuclear mission to actually hosting the weapons.
The Russian invasions of Ukraine, first in February 2014 and then in February 2022, have so far been fought with conventional weapons only. But the Russo-Ukrainian war has salient, multifaceted nuclear undertones. It raises important questions about the dynamics of nuclear deterrence, the future of nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament, and the international governance of nuclear energy. In short, the ongoing war in Ukraine has profound implications for the global nuclear order.
The global nuclear order itself, as it evolved since the shattering introduction of nuclear weapons into the international system in 1945, has been riddled with inherent tensions and contradictions. But the war in Ukraine is making the global nuclear conundrum worse by critically exacerbating existing dysfunctions. Whether—and how—tensions get alleviated, contradictions mitigated, and dysfunctions repaired is yet to be seen. Here I examine the inherent vulnerabilities of the global nuclear order, diagnose how the war in Ukraine might have exacerbated them, and open the way to the search for a cure.
Global nuclear order as deterrence and restraint
Global nuclear order is defined here as a system of national and international practices, policies, institutions, rules, and common understandings that govern the acquisition, possession, and use of nuclear weapons—the world’s deadliest technology ever created. The concept of order does not imply that the world of nuclear weapons is orderly. Rather, the phrase “global order” refers to the notion that nuclear weapons do not exist in a vacuum; that they are part and parcel of the systemic, institutional, and normative arrangements on national and international levels; that these arrangements are interconnected; and that pulling on one corner of these arrangements sends ripples across the entire fabric.
One way to conceive of the global nuclear order is as consisting of two interlocked sub-orders, or systems: a system of nuclear deterrence and a system of nuclear restraint (Walker 2000; see Figure 1). In this conception, both systems recognize the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons which distinguish them from other armaments, place them into a category of their own, and emerge with the ultimate objective of avoiding a nuclear war. Yet the systems of deterrence and restraint encompass divergent understandings of the relationship between nuclear weapons and international peace and security.
The system of nuclear deterrence is based on the premise that for as long as nuclear weapons exist and more than one country possesses such weapons in the world, the way to avoid a nuclear war is to deter an adversary from launching any nuclear strike first by credibly threatening nuclear retaliation. Winston Churchill called nuclear deterrence a “melancholy paradox,” and for good reason. In the system of deterrence, nuclear weapons are both the cause of existential threat and the remedy for it. Nuclear deterrence is both the problem and the solution to nuclear risk. In principle, the same could be said of all armaments. But, in practice, nuclear weapons are so uniquely destructive, and their use would be so catastrophic, that nuclear deterrence has long struggled to reconcile the contradiction between the moral inadmissibility of nuclear use and the credibility of nuclear threat.
The system of nuclear deterrence is of course much more than a scholarly debate between deterrence theorists. It has grown to rest on very real—and costly—national nuclear weapons research, production, and modernization programs and complexes, doctrines and operational plans, sets of deterrence relationships (typically dyads) to which nuclear capabilities and doctrines are tailored, as well as alliance relationships to which nuclear deterrence is extended as part of security provision. Much of the thinking and practice of deterrence evolved in the context of the Cold War and the stand-off between two nuclear superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—and their respective alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Today, however, the system of deterrence is more complex as it includes an increased number of nuclear powers with all combinations of possible deterrence dyads—US-China, India-Pakistan, India-China, US-North Korea, etc. In addition, new security domains and disruptive technologies have emerged that bring new uncertainties and affect the stability and credibility of nuclear deterrence.
For its part, the system of nuclear restraint rests on the premise that nuclear weapons, their possession and proliferation, are each detrimental to global security. Institutionally, however, the system of nuclear restraint is centered on the international nonproliferation regime that prioritizes countering the spread of nuclear weapons, while reconciling itself to the existence—albeit temporary—of nuclear-possessing powers. This was the grand bargain embodied in the 1968 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which, to date, comprises some 191 countries. The NPT grants recognition to five nuclear possessors that developed nuclear weapons before 1967—the United States, the USSR/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China—while aiming to deny nuclear weapons to all other countries in the system. To mitigate the inherently discriminatory nature of the NPT (1968) treaty where equally sovereign countries are treated differently under the treaty, two further bargains have been incorporated: a promise of “nuclear haves” to share with “nuclear have-nots” nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes (Article IV of the NPT) and a pledge to pursue a total and complete disarmament through negotiations (Article VI). A set of international institutions, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), trade regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and national policies have worked to bolster and uphold the system of nuclear restraint.
Because the two systems of nuclear deterrence and nuclear restraint have evolved alongside each other, they are interconnected and, in some respects, are mutually reinforcing. For instance, the NPT reconciled itself to the five nuclear possessors that existed at the time of its signature—and which also happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—and the deterrence relationships that exist among them, vesting these countries in the nonproliferation regime, garnering their support for the implementation of the treaty, and thus imbuing it with salience and longevity. The provision of the extended deterrence by the United States to its allies in NATO and Asia-Pacific might have influenced the decision by the most technologically-capable and politically-motivated countries, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and arguably former West Germany, not to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.
Yet the contradictions and tensions inherent to the global nuclear order abound. Hopes that the end of the Cold War would precipitate general nuclear disarmament as the relevance of nuclear weapons faded have, to the despair of nuclear non-possessors, not come to fruition. Even though the lion’s share of the two superpowers’ nuclear arsenals has been eliminated under bilateral strategic arms control agreements, the United States and Russia still possess enough mega-tonnage to annihilate virtually all civilization on Earth (Kristensen and Korda 2022). In addition, since the end of the Cold War new nuclear possessors emerged—India, Pakistan, and North Korea—while others, particularly the United States, Russia, and China, have launched ambitious and expensive strategic modernization or buildup programs that make sense from a deterrence perspective but fail to reconcile with nuclear restraint and the rhetorical tribute to the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.
Working across the contradictions
While NPT Article VI’s commitment to pursue arms control is one of the linchpins that reconciles systems of deterrence and restraint, each system awards a different role to arms control. Within the system of deterrence, arms control is primarily understood as an arrangement among adversaries to bolster strategic stability and does not necessarily entail arms reduction—although it often did. Within the system of restraint, however, arms control is considered a necessary process of incremental reductions on the way to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Whatever the definition used, much of bilateral US-Soviet/Russian arms control architecture has crumbled over the past two decades with the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile, Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, and Open Skies treaties. Meanwhile, new arms control, at least in its traditional form of a legally-binding treaty, became much harder to pursue and achieve due to new geopolitical and technological challenges—including the poor diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States, the need to incorporate more actors, most notably China, and the emergence of new domains and technologies, including cyber, space, advanced conventional, hypersonic missiles, additive manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, among others—that might have destabilizing effects on nuclear deterrence and therefore require appropriate governance.
All the while, nuclear-possessing countries and non-nuclear countries—particularly those not benefiting from the extended nuclear deterrence—have been at perennial loggerheads over the perceived poor progress toward total and complete disarmament of the former. The indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 robbed the non-nuclear countries of an important tool to pressure nuclear-possessing countries to do better on their Article VI commitment to disarmament through arms control by holding their acquiescence to consecutive NPT extensions as a lever.
Over the past decade, this led to a chasm between the nuclear haves and have-nots which resulted in the signature in 2017 and entry into force in 2021 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which aims to delegitimize nuclear weapons as inhumane. The TPNW, also known as the Ban Treaty, stems from a justified frustration and aims for the just goal of abolishing all nuclear weapons by stigmatizing them as inhumane (TPNW 2017). But it also risks undermining the nonproliferation regime in which nuclear-possessing countries have been stakeholders. To add to the challenges, the continued existence and gradual normalization of nuclear possessors outside the NPT regime—Israel, India, Pakistan, and in the future likely North Korea—further undermines the standing of the NPT as a framework for legitimized nuclear possession, couched in mutual obligations and bargains (such as they are) between nuclear haves and have-nots.
Adjacent to the systems of deterrence and restraint is the international governance of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy that builds on Article IV of the NPT and is safeguarded by the IAEA. Many countries are seeking to introduce nuclear energy into their electricity production mix to mitigate climate change, which is an existential threat to humanity just like nuclear weapons. The expected development of nuclear energy will spread nuclear knowledge, technologies, and materials to more countries and, with it, will increase proliferation risks and demands on the IAEA’s capacity to safeguard nuclear technologies and detect the diversion of civilian nuclear technology to military uses.
The global nuclear order and the war in Ukraine
This brief outline takes stock of the challenges to the global nuclear order—some old and some more recent. Just how damaging the Russian aggression against Ukraine will be for the international nonproliferation regime is still being debated. Some have argued that the regime withstood many crises in the past and likely will withstand this one too (Einhorn 2015; Budjeryn and Umland 2021; Bollfrass and Herzog 2022; O’Hanlon and Riedel 2022). After all, well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the international nonproliferation regime was aptly described as “a system in distress” (Miller 2012). Yet the ongoing war in Ukraine might be a different kind of a shock to the system. Even though the war in Ukraine might not result in an immediate wave of nuclear proliferation or spell the end of the NPT, it is a stress test for the systems of deterrence and restraint, as well as for the international governance of nuclear energy. These shocks are happening simultaneously and in unprecedented ways, making the amplitude of the combined risks to the global nuclear order arguably greater than it has ever been.
A boost for the system of nuclear deterrence
While prosecuting its military assault on Ukraine, Russia has relied heavily on nuclear threats and signaling, the main purpose of which has been to deter any direct Western military involvement on Ukraine’s soil. In a speech inaugurating the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin threatened consequences never seen in history to anyone who might think of interfering with his plans (Putin 2022a). Four days later, Putin gave orders to put Russia’s strategic deterrence forces on higher readiness alert (Office of the President of Russia 2022). By the end of April, analysts counted over 20 nuclear signals from Russia, including the use of dual-capable systems such as Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles and Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles against targets in Ukraine (Arndt and Horovitz 2022). Most recently, in response to the swift and successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in early September that routed the Russian military in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, Putin issued his most explicit nuclear threats yet, stating that Russia’s territorial integrity, independence, and freedom will be ensured by “all means” at Russia’s disposal (Putin 2022b).
The abundant nuclear threats issued by Putin and other Russian officials seem to suggest that nuclear deterrence between NATO and Russia works, causing restraint on both sides. While Western nations have imposed punishing sanctions on Russia and are supplying armaments and other aid to Ukraine, these same countries—including the United States and other NATO members—have repeatedly stated, before and after the war started, that they will not send troops to fight alongside Ukrainians (NATO 2022; TASS 2022; The White House 2022a). Every new type of military hardware shipped to Ukraine is first carefully considered for the potential escalatory risks it might entail.
Russia, for its part, has not dared to attack a NATO country or shipments of Western military aid even if the Russian leadership believes that their country is already fighting a proxy war with NATO on Ukraine’s territory and that Western sanctions are an act of economic warfare (Marson 2022; Reuters 2022a).
The main reason for such caution is the all-too-justified fear of nuclear escalation. Indeed, during the four decades of the Cold War, the two superpowers took care to avoid any direct military confrontation precisely for this reason. Very likely, the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have been much the same even without Putin’s explicit nuclear saber-rattling.
Nuclear weapons might have thus far prevented the war from spreading beyond Ukraine’s borders, either eastward or westward. But Russia has used the threat of nuclear escalation to launch and prosecute its war of aggression against a country not protected by nuclear deterrence. What seems fair to assume is that if Russia were not a nuclear power and therefore could not use nuclear threats to deter any direct Western involvement, its calculations about invading Ukraine would have been very different. Indeed, the use of nuclear threats as a shield or even as an enabler for a war of aggression goes well beyond the declared Russian doctrine, which states that Russia would use nuclear weapons only to deter a nuclear attack on its soil or in a conventional conflict when the very existence of the Russian state is in peril (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation 2020).
The risk of Russia using non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine to reverse its losses and terminate the war on Russian terms is also a distinct—and an increasingly alarming—possibility (Cole 2022; Freedman 2022; Giovannini 2022). While US President Joe Biden stated that any use of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable and its consequences severe for Russia, he has not publicly communicated anything that could remotely qualify as a deterrent threat—nuclear or otherwise—that might dissuade Russia from using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine, although more specific consequences might have been parlayed privately (Sonne and Hudson 2022). There are other reasons why Russia might not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine: the unwillingness to admit that it is facing the kind of adversary that warrants crossing the nuclear threshold, the poor efficacy of nuclear weapons for Russian military objectives, the absence of suitable targets, or the unpreparedness of Russian troops for combat in a theater affected by a nuclear strike.
Yet the sad but honest reality might just be that nothing may credibly deter Russia from using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine—just like there was nothing to credibly deter Russia’s invasion in the first place, even as its massive military build-up along Ukraine’s borders was visible to all. Russian tactical nuclear weapons may not be used and Ukraine may eventually prevail, recover its territory, and rebuild its cities. But not one of the tens of thousands killed in this war will be brought back to life, none of the prisoners untortured, and none of the women un-raped. To the question of what could have prevented such an absurd fury of violence and slaughter, nuclear deterrence would seem to be the most compelling answer.
With nuclear deterrence proving its worth, the demand for it will likely grow. Sweden and Finland have already changed their decades-long policy of neutrality and are in the process of joining NATO. The Alliance’s eastern flank, which feels most vulnerable to Russian threats, will likely demand a more robust US extended deterrence commitment, including forward deployment of US nuclear weapons. China’s growing nuclear might and North Korea’s legal codification of the irreversibility of its nuclear armament and its right to a preemptive strike will put similar demands on the US nuclear umbrella in the Asia-Pacific (Smith 2022). Reinforced, US extended nuclear deterrence could help dissuade such allies as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan from acquiring nuclear weapons of their own. But it will not help reduce the role of nuclear weapons in international security. With countries relying more—rather than less—on nuclear deterrence, the already difficult goal of the Ban Treaty to delegitimize “any and all nuclear threats” will prove even harder to achieve (TPNW 2022). In turn, the chasm between the system of deterrence and the system of restrain will likely grow.
A blow to the system of nuclear restraint
The crucible of Ukraine is particularly damaging to the system of nuclear restraint in view of that country’s 1994 decision to surrender a vast nuclear arsenal that it had inherited from the collapsed Soviet Union. What Ukraine had relinquished was not a “ready-to-use” nuclear deterrent, but rather a nuclear option. Ukraine surrendered that option and transferred its nuclear warheads to Russia against the background of a growing threat of Russian border revisionism, which could have fashioned a sufficient motivation for Ukraine to turn that option into a deterrent. Indeed, the perception of a growing Russian threat served for Ukraine as a reason to both second-guess the prudence of quick disarmament and demand security guarantees from nuclear powers as part of the denuclearization deal. One reason Ukraine ultimately chose, wisely, to disarm was its desire not to defy the international nonproliferation consensus but join the international community on good terms (Budjeryn 2021).
Another reason was that Ukraine thought it got a good deal in return for denuclearizing. Part of the deal were the security assurances to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the inviolability of its borders and abstain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine, pledged in the so-called Budapest Memorandum by three nuclear powers, depositaries of the NPT: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia (UNTC 1994). This document, which accompanied Ukraine’s accession to the NPT, became a key part of the system of nuclear restraint. Its violation by Russia in 2014 and then again in 2022 with renewed contempt and brutality, is a damaging blow to the entire nonproliferation regime and the value of security assurances as a tool of nonproliferation policy. That the other signatories of the Budapest Memorandum—the United States and the United Kingdom—chose to sideline the document, even as they extended diplomatic and military assistance to Ukraine, further damaged the credibility of the nonproliferation regime (Budjeryn 2022).
Meanwhile, if the prospects for advancing US-Russian arms control, which is essential to reconcile the system of deterrence and the system of restraint, seemed rather poor prior to the war, it is even less promising now. The last strategic arms control treaty between the two superpowers, New START, is due to expire in 2026. The Biden administration has signaled that it would be open to begin negotiations on a follow-on treaty (The White House 2022b). The Russian side, however, has not responded in kind—in fact, quite the opposite. In August, Russia declared that it would not resume on-site inspections under the New START treaty that were halted during the pandemic (Reuters 2022b). It is difficult to see how Russia would agree to sit at the arms control negotiating table without first getting some relief of Western sanctions, an unlikely prospect given the war in Ukraine shows no signs of abating soon. It is also difficult to see how the United States would agree to another legally binding arms control treaty that does not capture Russia’s vast arsenal of non-strategic nuclear weapons, also an unlikely prospect. Thus, the fulfillment of NPT Article VI—a contentious issue between nuclear haves and have-nots before the war in Ukraine—is likely to be exacerbated, not alleviated.
Meanwhile, the Russian occupation, military use, and shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) raises a risk of a major nuclear accident and poses a truly unprecedented challenge for the international governance of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The IAEA and its director general, Rafael Grossi, responded with an equally unprecedented mission to ZNPP in September and have urged forcefully for the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant (IAEA 2022). This would require convincing Russia to withdraw its military forces from ZNPP, which it is unlikely to do. Moreover, any international enforcement of such a zone would require a decision of the UN Security Council—which Russia can veto. The 10th NPT Review Conference in August ended without adopting a consensus document over the objections of one country, and one country only—the Russian Federation—and its refusal to compromise on the formulation of paragraphs relating to the occupation of ZNPP (UN 2022). Longer term, the international community must face the harsh reality that its institutions of nuclear governance are not inadequately equipped to respond to the weaponization of a civilian nuclear facility—Europe’s largest—or to prevent it from happening elsewhere in a world that is eyeing nuclear energy as one of the ways to mitigate climate change.
A global nuclear order at the crossroads
Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr purportedly liked to quip that prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. Despite the odds, humanity has managed to live with nuclear weapons for over seven decades without blowing itself up. One reason for this good fortune is just that: dumb luck (Pelopidas and Wellerstein 2020). Another reason is the continued efforts to manage the global nuclear conundrum, in good faith and to the best of our abilities. The evolved and evolving global nuclear order and its two constitutive systems of nuclear deterrence and nuclear restraint have at times worked to reinforce each other, helping to reduce the chances of nuclear use and nuclear war. But these systems have deep, inherent contradictions that the ongoing war in Ukraine is gravely exacerbating.
Resolving these contradictions in a logical, equitable, and just manner would require coordinated systemic transformations difficult to imagine and more difficult still to implement—but not impossible. Much will depend on the ultimate outcome of the war in Ukraine and the lessons drawn from it for the value of nuclear weapons in international security. If Ukraine prevails over the nuclear bully with determination, skill, and modern conventional weapons, then nuclear weapons will prove their uselessness and likely lose their luster. Instead, if Ukraine falls or is destroyed by a Russian nuclear attack while its international partners demur—deterred by Russian nuclear might and hidden behind NATO’s nuclear deterrent—then future efforts to deny nuclear weapons to other countries by proselytizing the virtues of nonproliferation will surely seem like a sham. The nuclear shadow cast by the war in Ukraine might stretch long into the future.
TEHRAN – A U.S.-based analyst is of the opinion that talks over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will not result in an agreement between Tehran and Washington because the Biden administration is unwilling to reach a deal with a revolutionary government in Tehran.
“If Biden’s cabinet wants to reach any agreement with Iran, the Republicans use it as a tactic to attack Biden. Also, I ensure you that Americans cannot reach any agreement with Iran and the JCPOA talks result in nothing from the American side,” Dariush Sajjadi said in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.
A: I was one of those who used to say that nothing would come out of the JCPOA in Mr. Raisi ‘s administration because the Americans did not want it. Why? When the Americans began the negotiations, the pragmatist government in Iran came into power. I mean, Mr. Hassan Rouhani, the successor of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was always been considered by Americans as part of the pragmatist faction.
International laws are defined based on power.Since the [Islamic] revolution of Iran, the Americans have been closer to Iran’s pragmatists. And in the McFarlane affair, they liaised with Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s team including Mr. Hassan Rouhani and Mr. Vardinejad. The [American’s] main goal during the last forty-three years has been to shift political power balance against the revolutionary faction in Iran by making concession to the pragmatic faction. When Mr. Rouhani became the president, it was a good opportunity for the White House to change the political balance in favor of pragmatists through the JCPOA negotiations. But something happened in between. The main candidate for the White House [to carry on negotiations] was Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani.
If you remember, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani entered the 2013 presidential race. He was so politically powerful that if he had not been disqualified, he could go, without getting the Leader’s permission, to the United Nations to give a speech, negotiate with Obama, make some concessions. The Americans would have made deal with Hashemi. Why? Because they knew that Mr. Hashemi was so powerful that he could use their favor inside Iran to isolate the revolutionary faction. After Hashemi was disqualified, though Hassan Rouhani was a member of Mr. Hashemi’s political family, the Americans knew Iranians and knew that Hassan Rouhani was not powerful enough to make any deal with him. Therefore, the JCPOA negotiation was fruitless.
Despite negotiations, the JCPOA was not considered as a trump card for Rouhani. When Hashemi Rafsanjani passed away, I wrote that Rouhani’s government is doomed, because Rafsanjani was the detached intellect of Hassan Rouhani cabinet. After Hashemi, Hassan Rouhani became passive, because, in the eyes of the Americans, he lost his main supporter.
Riyadh wants to take revenge for its failures in Yemen and Iraq through Iran International.When Mr. Raisi entered the office, the [Iranian] system became uniform. The Americans understood that they could play in Iran if there was dissension and polarity. When the system became uniform, I said: “JCPOA will be futile.” Why? In the then-presidential elections, when Mr. Jalili was the candidate against Mr. Velayati, in one of the debates, Mr. Velayati reminded Jalili scornfully that diplomacy is not a philosophy class. At the same time, I gave an answer to Mr. Velayati in one of my articles that in the Islamic Republic, diplomacy is a field of philosophy.
It was for this reason that the late Imam wrote his most philosophical letter addressed to Gorbachev before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. When Zarif became the foreign minister and the JCPOA was signed, I wrote at the time that if the JCPOA was not signed during Jalili’s negotiations and was signed during Zarif negotiations it was because America and the (remaining) 5+1 group did not seek to resolve the issue with Jalili because Jalili was a representative of the revolutionary faction, and they didn’t want to make any concession to them. Zarif represented pragmatists, therefore, 5+1 reached an agreement with Zarif. When the government of Raisi came to power, it did not make any sense for them to make a deal with him and his faction. Basically, the main goal is to isolate the [Iran’s] revolutionary party.
Meanwhile, several events happened in between that changed the balance of power in favor of Iran; one was Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Well, Russia’s attack on Ukraine was somehow a good thing for Iran, it gave rise to a fuel crisis in Europe.
On the other hand, not only Biden but also the Democratic faction were in their most fragile political situation. Currently, inflation in America is very high and the middle class of the [American] society is under undue pressure. You know, America was once known as happy America.
In fifties, sixties, seventies, a holiday was defined for an American who was either in Disneyland, or on a trip or at a party and was happy. After 2007, when America fell, that happy American now works two or even three shifts to be able to pay his bills in the weekend. No more weekend! Inflation has gone up and when Biden imposed sanction on Russia’s oil, American citizens were the first who were hit by fuel cost which increased from two dollars a gallon to seven dollars, five dollars, six dollars. Therefore, America is suffering more from inflation. The Democratic Party is in its most fragile state…. If Biden’s cabinet wants to reach any agreement with Iran, the Republicans use it as a tactic to attack Biden. Also, I ensure you that Americans cannot reach any agreement with Iran and the JCPOA talks result in nothing from American side.
Q: Do you think the Biden government pays attention to the opposition abroad?
A: To answer your question, I will give a historical example to make it more relevant. If you remember, in the 2008 Nowruz, Obama sent a very polite congratulatory letter to the Leader of Iran for the first time. And this was a signal. Look! The political structure of the White House is not uniform. Traditionally, the White House is divided into doves and eagles. Doves of the White House are known for their diplomacy, Eagles for an iron fist. In 2008, Mr. Obama wrote that letter on behalf of the dovish faction with Mr. John Kerry and the same Joe Biden. The trio took over the game against the eagles who were looking for radical encounters. On the other hand, Mrs. Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta as the Pentagon chief were looking for a fight. But Obama took over the game and began the negotiations through Oman.
Selling arms to Iraq to fight against us was not wrong at that time and Europeans did it very brazenly.Although the Leader welcomed the negotiation but, he gave his historical speech in Mashhad about “iron hand under a velvet glove”. Anyway, they came forward. Until June, when fraud in [Iran’s presidential] elections was raised, and people took to street.
It was after the riots in Tehran that the eagles in the White House took over the game and Hillary Clinton officially promoted the riots through Twitter and Facebook. Obama resisted until the last moment to maintain diplomacy. Not that Obama is against them and in favor of Iran. They both pursue the same goal, using different methods, one with diplomacy (and) the other with confrontation.
Obama tried as much as he could, but after the suspicious killing of Neda Agha Sultan, the American media promoted it even though it was against law, because according to the law of journalism in the West, no media has the right to publish news and images that hurt public opinion. On September 11, when 3,000 people were killed in Manhattan, no television showed a single body. But in the case of Iran, this law was forgotten and the scene of the killing of Neda Agha Sultan was spotlighted one whole week with two goals. The first goal was to influence international opinion against Iran, and the second target was Obama himself because he had resisted a little and had not said anything [about Neda’s death]. Finally, when pressure increased, Obama was forced to give up and make a harsh speech against Iran.
They (the West) are afraid of an Iran which they once refused to sell even barbed wire to.In 1988, England played in the camp of Israel and the eagles. In fact, in 2008, England, Israel, and Saudi Arabia were seeking to break up nuclear talks and to push toward military confrontation. After Mr. Malley’s remarks, the opposition abroad launched a campaign against him. He did not say anything wrong. The diplomat was trying to keep the game in the field of diplomacy through the same dovish faction. But these excited masses of Iranians outside the country who think there is a smell of the revolution [in Iran] increased their pressure to such an extent that they asked for Malley’s resignation. I want to say that there is still the same climate of political factions in America especially now that America has a fragile condition both economically and militarily.
About Ukraine. Well, Europe also has its own concerns. Europe is not the Europe of the Obama era, when 5+1 (countries) were allies. Now Europe’s problem with America is much more serious. America does not have much concern about fuel shortage. And that’s why Europeans complain more than Americans about the issue of drones. Sorry to use this term “Americans are flirting with diplomacy,” but Europeans have serious concerns. Therefore, the Europeans have taken harsher stand about riots in Iran than the Americans. Ukraine, of course, is an important reason. But another reason is because European democracy is extremely secular, that’s why Europeans are harsher than Americans [in their reaction toward the unrest in Iran]. Secularists are against hijab. Especially in France after the Renaissance hijab became strictly a taboo. In America, they don’t care much about hijab, but it is very important for Europeans. That’s why France has taken more sever stand than others.
Q: How do you in general evaluate the role of Persian-language media abroad about Iran’s internal affairs, especially with regard to the events unfolded over the last few weeks?
A: first, these are not media. Media has its own academic definition. If you look at the recent events, you will realize Iran International [TV] is playing the main game. A professional journalist obviously doesn’t consider them as media at all. In fact, professionally, a media has no right to introduce its own political orientation into the program. While in Iran International, each anchor has taken stand and given judgements. So do not consider these media. Most of them are making propaganda. BBC can be considered as a kind of media. It plays its game more professionally. Of course, they make mischief, but at least they make it professionally. But don’t consider Iran International, Manoto, and Voice of America as media at all, especially Iran International.
Iran International is Riyadh’s political tool. In fact, Riyadh wants to take revenge for its failures in Yemen and Iraq through Iran International. Riyadh has lost the game in Yamen despite large investment on Muqtada al-Sadr and others. It lost the game in Iraq when the new prime minister and president of Iraq took office. Therefore, Iran International is fueling the fire [of riots in Iran].
Second, it goes back to the weakness of the media inside Iran. Unfortunately, our media did not act professionally, especially radio and television. You see, the output of our radio and television is not what it must be. Why? Because you monopolize the media; we have one radio station in Iran; we don’t have any other one, and the structure is employee-oriented. So, the journalists are not professional. They have a monthly salary; they want to get their monthly salary and do some work to earn their money. In America, one faces Fox News, CNN, MSNBC,… all of which are private and increase the quality of their work to steal even one audience from each other. But here, where there is no competition, there is no concern, so the result is a poor and weak broadcast. In 2017, when I was in America, Ofogh TV invited me through Skype; there they showed an interview of Mr. Karbaschi with BBC who defended Iran’s national interests very firmly and seriously. Then the anchor asked if you liked Karbaschi’s speech. I said of course I like it. But why don’t you give this tribune to Karbaschi and others like him? Or why have you never given them a tribune and they must go there? We have performed very poorly in terms of media and now it is quite evident that a media such as Iran International with its fake news and mischievous propaganda can very easily endanger Iran’s national interests. If we can say Iran International has had any effect.
Q: What is the purpose of the West in creating such as huge commotion over Iran’s sale of drones to Russia?
The second example is when the American embassy was occupied, they were creating a fuss that Iran has violated the Vienna Convention and occupied the territory of the embassy. But the same convention was violated in 2007 in Erbil when helicopters landed on the roof of the Iranian liaison Office in Erbil, kidnapped our diplomats in bed cloth, confiscated our docs and kept [our diplomats] for 2 years. Neither the European Union nor the UN made any comment on it. My point is that don’t take international laws very seriously, it is all about your power. Their concern is not drones, they’re afraid of an Iran which they once refused to sell even barbed wire to. But Iran has gone so far that it is selling drones to a superpower. They did the same to Iran. Aren’t these laws the same as the ruling laws of that time? I want to say that part of these concerns is due to their failure in bringing Iran to its knees. I explained earlier, another part is that Europe is extremely secular. And the secular tradition has a very negative attitude towards religious issues, especially hijab. And the hijab and riots are an excuse in the hands of Europeans to exaggerate the drone issue far more that it is.
Issued on: 10/11/2022 – 10:32Modified: 10/11/2022 – 10:30
Tehran (AFP) – Iran has developed a hypersonic missile capable of penetrating all defence systems, General Amirali Hajizadeh, the commander of its Revolutionary Guards aerospace unit, claimed on Thursday.
Hypersonic missiles, like traditional ballistic missiles which can deliver nuclear weapons, can fly more than five times the speed of sound.
North Korea’s test of a hypersonic missile last year sparked concerns about a race to acquire the technology.
Russia currently leads the race to develop the missiles, followed by China and the United States.
Both Iran and Russia are targeted by stringent sanctions — Iran after the US unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February.
The two countries have responded to the sanctions by boosting cooperation in key areas to help prop up their economies.
Stalled nuclear talks
A hypersonic missile is manoeuvrable, making it harder to track and defend against.
While countries like the United States have developed systems designed to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles, the ability to track and take down a hypersonic missile remains a question.
Thursday’s announcement comes against a backdrop of stalled talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
The deal reached with six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop an atomic weapon.
The deal collapsed after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under then president Donald Trump.
It also follows Iran’s announcement on November 5 of the successful test flight of a rocket capable of propelling satellites into space.
The United States has repeatedly voiced concern that such launches could boost Iran’s ballistic missile technology, extending to the potential delivery of nuclear warheads.
In March, the US government imposed sanctions on Iran’s missile-related activities.
It said in a statement at the time that the punitive measures followed “Iran’s recent missile attack on Arbil, Iraq, as well as missile attacks by Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”.
The leader of the Sadrist movement, Moqtada al-Sadr, has recently kept a low profile, demonstrating that he has accepted the new political realties in Iraq, foremost of which is the control by his rivals in the Coordination Framework of both the government and parliament.
But the Sadrist leader has reemerged to express fears that Iraqi youth could borrow a page from Iran’s anti-clerical protests.
The new “street game” comes as part of ongoing popular protests over the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in the hands of the morality policy for not being “properly veiled”.
Sadr did not hide his anguish over the possible spread of the symbolic movement to Iraq where clerics, blamed for many of Iraq’s ills since 2003, could be the target of street’s anger.
The populist leader expressed his wariness in a recent tweet about seeing Iraqis copy Iranian protesters by knocking off clerics’ turbans and campaigning for the removal of women’s hijab. “The attack on the clergy and the veil may extend to other countries,” he said.
Analysts say that in standing up to the campaign against turbans, Sadr has discovered a new cause to defend with his supporters, most of who are commoners who revere clergy regardless of its mistakes and questionable decisions.
The Sadrist leader finds in his alarm over the Iranian campaign against the turbans common cause with the Iraqi Shia clergy, who fret over the risk of seeing their political and social legitimacy threatened.
Sadr has been personally discredited by recent political decisions, especially his inability to form a government despite coming first in last year’s elections, then his withdrawal of Sadrist MPs from parliament followed by his dangerous incitement of followers resulting in unnecessary bloodshed.
His political impotence could give the disgruntled Iraqi public an additional indication that clerics cannot manage public affairs and that their failed choices are a direct cause of Iraq’s crises, deteriorating public services and high unemployment and poverty rates, despite the country’s oil wealth, due mostly and widespread corruption. In an attempt to consolidate their clout over Iraqis, to control society and reap political and economic dividends, the clergy have sanctioned the sectarian quota system and tried to imitate the mores of Iran’s theocratic rulers.
Ultimately, Sadr and the rest of the clerics in Iraq are said to fear a full-blown revolt similar to that of Iranians, who have shed the barrier of fear to take aim at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iraqi youth could hence be tempted to engage in a repeat of the October 2019 uprising, which raised slogans against religious parties, sectarian and ethnic quotas and against Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs.
Observers believe that the repetition of the 2019 scenario has become very likely in Iraq, especially after Sadr accepted the handing over of power to pro-Iranian parties and militias.
In recent weeks, young Iranians have been filming videos of themselves knocking turbans off the heads of walking clerics.
The new protest tactic is described by Iran analysts as a form of poetic revenge despite the mullahs’ attempts at using repressive methods to impose anachronistic forms of behaviour and social conformity on women in particular, including the wearing of the veil and access to public venues.
Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz is worried that the ongoing violence by Palestinians can lead to another outbreak of violence within the country’s mixed cities similar to what happened in Guardian of the Walls in 2021.
“I hope that we will not see a higher level of violence than we have seen so far that will start in Jerusalem and radiate to the West Bank, Gaza, and perhaps also to the northern arena,” outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday.
“I hope that this will not happen, but given the current reality, it is not an impossible scenario.”Top ArticlesRead More
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Gantz made the comments just hours after 65-year-old Shalom Sofer succumbed to wounds he sustained in a stabbing attack by a Palestinian youth in the West Bank village of al-Funduq near Kedumim last week.
Shalom Sofer who was killed in a stabbing terror attack in the West Bank in October. (credit: Sofer family)
He was the 10th civilian to be murdered since the beginning of Break the Wave.
Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli security forces in raids and more than 125 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, marking a significant increase in casualties compared to previous years. Last year a total of 76 Palestinians were killed and 20 were killed by Israel fire in 2020.
While Hamas has remained relatively quiet in Gaza, the terror group continues to incite Palestinians in the West Bank and even Israeli-Arabs in the south.
Guardian of the Walls
During Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, about 520 outbreaks of violence were reported throughout Israel during the operation, killing three, injuring hundreds and leading to about 3,200 arrests. About NIS 48 million in damage was caused to civilian property and about NIS 10 million in damage was caused to police property.
Israeli politicians and the defense establishment have repeatedly warned that a repeat of a similar situation could occur in any future conflict as what happens in one place, does not necessarily remain there.
This is a challenge that Israel’s security forces will have to continue to deal with.
But due to the current situation on the ground, he still hasn’t decided if he will meet with him ahead of leaving office.
“I came to talk to whoever is possible and to fight whoever is necessary, the two are not mutually exclusive,” he said Tuesday. But, “the steps that the Palestinians are currently taking in The Hague and the UN are serious and are harming the ability to improve the situation in the region, and do not serve their interests.”