Back in January, in what was a rare showing of consensus on a global security topic, the United States, Russia, China, the UK and France jointly agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. The pledge, the result of months of talks, was summarized by a senior U.S. state department official at the time as: “an acknowledgement that it is something that we want to avoid”.
Now though, with increasingly threatening rhetoric from Russia, U.S. President Biden has said that Putin is “not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons", warning: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon”. Adding historical context, Biden said: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Currently, there is estimated to be almost 13,000 nuclear warheads in the hands of nine countries. At the top of the list, as compiled by the Federation Of American Scientists (FAS), are of course Russia and the U.S. with a combined arsenal of over 11,000. The FAS warned in late 2021 that “instead of planning for nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-armed states appear to plan to retain large arsenals for the indefinite future. All continue to modernize their remaining nuclear forces…and all appear committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future.”