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Home Articles Flashpoints DO YOU REALLY WANT TO NUKE NATO?


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MON 5 FEB 2024






Dear Vladimir Putin, (Alive or otherwise) Minister Sergey Lavrov, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Solovyev, Margharita Simonyan, and Security Council secretary Patrushev, 


I do not know for sure if any one of you will even ever read this letter. I hope one or more of you does do so, and I do hope as many policymakers within Russia as possible, see it.


I write because, as one of the convenors of the Abolition 2000 working group on nuclear risk reduction, I have had to pay attention closely to the real and increasing – if not skyrocketing - risk of nuclear war. I have campaigned on nuclear risk reduction for the past more than 20 years. 


It is probably fair to say that there is a consensus amongst analysts (not only western ones) that the risk of a potentially civilisation – ending and possibly species-ending, spasm of nuclear war is the greatest it has ever been, and that this level of elevated risk is persisting for longer than at any other time including the Cuban Missile Crisis.


It is also true that actions on both sides of a strategic equation – on the side of NATO as well as on Russia's side – have contributed, and continue to contribute, to an elevated level of existential risk.


However, in recent times – and certainly since Feb 2022, but going back to 2014, when President Putin placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert as he annexed Crimea – a pattern has emerged, or has seemed to emerge, in which the world is threatened with nuclear war, or implicitly threatened with nuclear war, if Russia is seriously or forcefully opposed in doing things which themselves certainly seem to violate accepted notions of national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.


Many of us in the global peace and disarmament movement have been inclined to blame our own governments and NATO, and to give Russia the benefit of the doubt, pointing to the dramatic expansion of NATO after promises of 'not one inch east' and to nuclear exercises by NATO that certainly can be seen as provocative or potentially so.


However, a continued pattern of nuclear threats emanating from Russia every time it does not get its way is both unhelpful, and serves to diminish Russia's credibility and moral standing.


Increasingly, even if NATO's expansion after promises not to do so, have been seen as driving Russia into some kind of corner, Russia is seen as the aggressor, not NATO.


Especially disturbing has been the often theological basis for Russian threats. 


Vladimir Solovyev and Margarita Simonyan and to some extent President Putin himself are largely responsible for this. Statements that the use of nuclear weapons is somehow divinely ordained, whether they come from Senator Strom Thurmond back in 1983 ('the righteous will be raptured to heaven') or Putin back in 2014 to the effect that US and NATO inhabitants will simply perish while Russians will be 'raptured', to later similar statements by both Simonyan and Solovyev, far from being divinely 'inspired' seem to most people on earth to come rather from the other entity – i.e. to be demonic. Threats in effect to destroy the world if you don’t get your way are unlikely to be helpful, and more likely to be counterproductive. Carrying out such threats would be catastrophic.


Please understand that here we are speaking of an event sequence in which the core nuclear arsenals – the ICBM forces, land-based and submarine-based – of both Russia and NATO/US – get to be used. This means 9-10,000 warheads from both sides combined.


Such an event sequence would kill 1.5-2 billion within 90 terrible minutes, and much of the remaining population of the earth would simply starve and freeze to death (including in the tropics) in the ensuing nuclear winter.


It is overwhelmingly likely that, should Russia attack NATO headquarters as suggested by Solovyev, or should Russia respond by a nuclear strike to Ukrainian attacks on missile sites in Russia (which are after all bombarding Ukrainian cities), NATO would itself initiate a nuclear response, and that this would itself be designed to be overwhelming.



It is hard to see such an escalation sequence, unless stopped very quickly (unlikely), ending in anyplace other than a large-scale exchange of land and submarine-based ICBMs that would destroy both Russia and NATO completely (leaving nothing to fight over) and whose effect over the ensuing decade would be to bring about the death by starvation of 90% of all humans including those in countries that had nothing to do with the conflict. 


Is this really what Russia wants? Have you really thought the consequences of this through? 


There are sensible, even 'boring', commonsense ways to make an apocalypse if not impossible, then at least unlikely. 


Threatening others with an apocalypse is not one of them. Others are likely to conclude that you have become so deranged that you must be threatened back. They may even conclude that the best way to so is to undertake a first – strike of their own, thereby bringing about what was most feared. And from pre-emptive we strike we move to pre-pre-emptive strike... etc.


Moderation in language and avoidance of implicit or explicit nuclear threats – even while fighting a conventional war – is key to avoiding potentially civilisation- ending outcomes.


Willingness to talk with your 'enemies', no matter how awkward it may be, to use discreet backchannels, but really to be willing to defuse conflict and negotiate a settlement (not merely on your own terms but on terms acceptable to Ukraine) would be key to both ending the current conflict, but also removing the threat of the unthinkable that lately has become all too thinkable.


Of course it remains also true that if Russia removed itself entirely from Ukraine tomorrow all these problems and threats would disappear, whatever the 'sins' of NATO might be. Russia would of course, see its position in the world drastically diminished as a result of all that has taken place, and the road back to respectability and credibility would be long and hard. But the sooner that road is travelled the better. 


I note that the G20 have now twice agreed, in Bali and again in Delhi, that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible. Russia is part of the G20. That declaration has been itself reaffirmed by the TPNW-MSP meeting in New York.


And that – that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible – is where the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons should end and where it should stay.


John Hallam

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project


Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group

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Doomsday clock stays at 90 seconds to midnight: Still poised on the brink, closer than we’ve ever been

Jan 28, 2024
It is 90 seconds to midnight banner. Doomsday alarm poster. Doomsday clock. Symbol of global catastrophe, apocalypse sign. Flat vector illustration.

Nuclear risk reduction, abolition, more, urgent than ever.

With the iconic ‘Doomsday Clock’, curated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists founded in 1947 by Einstein and others associated with the Manhattan Project, seemingly stuck at 90 seconds to ‘midnight’ (midnight being the catastrophic end of civilisation) for at least another 12 months, we are not only closer to doomsday than we have ever been, but we will have been poised on the brink of the abyss for longer than we have ever been.

This should be sobering, even frightening, news. Instead we seem to be getting used to it.

It was widely predicted in fact, that far from moving the clock back from midnight, the Bulletin might even inch it a few seconds nearer. One reason they did not is perhaps, that they are running out of seconds – We are running out of time.

A major factor in BAS’s decision at least to keep the clock-hands where they are – indicating that mankind’s situation is as perilous as ever – has been the war between Russia and Ukraine, with its ever – present possibility of escalation to nuclear war and the destruction of ‘civilisation’.

Lack of progress on Global Warming and the headlong rush to an unregulated development of AI without regard for the possible consequences will have played a significant role in the Bulletin’s decision. However, the possibility of global nuclear war should be seen as the most immediate and pressing concern.

Its worth reminding ourselves that:

As few as half a dozen relatively small nuclear warheads optimised for gamma ray production and exploded in outer space above Europe, Japan, China, India, the US and Australia would end hi-tech ‘civilisation’ in a nanosecond via electromagnetic pulse

The explosion of a number of hundreds of larger weapons on major cities would kill most humans in roughly 90 minutes and blanket the globe in dark black soot that would be lofted to the upper stratosphere where it would blot out the sun causing a ‘nuclear winter’ that would drop global temperatures (currently the highest they’ve been in the last millennium or so) to lower than during the last ice-age, where they would remain for decades.

The overwhelming majority of humans would perish.

Even during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or during the twin crises of 1983 the Serpukhov-15 incident of 26 Sept 1983, and then the more prolonged Able Archer crisis, the participants never directly threatened each other with nuclear war.

Yet this seems to take place on almost a weekly or at least a monthly timescale over the last 2 years. Nuclear threats are becoming commonplace.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the STRATCOM ‘Defcon’ at one stage got to ‘Defcon-2’. ‘5’ is ‘normal’, and ‘1’ would be missiles incoming.(We have never been at ‘1’ – ‘2’ is as bad as it has ever gotten.) Yet the ‘DEFCON’ we are told, was at ‘2’ and then at ‘3’ during all of March and much of April 2022, and has wandered up and down since.

There is little prospect either for meaningful (or even cosmetic) arms control measures, and little immediate prospect for meaningful risk reduction measures such as No First Use, or reductions in operational readiness, commonsense as these are. Instead we are being actively threatened with the apocalypse.

No First Use if it could be adopted either by both sides of a strategic equation, or even if adopted unilaterally by one side only, would greatly reduce the risk of an (accidental or other) catastrophe.

A possible glimmer of light is the adoption by the G20 in Bali and Delhi, of language on strategic stability saying that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible. This wording was reiterated by the final declaration of the TPNW (Ban Treaty) Meeting of States Parties. It needs to be repeated ad nauseam, everywhere. A good starting place would be the next session of the UN General Assembly in October.


(see the Doomsday Clock statement that follows)

PRESS RELEASE: Doomsday Clock remains at 90 seconds to midnight