Nuclear warfare situation in post Cold War era
Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War and greatly reduced tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union's formal successor state, both countries remained in a "nuclear stand-off" due to the continuing presence of a very large number of deliverable nuclear warheads on both sides. Additionally, the end of the Cold War led the United States to become increasingly concerned with the development of nuclear technology by other nations outside of the former Soviet Union. In 1995, a branch of the U.S. Strategic Command produced an outline of forward-thinking strategies in the document "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence".
In 1996, a Russian continuity of government facility, Kosvinsky Mountain, which is believed to be a counterpart to the US Cheyenne Mountain Complex, was completed. It was designed to resist US earth-penetrating nuclear warheads, and is believed to host the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces alternate command post, a post for the general staff built to compensate for the vulnerability of older Soviet era command posts in the Moscow region. In spite of this, the primary command posts for the Strategic Rocket Forces remain Kuntsevo in Moscow and the secondary is the Kosvinsky Mountain in the Urals. The timing of the Kosvinsky facilities completion date is regarded as one explanation for U.S. interest in a new nuclear "bunker buster" Earth-penetrating warhead and the declaration of the deployment of the B-61 mod 11 in 1997; Kosvinsky is protected by about 1000 feet of granite.
As a consequence of the 9/11 attacks, American forces immediately increased their readiness to the highest level in 28 years, closing the blast doors of the NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center for the first time due to a non-exercise event. But unlike similar increases during the Cold War, Russia immediately decided to stand down a large military exercise in the Arctic region, in order to minimize the risk of incidents, rather than following suit.
The former chair of the United Nations disarmament committee stated that there are more than 16,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons ready for deployment and another 14,000 in storage, with the U.S. having nearly 7,000 ready for use and 3,000 in storage, and Russia having about 8,500 ready for use and 11,000 in storage. In addition, China is thought to possess about 400 nuclear weapons, Britain about 200, France about 350, India about 80-100, and Pakistan 100-110. North Korea is confirmed as having nuclear weapons, though it is not known how many, with most estimates between 1 and 10. Israel is also widely believed to possess usable nuclear weapons. NATO has stationed about 480 American nuclear weapons in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Turkey, and several other nations are thought to be in pursuit of an arsenal of their own.
Pakistan's nuclear policy was significantly affected by the 1965 war with India. The 1971 war and India's nuclear program played a role in Pakistan's decision to go nuclear. India and Pakistan both decided not to participate in the NPT. Pakistan's nuclear policy became fixated on India because India refused to join the NPT and remain opened to nuclear weapons. Impetus by Indian actions spurred Pakistan's nuclear research. After nuclear weapons construction was started by Bhutto's command, the chair of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Usmani quit in objection. The 1999 war between Pakistan and India occurred after both acquired nuclear weapons. It is believed by some that nuclear weapons are the reason a big war has not broken out in the subcontinent. India and Pakistan still have a risk of nuclear conflict on the issue of war over Kashmir. Nuclear capability deliverable by sea was claimed by Pakistan in 2012. The aim was to achieve a "minimum credible deterrence". Pakistan's nuclear program culminated in the tests at Chagai. One of the aims of Pakistan's programs is fending off potential annexation and maintaining independence.
A key development in nuclear warfare throughout the 2000s and early 2010s is the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the developing world, with India and Pakistan both publicly testing several nuclear devices, and North Korea conducting an underground nuclear test on October 9, 2006. The U.S. Geological Survey measured a 4.2 magnitude earthquake in the area where the North Korean test is said to have occurred. A further test was announced by the North Korean government on May 25, 2009. Iran, meanwhile, has embarked on a nuclear program which, while officially for civilian purposes, has come under close scrutiny by the United Nations and many individual states.
Recent studies undertaken by the CIA cite the enduring India-Pakistan conflict as the one "flash point" most likely to escalate into a nuclear war. During the Kargil War in 1999, Pakistan came close to using its nuclear weapons in case the conventional military situation underwent further deterioration. Pakistan's foreign minister had even warned that it would "use any weapon in our arsenal", hinting at a nuclear strike against India. The statement was condemned by the international community, with Pakistan denying it later on. This conflict remains the only war (of any sort) between two declared nuclear powers. The 2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoffs again stoked fears of nuclear war between the two countries. Despite these very serious and relatively recent threats, relations between India and Pakistan have been improving somewhat over the last few years. However, with the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, tensions again worsened.
Another potential geopolitical issue which is considered particularly worrisome by military analysts is a possible conflict between the United States and the People's Republic of China over Taiwan. Although economic forces are thought to have reduced the possibility of a military conflict, there remains concern about the increasing military buildup of China (China is rapidly increasing its naval capacity), and that any move toward Taiwan independence could potentially spin out of control.
Israel is thought to possess somewhere between one hundred and four hundred nuclear warheads. It has been asserted that the Dolphin-class submarines which Israel received from Germany have been adapted to carry Popeye cruise missiles with nuclear warheads, so as to give Israel a second strike capability. Israel has been involved in wars with its neighbors in the Middle East (and with other "non-state actors") on numerous prior occasions, and its small geographic size and population could mean that, in the event of future wars, the Israeli military might have very little time to react to an invasion or other major threat. Such a situation could escalate to nuclear warfare very quickly in some scenarios.
On March 7, 2013, North Korea threatened the United States with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. On April 9, North Korea urged foreigners to leave South Korea, stating that both countries were on the verge of nuclear war. On April 12, North Korea stated that a nuclear war was unavoidable. The country declared Japan as its first target. In the year of 2014, when Russian relationships with the USA had become worse, it was stated by the Russian state-owned Russia 1 TV channel that 'Russia is the only country in the world that is really capable of turning the USA into radioactive ash'.
The writer is a researcher, working with Rajshahi University