Deniz Gulay

The current state of international politics is filled with constant and rampant escalation. Apart from the conflicts we are already familiar with from watching the news, there are also now greater risks of new tensions emerging between more nations. In the debate about these political events, one idea that gets thrown around is that we are, in fact, getting closer and closer to one giant spark — one worldwide conflict that will engulf the entire planet. You may know this concept by its typical phrase “World War Three,” and the measures humanity has taken so far to avoid it run the risk of losing their meaning altogether.

A principle that has governed geopolitics since the beginning of the Cold War is mutually assured destruction (MAD), whereby great powers cannot go to war with each other since the natural next step would be a full-scale nuclear war. However, this principle that arguably prevented war for so many decades is now under the threat of becoming outright irrelevant. This is because in recent times and since the beginning of the War on Terror, war has once again begun to be seen as a method to resolve disputes as opposed to diplomacy. This has caused a change in the way nuclear weapons are seen, turning them from sources of immense danger to a means of defense from external threats. Today, nine nations possess nuclear weapons, and they are incidentally some of the most active and influential powers in geopolitics. Some nations had the potential to obtain nuclear weapons, but their failure to do so is arguably the main reason for the demise they faced in the past. Iraq and Libya have both historically run programs to develop nuclear weapons, only to fail in the process and be left powerless against invasion from Western coalitions. An even more relevant example is Ukraine, which obtained a part of the nuclear arsenal left by the Soviet Union’s dissolution but gave it up completely in exchange for security agreements in the name of non-proliferation.

Today, these example countries are used to justify the supposed net benefit of having nuclear weapons both in America and elsewhere, as the message from their lack is clear — by not having nukes, you are at risk of being invaded by a nation that has them. I believe this idea is the main motivation behind the recent expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) toward the east, as well as the renewed efforts of nations like Belarus to obtain nuclear weapons through development or assistance from countries like Russia.

The debate on nuclear weapons has therefore evolved from the dangers they pose to all of humanity to the strategic benefit they provide to nations individually. Non-proliferation as a concept is already on its way out because of this, but the greater danger now is the possibility of governments completely forgetting the seriousness of the issue at hand and fueling escalations internationally. President Emmanuel Macron of France recently made an announcement stating that France, a nuclear power, will not exclude the idea of sending troops to Ukraine to fight against the growing Russian forces on the battlefield. It is not at all difficult to imagine that in such a scenario as an example, rapid escalation born out of a clash between Russian and French forces can quickly ignite a conflict between two major powers. Similarly, North Korea and China are both expanding their missile programs in accordance with their territorial ambitions, and these ambitions stand against United States strategic interests. A possible conflict or even a small skirmish under such tenuous circumstances carries huge risks toward uncontrollable military escalation.

The main point behind the risks of escalation is that the stratagems developed for Cold War conditions are inadequate for 21st-century circumstances. This is evident from the fact that agreements put into place for de-escalation between major forces are mostly defunct due to the lost diplomatic ties. The risk is that from now on, the value of defending a single country or alliance may outweigh the threat of total global annihilation. The objective conclusion should be — no matter how controversial or naive it may seem — to understand that the debate on whether or not we should keep nuclear arsenals is pointless to begin with and to realize that we must work toward finding ways to limit nuclear capabilities in all aspects.

Neither NATO embracing military exercises in Sweden and Finland, nor Belarus obtaining missiles from Russia, works toward solving this issue. The ongoing tensions surrounding Taiwan and Iran will only serve to make the nuclear threat worse by giving nations reasons to build their own arsenals. If, even under Cold War circumstances, humanity was able to work toward arms reduction, then there is no excuse to not consider that motive today. The only legitimate step nations can take under current conditions is to re-establish diplomatic ties, which is very unlikely in the face of constant warmongering at the government level. This is the reason why following world events matters more than ever today, as agitation through propaganda makes it more likely for us, the public, to rally behind flags and cheer for war.

Even if none of these arguments make any sense to you, think not about politics or complex diplomacy, but of life itself. A nuclear war fought between major powers is now more than ever likely to start out of the tiniest possible excuses for escalation. A war like that won’t be merely a tragedy — but, in all likelihood, a total extinction event for all mankind. I don’t want to live in a world that can burn at any moment because of incompetence or selfishness. For the sake of sanity and dignity, neither should you.

Deniz Gulay is a freshman majoring in history.

Views expressed in the opinions pages represent the opinions of the columnists. The only piece which represents the views of the Pipe Dream Editorial Board is the Staff Editorial.