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18.08.2020 Feature Article

The Problem Of Nuclear Arms: The Case Of Russia And North Korea

The Problem Of Nuclear Arms: The Case Of Russia And North Korea
LISTEN AUG 18, 2020


Nuclear weapons possess a high amount of explosive energy that have in time past cause colossal damages; numerous deaths and injuries. It was not until July 16, 1945 when the United States tested its nuclear weapon in New Mexico and the bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 that the idea of Nuclear arms became rampant and brought with it its own nightmare the world had to deal with. In tandem, it became expedient that Russia, then USSR, develop nuclear warheads because the Soviets were at war with United States of America. The Cold War period was the most active period of nuclear arms development. Thanks to the idea of detente, the world escaped yet another recorded history of deaths of millions of people and the destruction of properties at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The fear that griped many about the possible fatalities that can be caused by nuclear weapons drew the attention of the world to call for nuclear disarmament and control. Various treaties have been signed, commitments have been made, forums have been organized and arguments made in favor of nuclear control. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty (INF), among others are a few institutions set to control nuclear arms. According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, there have been 2,000 nuclear weapon tests since the end of the Cold war. Russia per the Federation of American Scientist, has 4,490 warheads and 2,000 retired warheads for a total of 6,490 warheads while North Korea is believed to have approximately 20 to 30 warheads as of June 2019. Notwithstanding, the Natural Resource Defense Council nuclear notebook records that the United States, Russia, China, France and United Kingdom still have in their stockpile more than 30,000 nuclear weapons and Israel, Pakistan and India have to their arsenal an unknown number of nuclear weapons. This paper takes a brief historical perspective and comparative study of the nuclear weapon possession (the paper does not provide a comprehensive analysis of the weapons production) of Russia and North Korea and how far they have come with its control. Emphasis is not on the figures representing the nuclear stockpile, but indicating a red flag and calling for nuclear disarmament. Snyder, S (2019) pointed out in “Where does the Russia-North Korea Relationship Stand” that Vladmir Putin emphasized the importance of denuclearization but did not make explicit sanctions for Kim Jung-un. The urge to write this essay comes as a result of broken diplomacy, intense rivalry and willingness of some countries to play a role in international, regional and sub-regional scenes, irrespective of whether they are good or bad roles. Shultz, Kissinger, Perry and Nunn (2018) made a striking statement that; “It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious”. Nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands can be very disastrous. Imaging a person with an ideology to take over the world rising up the ranks to be become leaders in countries such as North Korea, United States, Russia, China and even Pakistan who are nuclear weapons rich.


The Russian Federation inherited an enormous amount of weapons from the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1991. These weapons range from nuclear to biological to chemical weapons of mass destruction. The Soviets nuclear weapons started with a successful nuclear test in 1949 after the use of such weapon by the United States under Harry S. Truman in bombing Hiroshima. In 1949, as noted by the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC), Russia had developed only 1 nuclear weapon then. However, this did not stop there as the transcontinental country in Eastern Europe continues to make and test nuclear weapons despite various treaties to limit its production, use and test. In 1950, the Russian Federation had moved from1 nuclear stockpile to 5 and this number has been consistently rising in a rocket high manner. Hence, by 1980, Russia had 36,300 nuclear stockpile. The continuous production of weapons of mass destruction gives the audacity to countries to dare others as well as urge countries on to believe they can be super powers which can culminate into war as each country will want to prove its nuclear prowess. It is as a result of this that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and the Ronald Reagan’s America signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987 to control nuclear arms. This treaty, though, brought some gains has not entirely fulfilled its purpose as recent developments pushed the United States to leave the treaty due to alleged breaches undertaken by Russia. After the INF was signed, Russia’s nuclear stockpile has drastically reduced as it dwindled from 44,000 in 1987 to 20,000 in 1999 as indicated in the NRDC’s notebook. Russia possess a very robust missile system and this places Russia in a strategic position to play a vital role in arms control, but this has not been the case. In view of this, if Russia like any other nuclear weapon power in the world continues nuclear production and nuclear test, they do not set a better example for countries who envisage and recently joined the nuclear league. Russia like any other nuclear power is to be a luminary in deterring others from using weapons of mass destruction. However, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has soured relations with USA, thus, hindering cooperation on non-proliferation and arms control. In March 2019, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) declared Russia possesses 1,461 warheads and Federation of American Scientist estimates about 4,490 stockpile warheads. Vladimir Putin revealed during his State of the Nation address on March 1, 2018 that, Russia possesses hypersonic weapons.


The road to North Korea’s nuclear energy program and nuclear weapons production has been quite bumpy with its associated back and forth denuclearization agenda. Actual progress on Nuclear work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also known as North Korea did not start until the cooperation and assistance by the Soviet Union when the Soviets decided to help Pyongyang (Capital of North Korea) develop peaceful nuclear energy program as well as train its personnel. However, nuclear program and interest in nuclear weapons started with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Research Institute in the 1950s. North Korea’s request for assistance in building nuclear weapons had been refused by China and the Soviet Union. However, specialists from the USSR continued to teach and train North Korean personnel. Pyongyang moved on with its vision to improve its nuclear program and to widen the use of nuclear energy. In the 1980s, North Korea focused on the practical use of nuclear energy. Thus, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program can be dated back to the 1980s when the operation and construction of uranium facilities among other experimentation with highly explosive nuclear bombs. After agreeing to close down its nuclear weapons program, they went ahead to conduct its first nuclear weapons test in October 2006 and subsequently in 2009, 2013, 2016 and recently in September, 2017. North Korea has violated and withdrawn from a number of agreements on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. North Korea has left the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards regime, abandoned the Agreed Framework and signed out of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as well as the Six Party talks which included Russia, China, United States, South Korea, Japan and North Korea in the signing of the Statement of Principles. It is estimated that North Korea has in its strategic arsenal, 20-30 nuclear warheads. Kim Jung-Un, the current leader of North Korea, reiterated in 2017 the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program and the preparation of a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Larry Niksch (2005) argues that North Korea’s withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and restarting its nuclear production at Yongbyon station under the Agreed Framework poses problems to the United States, but I say though that may be true it is more perilous to the region and states around North Korea and to the world in general. Youn Kyeong Kim argues negotiations other than any alternative measure can help with nuclear problem in North Korea.

Nuclear Arms Control: Institutions and Regulations

The world has had to deal with serious problems ranging from security issues to environmental challenges. And in all of these, rules, regulations and laws are laid down to elide these problems and in certain instances get rid of the problems when possible. It is institutions that help to keep the world together; without them humans will live like animals or return to the state of nature. Institutions are needed and this is what the world has been resulting to as the plausible and more logical method, seeing the destructive nature of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Most of these institutions have been redoubtable while a handful have been efficient. According to policymakers like Henry Kissinger, Edward Hallet Carr, John Mearsheimer and a host of others, states want to acquire power at the expense of others. States acquire power, as argued by the realist, to accomplish a number of domestic and foreign policies. Maybe this is at the epicenter of everything, of all the problems the world face today. Notwithstanding, it is the institutions that are needed and should be strengthened. This has however been difficult because no laws can be forced down the legal canals of sovereign states. Hence, international laws are not devoid of problems; it lacks applicability and enforcement. More importantly, most of these institutions are seen as western and therefore an antithesis of Communism, Islamic principles and non-African in nature (Asare;2016). Thus, there will always be individuals who will not accept as universal these humanly devised constraints as long as the institutions oppose their religion or ideology. But what else do we have to regulate and maintain peace and tranquility? If history has thought us something is that more institutions do not mean less production, test and use of nuclear weapons.

The time has come for the world to make a conscious effort in realizing the vision of a nuclear free world. It will take much concerted efforts for this to be achieved. Nuclear powers in the world need to take a bold step in showing others that it is possible to live in the world without nuclear weapons. Thus, the world nuclear powers must show the way of dismantling their existing weapons of mass destruction, prove that they can keep to treaties and stop the paranoia of producing nuclear weapons secretly.

Signatures have been signed and presented to the United Nations, march against nuclear weapons on streets have been organized and seen around the world. This is prove that humanity is not in support of nuclear weapons. The very people governments say they are protecting are not in support of neither nuclear weapons production, use nor its test. The paranoia that drives leaders and governments into nuclear weapons test has no justification and will forever be the cause of continuous nuclear test just to prove to others that they are capable and resourced with these weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps, the paranoia is not only with leaders but some with some scholars who fear the imminent use of nuclear weapons and thus insists other countries produce and arm themselves just in case. Brad Roberts (2015; 352pp) and William Perry (2015; 258pp) write to encourage United States to re-engage with nuclear weapons as Russia broke years of cooperation and nuclear arms control treaties. It is time to envision and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons- this vision should be rarefied- for the world has more pressing concerns to come together and provide a safe and peaceful world than to be enemies of each other.


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Emmanuel Osei Bonsu
Emmanuel Osei Bonsu, © 2020

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: EmmanuelOseiBonsu

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