New arms race must be opposed
Advanced nuclear weapons, cyber weapons, autonomous missiles and weapons guided by artificial intelligence are ushering the world to new arms races that could soon bring humankind to an unprecedented brink of destruction.
Michael Moeller, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, said there is an arms race in most categories of weapons and another is looming for weapons that use new technologies.
“Defense spending is up” in many countries, noted Moeller who is also Director General of the UN office in Europe. He emphasized the need for diplomats to work in partnership with experts, academics, researchers and civil society to dampen the new race.
Europe is the main center of opposition to this race for more devastating weapons, including weaponized artificial intelligence and advanced technologies.
Incongruously, President Donald Trump commented earlier this week that the arms race is “getting out of control” and he wants to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the “not too distant future” to discuss it among other issues.
But Trump is the race’s main instigator. Nuclear weapons do nothing to protect people from 21st century threats, yet the US is planning to spend over $1.6 trillion during the next 30 years to rebuild its nuclear arsenal, ostensibly to keep up with improved weapons in Russia and China.
A significant sign of rising alarm is that the UN has placed “disarmament that saves lives” at the top of its international agenda. Secretary General Antonio Guterres expects to start a new initiative this summer to get more buy in from governments and people for disarmament and 17 sustainable development and poverty reduction goals agreed for 2030 at a UN global Summit in 2015.
Some hopeful news surfaced last month when diplomats at the UN Conference on Disarmament, including America, Russia and China, moved to put fresh energy into disarmament talks that have been moribund for two decades. Major differences persist but there is more hope now that global disarmament may again get serious attention.
However, Trump has promised to, “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal… making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.”
Russian and Chinese ripostes will not be far behind and war will move several steps closer. That is a horrifying prospect made more likely by the arrival of the hawkish John Bolton and Mike Pompeo in the White House.
Trump is being contradictory as usual. He says he would like to meet Putin mainly because of the arms race but in his State of the Union Address, he asserted: “Perhaps someday in the future, there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly.”
A new coalition of like-minded governments and citizens is needed to ring alarms loudly and consistently against the unmatched rising dangers to world peace and destruction of everyone on our planet.
The moral pressure brought by all the opponents of these new arms races may not affect the security assessments of the major nuclear powers. But they will have to take note when more than 160 countries oppose them through the UN and various disarmament and arms control forums.
The US military budget for 2018 is expected to touch $700 billion including the Mideast wars, while China has signaled its largest ever defense budget of nearly $180 billion in 2018.
Surprisingly, Russia claims it will spend less than $50 billion but that cannot be true in light of the astonishing weapons President Vladimir Putin announced on March 1.
He unveiled several new nuclear-weapons systems capable of unlimited range because of nuclear propulsion. Russia’s hypersonic missiles carrying multiple nuclear warheads and undetectable torpedoes contain artificial intelligence to evade every anti-missile or other detection system. They can weave around obstacles and some are capable of speeds up to 20 times that of sound.
Putin’s unexpected speech came within weeks of Trump’s new “Nuclear Posture Review” to renovate America’s nuclear arsenal and add new weapons that can be credibly used in battle because of reduced nuclear fallout. The US will also build more advanced anti-missile shields.
Cyber weapons are the fast-growing new industry especially in the US, China, Russia and Israel with a market estimated at $530 billion by 2022. They are the next frontier beyond nuclear, remote controlled and new generation conventional weapons.
They can bring entire weapons systems and cities to a halt by blocking telecommunications and the Internet, push missiles off-course, cut off electricity and use artificial intelligence to bring chaos to population centers.
Unless the people and civil society stand up firmly against this arms race, it is likely to hurtle on to devastating effect.