According to a statement on 3rd of October this year, the likelihood of an unexpected nuclear strike is greater than at any time in human history. Moreover, compared with similar previous documents, it is not a hypothetical threat but a very real one. Canadian diplomat Leslie Norton, has already made it clear by stating ‘we can no longer say with certainty that nuclear weapons will not be used’, and has referred primarily to Russia’s actions. What does such a statement mean in diplomatic terms? That there is probably irrefutable evidence to suggest that nuclear weapons could be used in the very near future.
Putin’s statements are worrisome
Last week, at the 20th anniversary Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, Vladimir Putin made a number of statements, both on Russia’s latest nuclear weapons development and on his future decisions to withdraw from international treaties, including the one banning nuclear weapons testing.
Why should we take this statement particularly seriously? According to analysts, the Valdai Discussion Club itself was conceived in 2004 as a personal information platform for Putin, where he could informally voice his wishes. And while in the early years of the forum’s existence it was often used by Putin to check the reaction of the public and the country’s political elite to potentially unpopular proposals, in recent years, according to the experts, all the proposals that Putin brought up have been officially implemented.
Given this, it is hardly surprising that on 5th of October, the very next day, after Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian Parliament could denounce the international agreement banning nuclear testing, the head of the country’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, announced that this exactly will happen during the next State Duma session. We can safely say that Russia is withdrawing from the agreement and that nuclear tests will take place.
Also at the Discussion Club, Vladimir Putin, speaking about Russia’s latest nuclear weapons, said that Russia had substantially completed the development of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, as well as the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. It is the cruise missile that is of greater concern to experts when it comes to these innovations, as it will have an essentially unlimited range and will reportedly even be able to orbit the Earth. In addition, it will be able to carry both conventional and nuclear explosives and, as a carrier of radioactive material in itself, will pose a radiation hazard even in the event of a non-nuclear warhead.
Hidden agendas are even creepier
Despite the fact that withdrawal from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty looks primarily like a desire to test the latest weapons, some experts point to a far more frightening reason, which requires us to remember a little about the technological characteristics of nuclear weapons.
You might be surprised to learn that nuclear warheads are much less durable than conventional explosives. Yes, according to the standard adopted in Russia, or rather in the USSR, the shelf-life of a plutonium-239-based charge is 18 years, uranium 25-30. The US standard is slightly longer, but the standard is 30-40 years for uranium-based charges. The expiry of this time does not mean that the charge has become non-hazardous or completely unusable, it is just that due to the natural degradation of the material, it is not known exactly what the effect of use will be. Interestingly, even during the Cold War, nobody was overly concerned about this, because the main strategy for managing nuclear arsenals was to keep them up to date with new ones, and to dispose of the old ones when the time came. There were ideas of peaceful use, for example, in the USSR’s programme of peaceful nuclear explosions, but very soon practice showed that it was easier to produce a new special charge than to use an old one for combat.
And now we have to look at the arsenals of the current nuclear powers and see that neither the US nor Russia has paid much attention to their renewal since the Cold War. In the US, it was only in 2019 that then-President Donald Trump became concerned about this issue, and although that year saw the adoption of a full programme for the renewal of nuclear warheads by 2030, it is difficult to expect that this programme will be carried out in its entirety. In fact, just a few days ago, the authoritative publication Foreign Affairs announced that the current US administration sees a problem and, given that the country needs to be able to deter not only Russia but also China, the number of active nuclear devices on duty must be increased. According to the publication’s expert, the number must be increased from the current 1 550 to between 3 000 and 3 500.
If we look at Russia’s nuclear arsenals, despite the veil of absolute secrecy, it is clear that it too has not carried out a proper renewal of its arsenals, first because of the crisis of the 1990s, and then because of the severely restricted production of the materials necessary for this. This, by the way, was acknowledged by Russia’s own sources before these problems could be mentioned publicly. Thus, of the 5977 nuclear devices officially recognised as being in Russia’s possession, around 1500 are already considered to be decommissioned and in need of disposal. The remaining 4500 or so are also either close to or above the permitted design age, and only a small proportion of them are the latest products, and these are mainly intended for strategic armaments. Meanwhile, its use in war is the last argument for a country, followed inevitably by the nuclear apocalypse.
Tactical weapons such as cruise missiles and ballistic missiles used by mobile systems, as well as aerial bombs and torpedoes, are different. Their use on the battlefield is more than real. Here, too, analysts quite rightly point out that it is not enough to state that the shelf life of existing weapons is being extended, and that, in order to avoid surprises, it is necessary to ascertain the practical possibilities of their use. Which requires tests and trials as soon as possible. Theoretically, a nuclear device can remain effective well beyond the design times of 20-30 years in Russia or 30-40 years in the US, and can even reach up to 100 years with only some of the non-nuclear components of the device needing to be changed. But understanding what needs to be done also requires practical testing. Why is this very bad news?
This is because such an inspection of the arsenal will allow us to determine with absolute certainty which models can be immediately returned to combat duty, which ones can be put back into service, for example, after the necessary modernisation, and which ones should be disposed of. Nuclear testing is therefore a very effective way of strengthening our nuclear strike power in a very short time and at a very low cost. And while the opponents are rebuilding their arsenals in the normal way, this behaviour allows them to achieve a certain advantage.
The consequences of the use of weapons are unpredictable
What might the use of such weapons look like in the event of war? The scenario is easily predictable based on Russia’s use of conventional weapons in Ukraine, where weapons in reserve are quickly processed and on their way to the front in a very short time. And when there are sufficient reserves, there is little need for major modernisation. Accordingly, any kind of malfunction is possible, from, for example, the failure of a warhead to detonate by design, to the failure of carriers. This is why not only Ukraine, but also a very wide region, from Turkey and the Mediterranean to Germany, Austria and on to the remotest corners of Scandinavia, cannot feel at ease.
And this is the time to abandon the old illusion that the special services of states will warn of a threat in time and militarily eliminate it. In fact, as we are now seeing in Israel, even the strongest intelligence services are not all-powerful, and Ukraine’s experience in combating air strikes shows that it is impossible to stop air strikes completely over a very long distance from which they are launched. It is clear that even a single, even accidental, nuclear-tipped missile will cause a multitude of disasters.
Therefore, ignore those who claim that individual shelters are just an expression of exaggerated fear. A purpose-built shelter, or one adapted from an existing basement or other suitable room, is a wise investment in the safety of you and your family. Castellex, a supplier of top-quality NBC ( Nuclear, Biological, Chemical ) air filtration systems for shelters, can now offer you products for both individual families and larger shelters.
We recall that the demand for personal shelters is steadily growing and, if we look at the US, the most active people in the US are the CEOs of technology companies and their key professionals, which is different from the Cold War-era shelter enthusiasts, where perhaps a little more extravagant enthusiasts dominated. The current interest in shelters among the most mainstream and affluent Americans is a clear indication that the problem is real and that it is time to look at it without irony. Unfortunately, in Western and especially European culture, there is an overconfidence in government and its ability to protect citizens from danger, and even the COVID 19 pandemic, where government action was often late, illogical or useless, has not changed this perception. But do we really have to wait for a real nuclear strike now to be concerned about our own and our families’ safety?