Is the world on the verge of a nuclear winter?

As Trump upsets the world order, many countries may feel they have no choice but to develop nuclear weapons

Brian GiesbrechtWhat will the world look like in 50 years – or even 10? One of the rather unsettling possibilities is that the future will have to accommodate a Germany with nuclear arms.

For the short period after the Second World War that the United States was the only nuclear power, the world was stable.

But it didn’t last long.

The Soviet Union soon caught up and the world became very unstable. The frightening climax came in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we were a hair’s breadth away from nuclear winter.

Fortunately, sanity prevailed and catastrophe was avoided. An understanding of sorts was reached between the two superpowers that even outlasted Russia’s loss of superpower status. The threat of mutually assured destruction resulted in a long peace.

But all of this began to change in the 1980s. India and Pakistan insisted on acquiring nuclear weapons solely for the purpose of threatening each other. An unstable and irresponsible Pakistan then began peddling nuclear weapons to all comers. In short order, North Korea, Iraq and Syria – all highly dangerous regimes – were well on their way to acquiring nuclear weapons.

It was only because of the foresight (and bravery) of tiny Israel that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria didn’t get nuclear weapons. Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s reactor in 2007, probably with American assistance.

The idea that those two rogue countries could easily have had nuclear weapons should send a shiver down all of our spines.

But now Iran is working towards becoming a nuclear power. This threatens to significantly change the balance of power in the region, and indeed in other parts of the world. If Iran succeeds, how long will it be before Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt feel they must have nuclear weapons as well?

Although it’s officially denied, Israel has had nuclear weapons for years. But this hasn’t upset the fundamental balance of power in the Middle East.

However, if Iran acquired the bomb, things might go downhill fast. After all, one former Iranian president called Israel a “one bomb country,” meaning that Israel could be wiped off the map by one nuclear bomb. No one knows it better than Israel. It seems extremely unlikely that the Israelis will wait for an Iranian judgment day.

Meanwhile on the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jong-un is planning, but exactly what is anybody’s guess.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump appears to hope the mercurial dictator will voluntarily get rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, as Libya and Ukraine did. But Kim knows that voluntary relinquishment didn’t work out so well for Libya or Ukraine. He also knows his nuclear weapons are really the only thing he has going for him.

Will Japan and South Korea – and perhaps Taiwan – then start down the road of nuclear armament? And what will China do about this?

In a world bristling with nuclear arms, perhaps some will even find their way to terrorist groups.

Will Germany be prepared to be a sitting duck in a nuclear world?

The Trump administration has made it clear it no longer wants to be Europe’s protector. What they don’t seem to understand is that this may well force Germany to decide that a much more militarized stance, with nuclear weapons, would be necessary for protect the country.

And Germany is unlikely to remain the chastened pacifist nation it has been since the Second World War. Even now, there are great internal pressures to adopt a more forceful military stance.

Germany has American nuclear weapons on its soil. In the event of war with Russia, the U.S. would transfer those bombs to the Germans.

Germany sees itself as a pacifist nation. But it has been otherwise many times in its history. Do we really want to see what a militarized, nuclear Germany would look like? How would that change the world?

We know the Trump administration is thoroughly shaking up the existing world order. We should hope Trump actually knows what he’s doing. But if he’s just rolling the dice to see what happens, we might all be in serious trouble.

We don’t know what the future will bring, but we should do our best to prepare for it.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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