As the United States continues to assert its imperial dominance and hegemony, rising powers throughout the world are looking for ways to counter it. Though the doctrine of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) and nuclear proliferation treaties were able to prevent nuclear war during the last Cold War (with some near misses), it looks as though the nuclear arms race is back on.
While there have been some new arrivals to the nuclear weapons club–notably North Korea, which ramped up efforts to acquire atomic weapons after being named as part of the “Axis of Evil” in a speech by President George W. Bush–the new arms race reportedly centers on existing nuclear powers racing to acquire next generation nuclear weapons.
According to The New York Times, the US, China and Russia are now openly competing with each other to develop and obtain smaller and less destructive nuclear weapons. Though not as massively destructive as larger nuclear weapons in and of themselves, the more precise and seemingly limited weapons could make their use more likely and thus provoke a catastrophic nuclear arms exchange. Not surprisingly, each power is shifting blame for who is driving the new nuclear arms race, but all three are undeniably participating.
Last year, President Barack Obama proposed a 10-year, $1 trillion plan to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Part of the upgrades will include developing next generational nuclear weapons along with maintaining older ones.
China and Russia also have active programs, including plans to follow the US into taking a future military conflict into space. Weapons are being developed by all three countries that destroy military satellites which will theoretically prevent an adversary from being able to strike first or retaliate during a nuclear exchange.
The source of current tensions driving the nuclear arms race is not hard to surmise. Both Russia and China see the United States threatening their interests and are looking for new ways to shift the balance of power more in their favors. The US continues to maintain its military encirclement of China while trying to expand its economic influence in the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), all while developing a generation of nuclear weapons that are designed to evade old detection systems.
The Russia case is even more treacherous. The US-backed coup in Ukraine has made the country neighboring Russia even more unstable then it was before. Russia has now annexed Crimea and is supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, while the US supports and trains government forces and neo-fascist militias in western Ukraine. By all appearances, Russia plans on playing a role in Ukraine for the foreseeable future and is willing to use military means to ensure it does so.
Further complicating matters is US and Russian involvement in the Middle East, specifically the Syrian Civil War. Both Russia and the United States have had direct military involvement in the country through aerial bombing and ground forces. In one perilous incident, a Russian plane was shot down by NATO-member Turkey in what could have, in theory, started a nuclear war between NATO forces and Russia.
Given current circumstances and what is at stake if a military conflict goes nuclear, spending a trillion dollars developing a new generation of nuclear weapons is the last thing the US should be doing.