Nuclear War Threats by Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea – Empty Rhetoric or Cause for Alarm?

| Chandrashekar TS

“A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”

President Ronald Reagan

Nuclear warfare, also known as atomic warfare and thermonuclear warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy that deploys nuclear weaponry. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. In contrast to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can produce destruction in a much shorter time and can have long-lasting radiological effects. A major nuclear exchange would have long-term effects, primarily from the fallout of radiation, and could also lead to a “nuclear winter” that could last for decades, centuries, or even millennia after the attack.

According to the Arms Control Association it is estimated that the world’s nine nuclear states China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States have around 13,000 nuclear warheads in total. However, this estimate is based only on publicly available information; there could be many more that states have not disclosed (Israel, South Africa). It is believed that countries have nuclear weapons to safeguard themselves from aggression and to gain strategic advantage. However, threats of using nuclear weapons on independent nations and the common public have significantly increased. While North Korea was the first to threaten neighbours with a nuclear war, Pakistan and China soon issued similar threats with Russian President Vladimir Putin being the latest to join the ‘nuclear war’ threatening bandwagon.


President Putin has put his nuclear forces on alert, while warning the U.S. and NATO countries not to come to Ukraine’s defense. He has said any outside country that interferes in the war would face “consequences that they have never seen in their history.” The current situation, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a “nightmarish scenario” that could become true. American President Biden took the threats seriously and said America is not going to directly intervene in the Russia-Ukraine war and not violate the no-fly zone imposed by Russia, which otherwise, as he said, could result in “World War III”.

Earlier during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR’s stationed nuclear capable missiles on the Caribbean island 90 miles off U.S. shores after the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in 1961. President John Kennedy threatened retaliation against the Soviet Union if those weapons were ever used against the U.S. and imposed a naval blockade around Cuba. When the Nuclear Crisis loomed large, the nuclear war threat ended when the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the withdrawal of NATO’s weapons in Turkey and Italy. In addition, Washington gave an unprecedented security guarantee to the Castro regime.


China’s nuclear warning first came when Taiwan held its first direct presidential election and China fired missiles across the Taiwan Strait. But as two U.S. carriers steamed toward the Strait, China’s warning of “a sea of fire” turned the ships away. In 2005, China’s nuclear threat against a U.S. defense of Taiwan was expanded to target “hundreds of U.S. cities.”  When Japan began to acknowledge publicly in 2021 that its own national security is linked to Taiwan’s and that it has an interest in helping to protect it China said “We will use nuclear bombs first. We will use nuclear bombs continuously …[w]hen we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to intervene by force.”

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned again that the North could preemptively use its nuclear weapons if threatened. Kim expressed “firm will” to continue developing his nuclear-armed military so that it could “preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces.  More recently, at a military parade marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army on April 25, Kim Jong-un donned a white military marshal’s uniform and expressed his determination to increase the strength of the country’s nuclear forces “in terms of both quality and scale.”


Pakistan’s military had clarified way back in 2019 that it does not follow the “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons. Military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor “We don’t have any ‘no first use’ policy…” he said. In a 1965 speech to the UN Security Council, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Prime Minister and former President of Pakistan, declared a thousand-year war against India. Pakistani Army Chief General Zia-ul-Haq gave form to Bhutto’s “thousand years war” with the ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’ doctrine using covert and low-intensity warfare with militancy and infiltration. This doctrine was first attempted during the Punjab insurgency and then during the Kashmir insurgency using India’s western border with Pakistan. It now threatens India with Nuclear Weapons and does not follow the ‘no first use’ policy as India.


Such nuclear rhetoric will fuel suspicions, trigger arms races, increase tensions, and ultimately cause crises and wars. Russia, China, North Korea and Pakistan do not respect civilizations, culture, rule of law and democracy like other major powers. As the number of weapons increases, there is an increased risk of a small trigger inadvertently escalating into a nuclear war when either side stares at defeat. Ego of nations and its leaders or wish to expand and occupy more territory can also lead to leaders taking decisions to opt for a nuclear strike.

In conclusion, these four nations are playing a dangerous game which affects the bilateral, regional and global relations. U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in his September 20 speech said that China was developing the capability to launch “global strikes from space. The potential for weapons to be launched into space originates from the Cold War era concept called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, where a system that goes into orbit then de-orbits towards the target. Leaders in Pakistan and North Korea are eager to take lessons from Russia and China and are happy to see what is happening in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict. They are happy that in case of their own crisis or war they would be backed up and supported externally by Russia or China. More worrisome is the fact that the line between defensive and offensive nature of the weapons is getting thinner and thinner due to their reckless behavior and statements. 

(Opinions expressed are author’s own)

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