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One thing is for sure the old architecture will not remain

Dayan Jayatilleka

 

PIR Center conducted an interview with Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Senior Advisor on International Relations to the Leader of the Opposition and Daily FT Columnist (Colombo, Sri Lanka). Since March 2022, Dayan Jayatilleka has been a member of the PIR Center Advisory Board.

In an interview with him, we discussed the struggle for world domination, the current risks of starting a nuclear war, the confrontation between India and China, Sri Lanka's place in world politics, the prospects of the NPT and many other important issues of the nuclear world.

You were the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation from 2018 to 2020 and have already published several articles about the current political situation. In one of your articles, you mentioned that the creation of a "counter-hegemonic system" should be a priority for Russia. What do you mean by this concept?

If you go back in the issues of Security Index, the journal of PIR Center, you will see that it was ten years ago that I contributed an article, in which I said that the West will not give either Russia or China the space in the international system, that they deserve given the size and strength of those two States. And I predicted that the United States would do a global counter-offensive or global offensive to weaken both Russia and China. I said that because of an understanding of the Global South.

My starting point of the behavior of the West is in the aftermath of the Cold War. The West’s interpretation of the end of the Cold War, which they saw as a victory, rather than the way we see it and in the Global South. Fidel Castro called it “suicide” on the part of the Soviet Union, not “homicide”. And the very clear impulse, systemic compulsion on the part of the West, is to entrench unipolar dominance, in which Russia and China would be reduced to subaltern status in the world order, that the West sought to construct. That was something I wrote 10 years ago in the PIR Center’s journal Security Index

The concept of ‘counter-hegemony’ I put forward in a number of more recent articles written when I was ambassador in Moscow and after I came back to Colombo. So, there's a direct connection between what I said 10 years and what I've been saying more recently. My Security Index article was pre-Maidan in 2014. Now things are much clearer.

The Collective West, as it called itself, is speaking in terms and acting in ways that the world has not seen at least since the early 1950s. Because even concerning Hungary in 1956, while Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were playing the subversive role, there was a point, beyond which the West would not go. But you can see that in the case of Ukraine, they're not observing those limitations. Ukraine is being encouraged in the view, that in the summer they will do a counter-offensive with the latest equipment, and that Russia can be and should be defeated militarily.

Now, of course, one might say that this is crazy, but this is said by very serious people. And this is part of a grand strategic vision, in which Russia is debilitated, weakened beyond the point it was in the 1990s when it appeased the West under Gorbachev, but mainly under the Yeltsin administration. The West has understood that Russia can always come back from that. There are even voices talking about scenarios of military clashes between the West and Russia. And it’s quite clear, reading between the lines, that Russia is the first and China is the next. If they succeed being defeating or debilitating Russia, then obviously China will be the next target. It's just a matter of time. These are not for tactical reasons. They're not pushing that vigorously against China. China is also buying out as much time and space and wiggle room as it can. Then by “counter-hegemony”, I mean counter-unipolar strategy and the related organizational methods, the full spectrum of policy is an existential need for Russia, and for the rest of us, for the rest of the world.

Before they got around to Russia, the collective West was doing this starting with Yugoslavia. In 1999 Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka were very close. Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961, so we have been watching this very closely with emotion for a long time before they got around to Russia. Therefore, it is in the interest of humanity, that a counter-unipolar project is undertaken by Russia and China, but not only those two states. The destiny of humanity rests in the success or not of such resistance; the global resistance struggle.

In the last few months, there has been an active discussion among experts about the risks of military-political escalation that could lead to conditions of nuclear war. How do you assess such risks? How is the nuclear factor perceived in Sri Lanka?  

Sri Lanka has been consistently strong on the question of nuclear disarmament going back several decades. But more recently we have had an even better reason to do that because both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers, and Sri Lanka is the little shack at the foot of the volcano.

We also know that the Collective West is trying to get India to counter China. It will probably not get caught up in that Western trap, but that is also a nuclear risk. In Sri Lanka, we are very sensitive to this question, and we've been very consistent.

Answering your broader question about the dangers of nuclear confrontation, I think we should be brave enough to accept the reality. All the old equations have been erased, but they've not been erased by Russian intervention in Ukraine. Russia's intervention in Ukraine is a consequence of the effort to erase those equations. And the literature is plentiful. Whether it was George Kennan or Dr. Kissinger, more recently at Davos, or academics like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as well as Stephen Cohen, who died two years ago. It's very clear that there have been realist voices in the United States, where distinguished people, warned against every transgression of a prudent and pragmatic policy framework. But they just kept going on and on.

All of the ideas about nuclear weaponry were based on certain assumptions and within certain paradigms. Those paradigms have been dismantled by the Collective West. And what we are hearing now has any kind of precedent only in the 1950s, when thinkers in the United States were talking about the winnability of war. The stem of the winnability of nuclear war resurfaced in the Reagan team and in the Santa Fe documents, and so on. But there have always been the hardliners. And they were not exactly on the margins, and that was not the dominant framework of thinking. Now things are moving in a direction that was marginal after the mid-1950s, it was the preponderant thinking in the early years of the Cold War. It was assumed that this is a possibility. But from the mid-1950s we saw a difference. But that mainstream of several decades of policy has now been displaced. We can speculate about the reasons, some may say the social media information revolution, that even if a politician wants to do something and a political leader wants to do something, the legislature won't allow it. The legislature will respond to public opinion and public opinion is manipulated not only by the mainstream media, but the mainstream media is under pressure from social media and social media is easier to manipulate.

Even concerning Ukraine, there's a lot of pressure. Some of those sanctions have been taken not at the level of the state or the government, but institutions, businesses, and so on. So, there is a drive, which is almost uncontrollable. The whole issue of a No-fly zone was prevented by the leaders, but it almost got there. It wouldn't have been possible, but it almost got to that point. There was a lot of pressure. The whole regime, nuclear arms talks, and agreements are now have been displaced, because there are no limits that anybody has really talked about in terms of the confrontation between the Collective West and Russia.

They're a little more careful when it comes to China, but that is because Russia still exists as a strong buffer. But the same irrationality will be used against China. It was before the Ukraine crisis. I don't think we can turn the clock back to the 1970s and that the West is going to come round to its all-traditional, realistic policy. Even concerning that policy of the 1960s and more so 1970s, we had to admit that the United States and Doctor Kissinger would not have been quite so interested in improving relationships with Russia and China. It is true and often admitted, that they were trying to play Russia against China and so on, and that started in about 1969, with the border clashes on the Zhenbao Island. But, it is because the Americans were looking for an exit from Vietnam. And Doctor Kissinger thought that it is Russia and China that could prevent the Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese, from allowing the United States to pull out peace with the honor they called it. He also understood that as a Student of European history. He saw the period of the 1970s, the period of worldwide revolution. And he thought we were going beyond Vietnam to enmesh Russia and China in a network of relationships, which would help restabilize a world that was in revolt, especially in the Global South after Vietnam, Angola, and Nicaragua.

But today the arms control agreements were the byproducts of a certain correlation of forces, as they used to call it in Moscow. And that correlation of forces either no longer exists, or the West does not recognize that it exists. Therefore, we can see that even the voices of people like Doctor Kissinger, and the earlier warnings of George Kennan in 1996 are ignored. Because there's a completely new mentality, new paradigms.

So, I urge that we be very realistic. That does not mean that anybody advocates nuclear war, which is unthinkable, or should be fatalistic and not fight to put in the brakes. But we should understand, that there is crazy, systemic illogic that is driving this forward. And the old factor, the balancing factors, the perceptions, and the theories, that even the West had to accept. Those of us, who belong to the older school of thought, which emanated from the Soviet Union, would say that this, of course, is the history of imperialism as a system, that in certain aspects that are advances from the earlier periods, the colonial period, but in certain other aspects, the ruling classes are thrown overboard. Some of the things that they had fought for and some of the rational compromises they had made. And they will be more and more aggressive. So, I think these are the realities that one has to look at. There is no time machine, that it's going to take us back to the 1970s or to Reykjavik in 1986. This is emotionally difficult to grasp. But I think the world would be safer, if we grasped the dangers involved, that the old safeguards, or the guardrails, are pretty much gone.

The NPT Review Conference is scheduled for this August, as we know. In connection to this event, what prospects do you see in the sphere of nuclear nonproliferation, will the conference affect the future of this field? What are the prospects for the NPT?

There are some prospects, but only if one remembers how we came to those achievements in the first place. Unfortunately, there are those, who do not remember, that there was a huge struggle for peace. Not to mention the victory of the Red Army, which gave a certain balance, if you look at it in political terms and in terms of ideas. For most of the 20th century, after World War I and World War II, and, certainly, during the height of the Cold War, there was a huge struggle for peace involving scientists and civil society big movements, which always supported in terms of public opinion and their demands and made possible some advances, including the NPT.

Now there's no such thing. There were scientists in the Manhattan Project, which produced the atom bomb, which taught that the United States should not be in sole control of this weapon and sought to keep the Soviet Union informed. That happened during times when the Soviet Union was internally very repressive. But it's not that western intelligence did not know what was happening. They did know everything that was happening. But they knew it was happening in the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, there was a sense of two things. Firstly, the Soviet Union represented a universalized idea. And on balance, it did better than bad in terms of humanity. Secondly, it was an important country.

Now, Russia itself decided to dismantle the first factor, which gave it that soft power, even when internally it was harder. I was marching in New York Central Park at what is known as the biggest anti-nuclear demonstration in history. The crowd was estimated over a quarter of a million. And that was the time that Yuri Andropov was the leader of the Soviet Union. There were no naive young people. They were idealists, but they knew what was going on. And they were not marching for the Soviet Union, but they were marching against the “New Cold War” during the Reagan years. But now there's nobody. That's gone. And even the capacity of Russia to rebuild that soft power was dismantled by Russia because it used to have three instruments. For this battle of ideas, one, of course, was the excellent Foreign Ministry. But there's also the communist movement. For instance, I was in Moscow for the World Festival of Youth and Students in the summer of 1985. Those two instruments are no longer there by choice. Therefore, Russia doesn’t have the intelligence of the West. All the young people in the West were pushing for peace and denuclearization in the way they used to.

We are in a situation, where the West is becoming more and more aggressive. Much more than during even the Reagan years. Reagan himself was about to agree with Gorbachev for deep cuts in Reykjavik in 1986, but he was advised to stop it. But today you won't get Joe Biden willing to do that. You won't get Boris Johnson, who's even worse. Because there's been a reconfiguration involving Eastern Europe. And a history that we all know about. I mean Poland in the 1920s, Poland in the 1940s, Poland again in the 1980s and that is not plugged into the West, not only because the West wanted to incorporate to expand NATO, but because they wanted to bring the NATO onto their side to fight their old problems, their own hatreds.

Now it is a more dangerous period than in any previous decades. There is less of a peace movement or an anti-nuclear movement than there ever was, certainly in my lifetime. It's a very dangerous situation. And yet it is a struggle that has to be fought.

Russia somehow should find a way without the two of the three instruments it used to have. It needs to build some approximation of those instruments, and that is possible only when you have a message that is not merely within your borders, but the message that has universalist. That has to be done or some way has to be found to mobilize against the two dangers One is unipolarity. One can no longer, unfortunately, use the slogan of sovereignty, because of the Ukraine issue. But you can solve the gaps between China and Russia.

So, one cannot build a coalition of coalitions on the means of the sovereign, but you can build a global coalition or coalitions in opposition to unipolarity, and unipolar hegemony and you can also build a coalition or coalitions against the dangers of nuclear war, stemming from the new western aggression. Without that, if we look at anything, I mean, we know that it was during George. W. Bush that the United States started laterally rolling back the agreements. And now we do not really know to what extent, conditionality, may or may not be brought in, whether the old equations really looked at again, or the old agreements will be looked at again. Whether it will be just possible to renew. Whether the West has something of its three because the doctrine has containment.

There were two types of containment, one was the United States from getting normal trying to contain the Soviet Union. But the other was that when there was the correlation of forces involved, the recognition of near-parity or what they would call roughly equivalent. There was also a containment of the contention between Russia and the West to the periphery of the world system. Those of us in the Global South suffered, Vietnam suffered. But not in the Central theater. Today that has changed. And there is no containment of the arena, the theater of struggle. The central front is no longer frozen. Central front, where the war was not hot in the territory but was cold in the central front. Now it's hot in the central front. And whatever one thinks of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, it started in 1999, with the destruction of Yugoslavia. They said: “We can't allow a war in Europe”. But the war was in Europe in 1999 with the NATO intervention and NATO's celebration of its anniversary. So, we should understand, that every agreement like the NPT was the most emblematic of the agreements. But when the entire context changes, we should be ready for it with the understanding that some things we thought were unquestionable, may be questioned.

Sri Lanka has joined the TPNW, how do you feel about this agreement and the decision of the country's leadership of Sri Lanka to join it? 

Going back to the 1950s, even before the founding of the Non-Aligned movement of which we were founders, and going to the Bandung Conference, world peace has been something that Sri Lanka has always played an active role in, even as a small country.

Now our diplomacy is in a state of retreat, because of the profound economic crisis, that we are in. Nonetheless, that has been a consistent position of Sri Lanka. And it's a tradition.

We had choices in the 1950s and 1960s. We could not have followed the path of certain countries in Southeast Asia at that time, which decided to line up. That was part of the Cold War, and even ASEAN, which I'm an admirer of, was in its earliest phase, also part of this, though it changed after Vietnam joined. We had that choice. Another choice was the model of Pakistan which had made its choices in the Cold War. Our friend India was closer to the Soviet Union. But we were very careful, very prudent, very pragmatic. We did not declare neutrality, but we were front and center on the nuclear issue.

So, our accession in 2021 was very much in keeping the tradition, but the role that we might be able to play, as a small country beyond our weight for many decades, except for a brief period in the 1980s when we swung to a very pro-Western position for a few years. We will be unable to make those contributions until we get out of where we are now economically. We are now being talked about as the Lebanon of Asia or South Asia. So, in terms of the role, we can play, in terms of our commitment, that, I hope will remain unwavering.

Once again, as I said about the nuclear issues in general, the crisis we are in is such that there are voices in Sri Lanka, which talk about the need for total alignment with the West. Not many voices, but there are some within the system. Because they think we are in such desperate straits economically, it is better to integrate openly with the Indo-Pacific strategy of the West, and since the West still has a preeminent role in controlling the international financial institutions, there are those, including ex-diplomats, senior retired diplomats, who have written to the newspapers saying that our values are such that we should align with one side. It should be useful to us at this moment. However, in terms of public opinion, there was a recent crisis over the Aeroflot plane. There was very strong support for Russia. And there was a big push back across the spectrum. In South Asia, there's no Russophobia.

Now India and China are simultaneously increasing their presence in Southeast Asia. In this regard, how do you assess the impact of these two largest countries in the region on the regional security of South Asia, considering the recent Indo-Chinese border conflict and on the world as a whole? How do you assess the risk of building up the nuclear potential of India and China?  

It is one of the complicated questions in the international arena. It is a question that has troubled Soviet foreign policy, because in 1962 even during the Sino-Indian War, the Soviet Union had to decide famously between a fraternal relationship with China and a friendly relationship with India. Well, Russia has managed to have very good relations with both, and this, of course, also limits the degree to which Russia and China can converge, because Russia, quite rightly, will not want to lose out on the relationship with India, which is also an important global factor, because R-I-C (Russia, India and China) is better than simply R&C (Russia and China). But this is the crucial question. The challenge of retaining the trilateral relationship: Russia, India, and China in a situation, where there is an obvious contradiction between the interest of China and India in certain parts of Asia.

The importance is that Asia is the area, where you can see a considerable refusal to buy into the West's confrontation with Russia. From the voting pattern, we can see that, though Russia lost several votes in UN forums, including on the suspension of membership of the UN Human Rights Council, which is quite negative, that was a growing number of countries, a smaller group of countries, which voted for Russia, or rather, against the resolutions. And a growing group, abstaining. Asia, which as we know is important for many reasons: economics, population and so on, shows a preponderance, not that Asia is universally non-aligned or refuses to side with the West, but for the most part, Asia has chosen not to be dictated to behave in terms of how it should regard Russia.

On this issue, India has played a major role. And India, China, Vietnam, several countries in ASEAN and South Asia have demonstrated, that it is part of what we may see as a growing new space. In one sense, it is a re-emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement, not in the form of the movement, but it’s the non-aligned space and the demonstration of autonomy in the face of yet another Cold War. And there India and China have both played a very important and helpful role. So, I would say that there are very positive signs.

Russia played a major role in helping the two countries to manage, which was a very adversarial relationship after the clash within the border area. And that balancing role should be continued to be played by Russia, and Russia has an opportunity of studying the contours of this new pattern of refusal to buy into the western definitions of what's going on in the world today.

It is possible for Russia to weave and an ensemble of relations with it and within this growing zone, we see in the world the countries that are refusing to take sides and refusing to accept the dominant western narrative about the world today, especially in terms of Russia and Ukraine.

So, this is way a reassertion of non-alignment in a new manner, it is not as well conceptualized, but it is a more basic reassertion of autonomy. And of the national interest, which dozens of countries representing most of the world's population are simply refusing to go along with the West. In that sense, there are certainly not delinking from the West, but they're delinking from or taking their distance from the western narrative. Insofar as that narrative is hegemonistic and it imposes labels on a complex world. India and China are very important players in the expansion of autonomous space.

You were also the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. What role do you think the United Nations is playing now in the current political conflicts? Is there a future for this largest system, the functioning of which many experts consider as irrelevant? Are there any prerequisites for Russia to refuse to be a member of international organizations and create regional ones?  

We can create new organizations, which is a good thing, but not supplant the United Nations, because the United Nations represents a certain moment in world history, where a number of powers of different internal systems came together to defeat the common enemy of Nazi fascism. So, in that sense, the UN and the UN founding documents represent an important mark in world history and the consciousness of humanity. Therefore Russia, China, and India have always referred to the United Nations as the arena, in which world problems should be resolved.

International law is understood by many countries, including Russia and China, as primarily, the decisions of the UN Security Council, whereas for the West, international law is something else altogether. The history of the United Nations has shown ebbs and flows. There was a time in the 1970s when the West was in a defensive position, and it complained about the tyranny of the majority in the United Nations. Then, after the Cold War, it swung again in favor of the West. In between, were the episodes, such as the Russian intervention in Afghanistan, which again caused the kind of an anti-Russian swing in the 1980s in the United Nations. So, we should expect these swings, according to what happened in the world.

It is unfortunate, that Russia seems to be on the back footing with some of these UN votes and lost some of these votes. But that is no reason to do anything but mount a new campaign to rebuild the alliances and friendships, and to be able to regain a majority in the UN bodies. This is possible because, in the Ukraine crisis, a growing number of countries, not yet a majority, but a growing number of very influential countries have decided to take a step back from the western definitions.

And now we should look at it not only through the single prison of the Ukraine crisis, but recent Summit of the Americas hosted by the USA. And it chose not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. As a result of which, a very important President, Lopez Obrador of Mexico boycotted the meeting. Of course, his government was represented by the Foreign Minister, but he was one of those heads of State in Latin America, who refused to attend. And there were those who attended, such as the President of Argentina, who spoke against the United States decision. So, that is a growing trend in Latin America as well. We see several new governments; new presidents have been elected who are certainly not puppets of the West. In Colombia for the first time in history, there is a center-left president. And soon by October, it is very possible, even probable, that former President Lula da Silva will be reelected as president in Brazil. So, quite apart from the Ukraine issue, that is the greater reassertion of non-hegemonistic discourse and policy stances by countries in Latin America and the Global South. I would say, therefore, that Russia should stay in the United Nations, regarding United Nations as the main intergovernmental institutional arena and strategize, and rebuild the relationships in keeping with the emerging new trends in the world.

Under modern conditions will the list of countries possessing nuclear weapons to expand in the future?

This is a crucial question, which there is no easy answer to because as I've been saying in this conversation all the old equations are being wiped out by the greater aggressiveness on the part of the Collective West.

There is a third Cold War, which has been launched. And countries will assess these global and regional situations in accordance with down domestic perceptions of their international interests. And then they opt for attempts to tamp down nuclearization because they see the dangers in the world that are becoming more anarchic, or they may choose to exercise their nuclear option themselves.

 One is hopeful that negotiations with Iran will be fruitful because that will be a good example of a slowdown of the potentiality of nuclear weaponization. So, that's one thing to look at, and now that the United States needs Iran to produce more oil. One might expect that those negotiations would succeed, but that is still not happening. I would say the canary in a coal mine in Iran and the negotiations with Iran. If those are successful, then that could influence other countries.

But it is one of those hinge points in human history where things can go the way of each country deciding to build its own nuclear deterrent with those countries that have the capability or of an understanding as in the 1950s and 1960s that you need greater and greater collective efforts and dialogue to contain the rush towards nuclearization that can result when the world feels insecure, as it does now.

In this regard, is the issue of the risks of nuclear proliferation acute? Is the risk of using nuclear weapons an obsolete method of deterring conflicts on a global scale?  

That is a very good question now in terms of Russia and the United States. Firstly, after World War Two and the start of the Cold War that Russia had a preponderance with the conventional power in the European theater.

And therefore, the West placed great emphasis on nuclear deterrence.  Increasingly, the West is telling itself, that the Russian conventional military preponderance is something that can be overcome. Maybe not numerically, but politically.

This is no longer a fringe phenomenon. Every day the British Ministry of Defense issues a bulletin. If you go by the bulletin, and the pronouncements of the most senior British defense officials, the Minister of the Secretary of State, and the Chief of the Armed Forces, if you go by that, the Russian army should not have been able to take Luhansk, it should be retreating towards Siberia because in their point of view the Russian Army is stumbling. Even before the conflict Ben Wallace said that the unit he served in, the Royal Scots Guards, was the unit in the Crimean War in the 1830s, that beat the Russian army, they will do it all over again.

So, when one is questioning the Russian conventional superiority in Europe itself, then the role of nuclear weapons begins to change from a deterrent to something else, because, if you think that the Russian military is finished and they're using old weapons and using old people and they're losing so many people a day and the Russian military is being ground down in Ukraine, then you really don't need nuclear weapons to deter, though you may need nuclear weapons to give yourself the kind of edge, that you once had in the early 50s, and even entertain thoughts of winnable nuclear war.

One thing is for sure the old architecture will not remain. And deterrence was part of the old architecture. Deterrence was not always the main doctrine as we know. Now it's no longer containment. Now it's rolling back.

Nuclear deterrence was the centerpiece. But it was part of the centerpiece of a much larger matrix. That matrix is crumbling. We should assess what may happen out of the doctrine of deterrence and the practice of deterrence may be modified. And there may be new ideas. Some very risky ideas. But we are at that point in human thought and strategic thought.

Why is the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons still not increasing every year, given that the nuclear nonproliferation regime seems to be easily circumvented?

One of the reasons is that the whole idea of nuclear weaponization has been discredited in terms of public opinion. Another reason is that there is a reliance on the nuclear umbrella.

There are those countries in Asia, which think that due to the adoption of the Indo-Pacific Strategy by the United States, they will be under the American nuclear umbrella, and be beneficiaries of the American nuclear deterrent.

But we are in a transitional period in world history. A period of rupture. Ukraine was a rupture. And in this transitional period, we do not know how the states will be here, whether they will continue to think that they could escape this nonproliferation regime, but they can put their money to better use. They could say that the world is getting more dangerous, but they line up with this nuclear weapon. Or they may think that they need, at least, to build the capacity. The capacity to go nuclear, as they wanted to. So, the point you were making is that though the non-proliferation regime is porous, there hasn't been a proliferation. One hopes it stays that way, but as the new global dynamics, and new polarization accelerates, one does not know, the different ways in which states will behave. And there could be a change in that.

#sri-lanka #npt #TPNW


Imprint:

The interview was conducted by Anastasia Kulikova, an intern at PIR Center on July 7 2022

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