Is Vladimir Putin Planning to Put Nuclear Weapons in Space?

Elsewhere around the region, people gathered to watch, expecting to see a small burst of light, maybe something like a shooting star.

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Credit: iStock/@3DSculptor

THE RISK OF PUTTING NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN SPACE

Incredible yet frightening at the same time that according to US intelligence President Vladimir Putin is planning to put nuclear weapons in space. But then it was not the first time. In 1962 the US had done it in the tiny Johnstone Atoll in the middle of the Pacific.      

Elsewhere around the region, people gathered to watch, expecting to see a small burst of light, maybe something like a shooting star. Instead, the entire sky lit up, bringing daylight to the middle of the night.  A giant ball of plasma erupted above them, particles of radiation raining down on the atmosphere. ‘It looked as though the heavens had belched forth a new sun that flared briefly, but long enough to set the sky on fire,’ said one account in the Hilo Tribune-Herald. The bomb was launched from Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific. This was Starfish Prime, a 1.4 megaton bomb, 500 times as powerful as Hiroshima. It aimed to examine how a nuclear bomb in space would affect Earth’s atmosphere.

One could compare the decision of US President Harry Truman to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, albeit no evidence is still available that though the main enemy of World War II was Germany, Truman decided to bomb Japanese cities, which were not the main theater of the War. Decidedly the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the destruction that followed forced President Franklin Roosevelt to declare war on Japan. One could construct a scenario that Japan was destroyed because it was an Asian country and not a part of Europe when Churchill, Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt were engaged in the Yalta Conference busy dividing the defeated Germany and constructing the edifice of the Nuremberg Trial.

YALTA CONFERENCE AND THE DIVISION OF GERMANY

The participants had no qualms about Stalin’s demand to cede East Germany as a part of the Soviet Union.  The world has changed as has science. It is now believed that “space is already radioactive. Astronauts, animals, and plants in space are all subjected to cosmic radiation. This could come from distant stars or weird phenomena like quasars, but the biggest, most dangerous source, is the Sun. However, the protective cocoon of the atmosphere – specifically the magnetosphere – stops this radiation from reaching life on Earth. Instead, the radiation jiggles molecules in the atmosphere and creates one of nature’s most awesome spectacles, aurora – seen as the Northern Lights across Europe, Russia, and the US. But even if the radiation could not reach Earth’s surface, nuclear bombs in space could still have catastrophic consequences on the ground.

The assumed aim of a Russian nuclear weapon is to destroy satellites. How this may be achieved is not known. The bomb could target one particular satellite and consider its mission accomplished.  However, the damage from a nuclear bomb is not easy to contain. The US wanted to nuke during the height of the Cold War, but also the space race, the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a fierce battle of one-upmanship. Thankfully, both were shelved on account of the risks outweighing the benefits, especially in the case of a failed launch.    Russia is a vital part of the ISS program, and agreed to stay in the partnership until at least 2028, suggesting Russian cosmonauts will also remain on board, and should expect their country to keep the spacecraft safe. There is one more potential issue from a nuclear weapon in space, a global one.  The most powerful blasts of solar radiation can knock out communications on Earth.

Could a nuke do the same? In 1859, Earth was hit by the biggest solar storm ever recorded. Known as the Carrington Event, it was so powerful it gave telegraph operators electric shocks. Technology has moved on a fair bit since then, so it isn’t hard to imagine the damage that could be done by a similar-sized or even bigger blast of radiation.   The most powerful blasts of solar radiation can knock out communications on Earth. Could a nuke do the same?

In 1859, Earth was hit by the biggest solar storm ever recorded. Technology has moved on a fair bit since then, so it isn’t hard to imagine the damage that could be done by a similar-sized or even bigger blast of radiation. And like the radiation cloud crippling passing satellites, communications blackouts caused by nuclear fallout in the atmosphere would be impossible to contain or target. Whoever set off the bomb could end up in the dark too.

DONALD TRUMP’S THREAT OF A NUCLEAR ARMS DEBATE

Donald Trump’s threats spark a new nuclear arms debate in Germany.  Two years after its about-turn on defense policy in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany is starting to rethink another national taboo: nuclear weapons. Previously reluctant to engage in foreign military commitments following World War Two, Germany changed course after Russia’s 2022 invasion, becoming one of the biggest contributors of weapons to Ukraine.

Now German officials are openly raising the question of nuclear weapons, prompted by recent comments about NATO from Donald Trump, a likely contender in this year’s US presidential vote. Trump’s suggestion that the United States should abandon any NATO ally that did not meet the alliance’s defense spending target has shaken officials in Berlin, which has long looked to Washington for protection. Already, the war in Ukraine has pushed others towards reconsidering the need for Germany to have a nuclear deterrent — even an indirect one.”

CONCLUSION

On 14th February 2024 Deputy Secretary General at the European Parliament spoke of NATO-EU partnership being crucial to European security. He underlined the importance of NATO-EU cooperation to address the security situation in the Black Sea, Western Balkans, and Eastern Europe, and tackle other shared challenges like disinformation, cyber security, and military issues. He said that said that the outcome of the war in Ukraine would shape the future of European security for decades to come.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has implemented the largest reinforcement of its collective defense in a generation, including by strengthening its deterrence and defense, increasing defense spending, and supporting the defense industry. NATO has enhanced its partnerships, alongside the EU, with Georgia and Moldova, which face unrelenting pressure from Russia. NATO also works closely with the EU on the ground in the Western Balkans   in Kosovo and by supporting the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina to maintain a safe and secure environment for all. In short no one will gain from playing the nuclear game. The stakes are too high and the world has become too complicated.  

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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