Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The New Nuclear Danger

Since the end of the Cold War, the risk of nuclear-armed superpowers triggering Armageddon has been substantially reduced. But it has been replaced by the increasing threat of smaller countries, usually ruled by unstable or dictatorial regimes, pursuing nuclear weapons to shore up their own safety and geopolitical interests.

BERLIN – As someone who was born in 1948, the risk of a nuclear World War III was a very real part of my childhood. That threat – or at least the threat of East and West Germany both being completely destroyed – persisted until the end of Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since then, the risk of nuclear-armed superpowers triggering Armageddon has been substantially reduced, even if it has not disappeared entirely. Today, the bigger danger is that an increasing number of smaller countries ruled by unstable or dictatorial regimes will try to acquire nuclear weapons. By becoming a nuclear power, such regimes can ensure their own survival, promote their local or regional geopolitical interests, and even pursue an expansionist agenda.

In this new environment, the “rationality of deterrence” maintained by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War has eroded. Now, if nuclear proliferation increases, the threshold for using nuclear weapons will likely fall.

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