Minsk, Belarus – On May 25, 2023, the government of Belarus and the defense minister of Russia signed a document that permits the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into the country. In March of this year, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, announced their plans to station such weapons in Belarus; the country’s government confirmed the decision later that month. This was a response to years of pressure by the Western powers, a build-up of military presence near its borders, and sanctions imposed on them.
This move will not contradict The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as Moscow will not transfer control of the warheads to Minsk. The Belarusian government stated that it assures the international community that they would not have control over the nuclear weapons stored by Russia. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which the Soviet Union signed, prohibits nuclear powers from transferring nuclear weapons or technology to non-nuclear powers. However, it permits deploying such weapons outside a nation’s borders, provided the original nuclear power retains control over them.
A Russian Ally In Europe
While Belarus has not engaged against Ukrainian forces, they have provided logistic and military support to Russia. The country had also allowed Russian troops to use its territory to invade Ukraine, giving Russia the upper hand during the earlier days of the invasion. In addition, they have vetoed UN resolutions condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine and threatened to use nuclear weapons against NATO if it were to intervene in the war in Ukraine. All of which have raised tensions between NATO and Belarus.
Moscow has assisted in converting 10 Belarusian aircraft, making them capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads, and will start training the country’s pilots to fly the reconfigured planes in about a month, giving Belarus the capability to go through with its threat to NATO. With the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlan Tsikhanouskaya exiled and no apparent strong moves against these decisions, Belarus remains a Russian European ally.
The Western Powers Respond
In response to the announcement, the US State Department criticized the decision as an example of “irresponsible behavior.” In addition, it reiterated previous warnings that using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in the conflict would have “severe consequences.” However, the specifics of these consequences were not detailed. Despite this, Washington has stated it does not intend to alter its strategic nuclear position and has found no indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
Tactical nuclear weapons, designed for battlefield use and generally smaller in yield than strategic nuclear weapons, are the focus of this recent deployment. Russia holds a significant numerical advantage over the United States and NATO regarding these weapons, with the US estimating that Russia possesses around 2,000 functional tactical warheads, compared to the US’s approximately 200, half of which are stationed at bases in Europe.
Not Since The Cold War
The United States has noted that this situation represents the most grave nuclear danger since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 due to Putin’s comments during the Ukraine conflict. This would also be the first time since 1996 that Russia would have nuclear arms based outside its borders. After the Soviet Union Dissolved, Belarus gained control of about 800 nuclear weapons but had to surrender them in exchange for economic assistance from both Russian and Western powers.
Construction of the facility to store the nuclear weapons is scheduled for completion by July 1, 2023. Along with it is the transfer of an Iskander short-range missile system, which can carry both conventional and Nuclear warheads.
While the recent steps by Russia to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus have heightened tensions and concerns, the international community continues to monitor the situation closely. The strategic implications of this move and its potential impacts on global security are still unfolding.
Navigating the New Cold War
The recent announcement of Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a move echoing deep Cold War anxieties, significantly amplifies global tension and raises sobering questions about the future of international security. Despite assurances from Belarus that it will not exercise control over these weapons, the strategic implications could be clearer, thereby stoking apprehension within the international community. The situation exemplifies the necessity for solid diplomacy and concerted efforts toward de-escalation in an increasingly volatile global landscape. With the world watching, examining this decision’s potential impacts on international relations and overall stability is paramount. The construction of a new facility, and the impending transfer of an Iskander short-range missile system, signify significant developments in this saga. The following steps taken by the key players will prove critical in defining this new age of geopolitical maneuvering and power dynamics, marking an important crossroads in our collective pursuit of enduring peace and stability.
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