War and warming

It is a macabre choice about which is a bigger threat to the planet: nuclear winter or climate heating.

Photos: SUMAN NEPALI (left)/ AMIT MACHAMASI (right)

ISTANBUL — It is hard to imagine that only 200km away from here on Turkey’s Black Sea coast there is a full-scale war going on which has killed 200,000 people in the past two years.

And to the south, the complete destruction of Gaza with unconscionable violence against Palestinian civilians has escalated into a direct Iran-Israel conflict.

In both wars, the protagonists have atomic weapons or are close to developing them. Russia has threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, while Israel and Iran have both targeted locations of each other’s nuclear facilities in this week’s drone and missile attacks.

Although there are indications Iran and Israel are exercising restraint, a slight miscalculation could result in a regional conflagration dragging in the Saudis and Emirates. If that happens, the US could also get involved. 

A bipartisan vote in the US legislature sanctioning $65 billion worth of weapon systems for Ukraine will prolong the war. Hawks on Russian tv talk shows now openly threaten to nuke not just Ukraine but also London and Paris. 

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved its ‘Doomsday Clock’ to 90 seconds before midnight because of what it called ‘ominous trends that continue to point the world toward global catastrophe’. This is the closest the clock has ever been to nuclear Armageddon.

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Besides Russia-Ukraine and Iran-Israel tensions, nuclear nation-states have also proliferated. Aside from the US, Russia, Britain and France, Israel has 90 warheads, India and Pakistan have about 170 each, China has more than 400 and North Korea has 30 with ballistic missiles to deliver them across the Pacific.

Although total warhead stockpiles have declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, there is now a new three-pronged US-Russia-China Cold War, and the number of nuclear weapons states has increased.

The threat of nuclear conflict is real enough for The New York Times to launch a series (titled: At the Brink) to look into the new nuclear arms race and ‘what might be done to make the world safer’. 

It is a macabre choice about which is a bigger threat to the Earth in the coming years: a planet cooked by global warming, or destroyed by all-out war leading to a nuclear winter. Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice comes to mind:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favour fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice. 

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The way we are headed, the world could ‘perish twice’. The two crises are linked, both have their origins in greed, ambition and ultra-nationalism. It is the result of tribalism and the decline of the multilateral approaches needed to address justice, fairness and co-existence. 

The Doomsday Clock was moved to 7 minutes to midnight during the Cuban Missile Crisis. All-out nuclear war was so unthinkable then that most people blocked it from their minds. It is the same now with war and warming.

Here in Nepal, global affairs seem remote to people struggling just to get by from day to day. When news of the war in Ukraine and West Asia does reach the public on mobile devices, it could as well be happening on another planet. 

Yet, we in Nepal will be affected. The Ukraine war led to a spike in fuel and food prices worldwide, and Nepal’s economy is still reeling from it. Hundreds of Nepalis are fighting in the Russian Army, and at least 33 have been killed in action with dozens out of contact.

Ten Nepali students were killed by Hamas in Israel, and one is still missing. A broader war in West Asia, aside from the impact on the world economy, would directly affect the estimated 2 million Nepalis working in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Israel and Lebanon. The country is just not prepared for their sudden mass return.  

A nuclear war between Israel and Iran is not as unthinkable as it sounds. Hardliners in Israel are calling for nuclear hits on Iran’s atomic research facilities before Tehran develops its own bombs. Prevailing winds would blow radioactive fallout from even a tactical nuclear strike to Pakistan, India and over Nepal.

We now live in a global village. War anywhere will affect Nepalis everywhere.

Editorial: New year, same difference, Editorial

Kunda Dixit

This article is brought to you by Nepali Times, in collaboration with INPS Japan and Soka Gakkai International, in consultative status with UN ECOSOC.

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