Nuclear proliferation is not inevitable

Nuclear proliferation is not inevitable

Plus: China agrees to restructure Cuba’s debt, Peruvian lawmakers launch yet another impeachment attempt, and protests over a port in India turn violent

Hi there Intriguer. Imagine being FIFA – you controversially choose Qatar to host the World Cup, but then your event isn’t even the best international competition in Qatar this month! We’re referring, of course, to the Qatar Camel Club’s prestigious camel pageant being held at the same time as the football spectacular. One UAE newspaper described the participants as having “heads held high and chewing constantly”… no word on the camels, though.

Today’s briefing is a ~4.7 min read:

  • 💣 Nuclear proliferation: What lessons are leaders learning from Putin’s war?
  • ➕ Plus: China agrees to restructure Cuba’s debt, Peruvian lawmakers launch yet another impeachment attempt, and protests turn violent over a port in India.

🎥 Interested in what’s going on with the China protests? Intrigue co-founder John Fowler and fellow ex-diplomat friend Dmitry Grozoubinski will try to sort the facts from the wishful thinking in this week’s Intrigue, Explained on YouTube today at 7PM (Geneva time).


Nuclear proliferation is not inevitable

In brief:

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the power that nuclear states can wield over non-nuclear states.
  • But Ukraine’s battlefield victories, coupled with the high costs of building a bomb, may dissuade non-nuclear states from nuclear development.

Time to relearn old lessons? Via Giphy

What’s in a word?

Latvians call them ‘Atomierocis’; Czechs call them ‘jaderná zbraň’; and the Maori people of New Zealand call them ‘patu karihi’.

Whatever your word for ‘nuclear weapons,’ you’ve probably heard more about them than you’ve wanted to since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this February.

But the invasion – and Russian President Putin’s repeated nuclear threats – aren’t the only things non-proliferation analysts are worried about:

That’s why US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned over the weekend that the Russo-Ukraine War could drive a “dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation.” 

Not so fast

But some experts don’t share Secretary Austin’s concerns. Here’s why:

1. 💰 They’re expensive

Nuclear weapons aren’t cheap to build. Iran, for example, has spent billions conducting research, building reactors and centrifuge centres, and performing ballistic missile tests.

But worse still, Iran’s nuclear program has carried an economic opportunity cost of $500B due to sanctions.

  • For globally-integrated economies like the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan, the economic costs of nuclear production almost certainly outweigh the benefits.

2. ☂️ The nuclear umbrella

Some former Soviet states along the frontline between NATO and Russia are likely pondering the value of building a nuclear deterrent.

  • However, given NATO’s security guarantees and the 4,000+ warheads in its arsenal, domestic production in Estonia or Poland, for instance, would be redundant.

Other potential candidates like Japan and South Korea remain under an American nuclear umbrella, too, though confidence in US security guarantees has wavered in recent years,

  • Still, Japan and South Korea know that the US would likely punish their acquisition of the bomb and may even feel reassured by America’s response to Russia’s invasion.

3. 💣 They’re hard to use

Most experts think Putin’s nuclear threats are just bluster, for a few reasons. First, nuclear weapons may not actually help Russia realise its war aims.

  • Using a single tactical nuclear weapon on an advancing Ukrainian platoon would be no more effective than a conventional artillery onslaught.

Second, using nuclear weapons would carry severe consequences. According to arms control experts ​​William Alberque:

“… if the intent is to break Ukraine’s will or the West’s resolve, any such strikes would fail utterly. Breaking the 77-year taboo on nuclear use in war would only galvanise Ukraine and the West’s support for it while rallying more countries to the cause.”

The lesson of Ukraine

Ukraine became independent in 1991 and gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons a year later. Many leaders will interpret Putin’s invasion as what happens to a country when it gives up or doesn’t pursue a domestic nuclear weapons program.

On the other hand, the expense of a viable nuclear program, its reputational costs, and the battlefield impracticability of nuclear weapons suggest we won’t see smaller countries rushing to build a bomb.


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The Americas

🇨🇺 Cuba

China has agreed to restructure Cuba’s debt and extend a new line of trade and investment credit to Havana.

  • The two communist countries have close economic and political ties, but bilateral trade has recently declined due to Cuba’s poor economic performance.

🇲🇽 Mexico

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador led hundreds of thousands of people in a massive pro-government march last Sunday.

  • The rally was a response to an opposition protest organised two weeks prior.

🇵🇪 Peru

Peruvian lawmakers are attempting to impeach President Pedro Castillo for the third time since he took office last year. Third time’s the charm?

  • Opposition figures accuse Castillo of “permanent moral incapacity.” Ooft.

🌎 Regional

The new head of the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean is warning that the region’s economic growth trajectory is worse than the 1980s, which some experts call the ‘lost decade.’

  • Between 2014-2023, experts expect Latin America to grow by an annual average of just 0.8%, compared to 2% from 1980-89.

🇺🇸 The US

French President Emmanuel Macron flew to Washington on Wednesday for the first state visit by a foreign leader since President Biden’s inauguration.

  • As professor Charles Kupchan commented: “it’s notable that the country getting the first nod is France, not Germany or Britain”. (Perhaps because of the AUKUS debacle?)

A port in southern India has become a flashpoint

Hindu supporters of the Vizhinjam Port project march in defiance of police orders on Wednesday. Credits: Reuters/Munsif Vengattil

The news: Protests over the construction of a port in the coastal Indian village of Vizhinjam turned violent over the weekend, when protestors stormed a nearby police station, injuring 36 officers.

  • Local villagers have built a 100 square-metre shelter on top of the site, which has grounded construction to a halt for nearly four months.
  • The government has reinforced the police presence, and a court in the state of Kerala ordered that protestors allow construction to restart.

What gives: The Catholic fishermen leading the protests argue that the port will further erode the coastline and possibly cost them their livelihoods.

  • Some allege that erosion has already cost them their homes and has forced them to live in makeshift shelters.

Port power: The third-wealthiest man in the world, Gautam Adani, owns the company that’s co-building the $900M port with the Indian government. When (or if) completed, the Vizhinjam Port could rival Dubai and Singapore for maritime traffic.

  • Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd insist that environmental standards have been followed and blame climate change for coastal erosion.

The intrigue: The protests have enflamed India’s already-agitated religious and political environment.

  • On Wednesday, thousands of President Narendra Modi’s Hindu supporters marched against the Christian community in Vizhinjam, despite efforts by state police to halt the demonstration.

Tous saluent la baguette!

We don’t often embed tweets, but when we do, they’re hilarious.

What’s going on, you may rightly ask. Well, UNESCO officially designated the French baguette part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The French diplomats were… pleased.

Other entrants to the list this year include “manual bell ringing” for Spain, and “bear festivities in the Pyrenees” for Andorra-France. Check out the list from years past here.

PS. 🎉 Australia qualified for the next round of the World Cup!! Cue up ‘The Horses‘.– JF & HZ 

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