By the time it ended in 1991, the Cold War had not only established the current political system but also caused a change in the very nature of war. It is important to remember that the Cold War was also considered a “long period of peace.”
The battlefield in this war – fought between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the leading actors in the global politics during that time – ensured that the “long period of peace” was undoubtedly framed by the existing nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers.
For example, the atomic bombs, namely “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” that were dropped in 1945 by order of the American president changed the nature of warfare and our world forever. Its effects have even persisted into the modern-day. After the U.S. used this powerful weapon, other countries also engaged in an arms race.
The commonly-known “nuclear deterrence theory” emerged, and during the Cold War period, “deterrence” became one of the main strategic foreign policy instruments used by competing states. It was based on the existence of a bipolar political world and was widely studied by contemporary scholars at that time.
During the period of intense nuclear anxiety, the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed numerous early warning and defense systems. The leading politicians of the two countries built their politics around the concept of fear and the potential threat of total destruction.
In terms of national security, the leading nations in this system were always on alert. The main strategy ensuring the emergence of such early warning systems was known as “momentary extended deterrence.”
When such a large-scale weapon like an atomic bomb was used for the first and last time, the fear of it being used at any time or in any place gradually increased its deterrent effect. The classic theories and practices of war changed once more with the invention of nuclear weapons.
Even states such as Pakistan and India keep nuclear weapons in their arsenals as elements of deterrence, although these missiles were never fully tested. It is not known whether they are actually functional or how effective they are. It is also argued that their existence is one of the main reasons why hostilities between the two neighboring countries do not escalate to the point of conflict.
Atomic bombs, which were used only once, became the basis of all oral and written strategies during the Cold War – the extended deterrence one country developed with long-term plans regarding the security of other countries.
Thinking, planning and strategy all changed as a consequence. For this reason, the U.S. advertised its atomic arsenal around the world, possibly even presenting it as more powerful than it really was.
The period of nuclear detente in 1987 came about as there was a widely shared wish to end the ever-increasing international security problem. Yet, naturally, the true reason for softening the hard line between the East and the West was the ballistic missiles aimed at the two key states on each side and their allies.
In this way, official negotiations concerning intermediate-range nuclear weapons started between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1981 in Geneva.
The basis of these talks was to calm the tensions over the Soviet Union's development of cruise missiles that could hit a large area of Europe and America's stationing of missiles on the continent that could quickly reach Moscow.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty, dubbed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, on Dec. 8, 1987, in Washington. After the treaty, both countries disposed of 2,600 missiles in total.
Reflections on today
In October 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Russia for breaching the treaty in an official statement.
When the U.S. withdrew from the INF Treaty on Aug. 2, 2019, which Russia then did too, a new era began. While Washington claimed that Moscow should destroy all of its “Novator 9M729” cruise missiles, their launch pads and related equipment, Russia claimed in response that these missiles were not against the terms of the treaty.
Both nuclear and conventional missiles were destroyed under the INF Treaty, but it did not stipulate any limits regarding missiles launched from the sea or from the air. In our era, precision-guided munitions have become more practical than tactical nuclear weapons.
This is considered one of the main reasons why Russia violated the INF Treaty – specifically that the U.S. was aware of this strategic benefit and had stationed such systems on sea platforms.
Russia's naval forces are not as powerful as those of the U.S. so it is trying to make up for this deficiency with intermediate-range cruise missiles. There is also a constant geopolitical threat from Eastern Europe toward Russia.
Another vital element of the INF Treaty was the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), an agreement aimed at reducing the number of ballistic missiles and heavy munitions to 1,600. It became effective in July 1991.
In 1993, START II, which placed two-thirds of nuclear weapons out of use, was signed in Moscow. The last agreement in the international arena limiting the production and use of nuclear warheads was START III, also known as New START.
It was signed between former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8, 2010, and its terms will end in January 2021.
The U.S. wishes to take the missiles developed by Russia in recent years into the scope of the agreement and they also wish to include China – which is rising in power and influence – into the deal. This brings along a number of serious issues.
Most recently, on Oct. 5, Trump's arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met in Helsinki for talks on an extension of the New START. In the talks, negotiators repeated that China must be included in the agreement.
According to some analysts, Washington wants to use Beijing as an excuse not to extend the deal. Trump's insistence on China suggests that the administration is not serious about reaching an accord.
China's current nuclear power is already incomparably low compared to its status as a superpower. The agreement currently allows the two sides to have a maximum of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads. Although China's nuclear inventory is growing rapidly, it is still much smaller than that of Russia and the U.S.
Currently, in total, Russia has 6,375, the U.S. has 5,800 and China has 320 nuclear warheads, including those that have not been deployed, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) documents.
This is why China wants to gradually develop its nuclear power, so it can be used as a deterrent against the threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as biochemical weapons, that could be directed against it.
And yet mutual demands and the possibility that China does not want to take part in the deal are endangering the successful extension of the agreement.
While a lot of countries sped up the arms race after the INF Treaty dissolved, if START III is not extended, there will be no limits on nuclear weapons left, and the world will once again face the threat of nuclear war.
In terms of nuclear tensions, it is forecast that the world will evolve from a unipolar structure into a multipolar structure including Russia and China.
A number of experts have argued that these new tensions may begin in the South China Sea, and that in this case, the commercial and economic ties between the U.S. and China would completely break down.
While a new conflict front called the “trade wars” has begun to form, it is most probable that a crisis will be seen in the global economy.
While states are being swept back into nuclear uncertainty, artificial intelligence (AI), which is another area of struggle, is now becoming one of the most deeply analyzed issues. Research that is attempting to reveal the true capacity of AI has gained momentum in recent years, but the concept itself is not new.
The U.S. started to work on AI shortly after World War II. In an article written for the Mind magazine in 1950, British computer scientist Alan Turing asked the question: “Can machines really think?”
States that wished to govern the world by increasing their capacity during the Cold War of the 1950s now want to use AI for this aim. There are many unique and ground-breaking articles mentioned every year in annual AI reports, especially by the U.S. and China, who are leaders in the field.
These articles are about using AI’s full capacity to dominate the world and to be always prepared against electronic warfare and cyberattacks.
The perception of what constitutes a threat, however, has changed since 9/11 – to go along with recent developments in Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Middle East – which is refreshing interest in classical deterrence theory.
For this reason, it is worth paying attention to the idea that AI as a major factor in deterrence is unmistakably written into these AI reports. It is widely known that a struggle to achieve dominance in AI is already underway between Silicon Valley in the U.S. and China. The country winning this struggle will become a superpower in the new world order.
For this reason, one could ask the question as to whether there will be cooperation or competition between the old deterrent power (nuclear weapons) and the new deterrent power (AI).
During the Cold War, an incorrect signal from the early warning systems of either the Soviet or American side could have sent the world down an irreversible path to nuclear war.
The fact that AI cannot be used to its full capacity today does not allow it to become the foundation of nuclear deterrence. AI algorithms can be integrated into early warning systems, but many experts say the trust invested in these algorithms is more than it should be.
As new technologies bring along new ways of strategic competition, the decision-makers and leaders of states need much more technical knowledge than they currently tend to have. This need arises from a basic misunderstanding of technical issues. With the rise of AI, nuclear weapons and the changing perception of war, the “new Cold War” includes the 21st century.
The course of the Cold War between the weakening superpower, the U.S., the regional power, Russia, a rising China and a number of recently developing countries, including Turkey, emphasizes the importance of national and international security. And with current geopolitical developments, this course is looking bleaker and bleaker.
*Editor at A News International in Istanbul. MA student in War Studies at the Turkish National Defense University in Istanbul