Seventy years after the Cold War’s end, Americans and Westerners at large seem to find themselves traveling back in time as nuclear threat rises with Russia — again.
This urgent situation has invited much debate as to whether nuclear weapons should be banned altogether. In a BBC interview on November 4, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned of “colossal danger” in current Russian and Western political dynamics, namely the threat of nuclear warfare.
Adamant in his beliefs that took root even before the fall of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev stressed that “nuclear weapons must be destroyed. This is to save ourselves and our planet.”
The question now is whether the general public agrees with Gorbachev’s conclusion. A recent survey by YouGov and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists found that one in three Americans would still be in favor of a nuclear strike. And according to the Arms Control Association, 90% of the 14,000 nuclear weapons today belong to the United States and Russia.
However unsettling those numbers may be, it is noteworthy that the international nuclear stockpile — numbering 70,300 at its peak in 1986 — has plummeted after the Cold War, following a pair of nuclear arms reduction treaties signed between President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev in the 80s and 90s.
The early anti-nuclear convictions of Gorbachev were cemented in the aftermath of visitation in his home country and Japan that have continued throughout his political career.
“Why did the Americans [drop a nuclear bomb]?” Gorbachev inquired to his interviewer, and answered, “As a warning to everyone — ‘obey us, or we’ll drop a little bomb on you like we did in Japan.”
This policy of deliberate intimidation cannot, as Gorbachev insists, continue in today’s climate, where the destructive potential of weapons has only increased. In the center of these controversies is Russian President Vladmir Putin, whose hot-and-cold relations with the US has fostered an atmosphere of fear.
An ardent critic of Putin, Gorbachev conceded that Putin had “inherited such chaos” so his ability to weather Russia through economic storm explains his high public approval rates.
Further inquired about his opinion on other political developments like Brexit, Gorbachev had concluded that while he could give advice, it was ultimately the people’s decision.
The possibility of a reinvigorated Cold War is still murky. As Gorbachev wryly comments, relations between Russia and the West are “chilly” at best for now.