When Nuclear Weapons Fall Into the Wrong Hands

Unstable regimes with nuclear missile capabilities such as Russia and North Korea are increasingly showing willingness to use their nukes. Here is why this is a big deal.


Nuclear weapons have been an existential threat to world peace since the Cold War. Their mere existence threatens the stability and security in countries around the world. This is true even when nuclear weapons are in the hands of relatively secure world powers like the United Kingdom, The United States, and France. Unfortunately, the country with the most nuclear weapons, Russia, has recently demonstrated its instability and willingness to use its nuclear weapons to advance its agenda.

The White House has announced recently that it has reason to believe Russia is willing to use chemical weapons in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. There have also been reports that Russia has been using illegal weapons in Ukraine such as vacuum bombs and cluster munitions. If Putin is willing to shirk international laws to get what he wants, there is a very real possibility that he will do the same with laws regarding nuclear missiles.

According to the UN’s Office of Disarmament Affairs, the UN has worked extensively towards the de-escalation of nuclear proliferation. The United States and the Russian Federation are currently involved in several treaties regarding nuclear disarmament, including the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, seeing as how Russian forces have been attacking Ukrainian nuclear power plants, treaties like these are unlikely to sway Moscow into disarming their nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the Russian Federation is not the only unstable regime to have nuclear weapon capabilities. Recently, North Korea has been testing long-range ICBM missiles against the wishes of South Korea and the United States. Iran has also been stockpiling enriched uranium and is nearing enough to create nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapon proliferation has long been an issue with these countries, and many summits have been convened to discuss what to do with them. However, since Russia has the most nuclear weapons in the world at about 5,977 nuclear-capable missiles, the ramifications are far more serious now than ever before.

Much of the fear that comes from the prospect of Russia starting a nuclear war is the fact that we do not yet know the scale of destruction that would result from it. The only instances in all of human history where nuclear weapons were used on civilians were the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Unfortunately, these bombings, despite killing hundreds of thousands of people instantly, pale in comparison to modern nuclear weapons. It is possible that if multiple modern day nuclear weapons hit several major cities, millions of people would be killed in a split second.

The possible devastation that would result from Putin deciding to use nuclear weapons on a major city would be unprecedented. Nuclear weapons don’t just kill a lot of people at once; they do so in seconds. The worst part comes soon after the detonation of a nuclear weapon, when radioactive fallout spreads across the affected region. This radioactive fallout can linger for up to 5 years, creating environmental and health hazards for any survivors.

As Russia continues its advance into Ukraine, it is currently threatening to attack any country that sends military aid to Ukraine. These threats can range from ground attacks to the launching of nuclear weapons. Since Putin has shown immense disregard for international law through the use of illegal weapons and the shelling of nuclear plants, it is not beyond him to use nuclear weapons to further his agenda. All that we know now is that Putin is irrational and unpredictable. He is willing to devastate world economies (including his own) to get what he wants. It is horrifying to think of what he is capable of and willing to do to achieve dominance.

Matthew Kovacev
Matthew Kovacev
Student at George Mason University majoring in Public Administration with a concentration in Public Policy.