Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

Why Africa must be concerned about nuclear threats in Europe

A pro-Russian demonstration in Mali illustrates Moscow’s growing influence in Africa.

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Russia’s threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin, in response to Finland’s membership in NATO has, once again, brought the threat of nuclear war to the fore.

Recently, as Cold War II tensions continue to rise, threats of nuclear weapons deployment are being used as political statements rather than real military threats, the high stakes in the Ukraine war make current threats worth paying attention to.

Although Africa has no known nuclear weapon deployed on its soil, this possible deployment and the talk of it should be of immense concern to states on the continent and regional bodies.

Tactical nuclear devices are far less destructive than intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the 1950s and 1960s, the US and the Soviet Union produced the former for limited battlefield use, which might not lead to MAD – mutually assured destruction.

In the post-Cold War era, the only successful nuclear weapons program in Africa was by South Africa. However, it was dismantled before Apartheid officially ended.

What has changed?

Africa has increasingly attracted the attention of the Great Powers and has become a focal point for the world’s nuclear-armed states. The US, China, France, the UK, and the Russian Federation are all players in this competition.

All of these countries have a military presence on the African continent. Some, like Russia, employ mercenary groups, including the infamous Wagner Group, to protect their political, economic, and military interests in Africa. 

As a result, Africa is not immune to conflict escalations in Europe and the former Soviet Union, particularly if tactical nuclear weapons are used on the battlefield as medium-range systems could reach some African states.

The many nations of the African continent may not be targets on their own, but foreign military interests could drag some countries into a wider conflict. As was the case during the First Cold War, the potential for African nations to be used as battlegrounds remains high.

What’s the way forward?

For as long as Africa remains an important part of the global system, and whose importance has attracted the attention of Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, African leaders cannot sit on the fence if the threat of nuclear war remains a real, and frightening, option. African states must condemn such moves.

Showing concern and making their positions known goes a long way to influencing outcomes in global politics. For a  continent that has no nuclear weapons of its own, it must not take such threats lightly.

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An international relations and security expert who previously served as a special assistant to the Vice President of Ghana and a research assistant to the office of the President. He is currently a senior analyst for the Conflict Research Consortium for Africa.

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