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How close are we to nuclear war?

Rishi Sunak has warned about the future of the world amid threats from Russia (Picture: AP / Shutterstock / Getty)

Rishi Sunak warned that the world is closer to a dangerous nuclear escalation ‘than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis’.

From Russia’s new offensive in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, to Israel’s assault on Palestine and China contemplating on following the Kremlin’s example in Taiwan, the danger of nuclear war is as immediate as ever.

In a speech on Monday, the prime minister prepared the nation for what it should expect.

Refusing to set a date for a general election, he said: ‘More will change in the next five years than the last 30.

‘I’m convinced that the next few years will be some of the most dangerous yet the most transformational that our country has ever known.’

The PM warned that ‘the dangers that threaten our country are real’ and ‘they are increasing in number’ amid wars in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Taking aim at Vladimir Putin, Sunak accused the president of ‘recklessness’ that is pushing the world closer to a nuclear escalation.

Will the UK go to war with Russia?

Russia’s war in Ukraine is fast approaching its 700th day, with its two-year anniversary taking place on 24 February.

While Ukraine’s army regained some territory in recent counteroffensives, the situation on the ground has remained much the same since Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Ukrainian forces have fought against Russia for almost two years. (Credits: REUTERS)

The Russian President plans to boost his country’s military with an additional 170,000 troops, according to reports – signalling Russia’s commitment to step up the conflict.

A leaked document from the German Ministry of Defence earlier this week laid out Russia’s plan to launch a spring offensive in Ukraine in February.

The report also warned that Russia could launch covert attacks on NATO territory as early as July this year.

What is Nato?

‘NATO’ stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The group was formed in 1949 and now has 31 members from Europe and North America.

Each member country has pledged to protect each other if attacked.

The current members are: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Sweden has submitted an application to join NATO.

There are already signs that Russia is prepared to breach NATO borders. In December, a Russian drone crater was discovered in a Romanian village.

A Russian assault on a NATO member could trigger Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which means the country under attack would be entitled to help from other countries in the alliance.

The treaty says that member states would be required to take ‘such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force’.

There have been warnings that Putin could attack a NATO member (Picture: Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In this situation, the UK and other NATO members would not be obliged to declare war on Russia – although it remains a possibility.

It’s likely that the UK would at least deploy troops, alongside other NATO countries, in such a scenario.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, which is why the UK did not go to war with Russia following the 2022 invasion.

The UK has pledged almost £12 billion in support to Ukraine, as well as supplying tanks and strike missiles and providing training to Ukrainian troops.

31 countries at signed up as NATO members (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently warned that ‘if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there’.

‘That is why Ukraine’s security is our security,’ he added.

Elsewhere, fears of a war with Russia are growing.

Sweden’s civil defence minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin in January told citizens to consider joining a ‘voluntary defence organisation’, as he warned that the risk of war was greater than at any time since World War Two.

Donald Trump, who is currently leading the race to become the Republican’s presidential nominee ahead of the US election in November, allegedly said he would not help the European Union if it came under attack.

What’s going on in the Middle East – and could it escalate?

International attention has been fixed on the Middle East since Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, and Israel’s resulting bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

In response, the Houthis – a political militant group who control much of northern Yemen – kicked off a targeted campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The group said they are targeting Israeli-linked vessels in support of the Palestinian people.

Almost two months into the Houthi assaults, the UK and US launched military strikes on rebel targets on January 11.

Logistical hubs, air defence systems and weapons storage locations were hit by airstrikes, according to officials.

Corey Ranslem, CEO of maritime intelligence company Dryad Global, told Metro.co.uk that clashes between the US and the Houthis could continue in the coming weeks.

‘The US has put together the coalition, Prosperity Guardian, to counter the attacks within this region,’ the US Coast Guard veteran said.

‘This operation involves a number of countries and the priority is to provide air cover for commercial vessels operating within this region.’

The US and UK said the strikes were acts of ‘self-defence’ (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

US President Joe Biden warned that the US could retaliate further, saying: ‘We will make sure that we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behaviour along with our allies.’

Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has warned that the US stands ‘on the brink’ of WWIII after three American soldiers were killed in a drone strike in Jordan.

Republican US senators have been piling pressure on Joe Biden in the wake with one calling for ‘devastating retaliation across the Middle East’. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the actions of the Houthi rebels represented the ‘biggest attack on the Royal Navy for decades’.

He added that the UK launched strikes on two Houthi sites in ‘limited, necessary and proportionate self-defence’.

Yemenis recently trained by the Houthi movement hold their guns and chant slogans as they take part in an armed popular parade held in Sanaa’s Al-Sabeen Square (Picture: Getty Images)

The Houthis are fighting a Saudi Arabia-backed military coalition in Yemen’s civil war, which has been ongoing for almost a decade.

The UK, who sees Saudi Arabia as an ally, has supplied weapons to the Saudi-led side for seven years.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opposes Israeli and American power in the Middle East. (Picture: KHAMENEI.IR/AFP via Getty Images)

However, despite its relationship with Saudi Arabia and strikes on Houthi forces, recent statements have made it clear that the UK wants to avoid war in the region.

In a joint statement from the US, the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea said the ‘aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea’.

The Houthis are backed by Iran, who support a number of groups across the Middle East as part of its ‘Axis of Resistance’.

What is Iran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’?

The ‘Axis of Resistance’ is a military alliance made up of Islamist groups.

Iran has built up the network over four decades as a way to oppose Israeli and American power in the Middle East.

Hamas, the Palestinian group who have run Gaza since 2007, is a member of the alliance.

Iran said that it was not informed of Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel on 7 October before it happened, adding that it would not directly intervene in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Other members of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ include the Houthis, the Lebanese rebel group Hezbollah, and several militia groups in Iraq.

Iran launched attacks on Pakistan, Iraq and Syria in January.

The attacks in Pakistan reportedly killed two children.

Pakistan called the attack an ‘illegal act’ and an ‘unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran’, hurling a volley of retaliatory missiles into Iran. Three women and four children were killed, according to officials.

Pakistan said it ‘fully respects’ Iran’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’, but added that it carried out the strikes to ‘protect and defend its national security against all threats’.

Both countries believe the other is harbouring militant groups.

Iran said its strikes on Pakistan were aimed at Jaish al-Adl, a militant group that has carried out attacks in Iran, while Pakistan said it was targeting Baloch separatist groups inside Iran.

Last month, Iran launched a bombardment on Israel in response to Israel’s attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria on April 1, which killed 13 people.

Iran launched 170 explosive drones, 120 ballistic missiles and 30 cruise missiles.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said that 99% of the drones and missiles were intercepted.

US, British and French forces shot down the missiles alongside the IDF.

RAF fighter jets shot down a number of Iranian drones. 

There were no fatalities, but a seven-year-old girl was severely injured.

Iran’s Chief of General Staff Gen Mohammad Bahgeri said that ‘the operation achieved its goal’. 

He said that if Israel takes action against Iran, including on its embassy in Syria, it will strike back with a ‘bigger’ operation.

But Israel responded with a military operation of their own, launching a series of drones and missiles at the Iranian city of Isfahan, the centre of Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, and its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has previously called Israel a ‘cancerous tumour’.

The onslaught followed Israel’s targeting of an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria earlier this month.

Both states have waged a shadow waragainst each other for decades, but the strike over the weekend was the first direct Iranian military attack on Israeli soil.

Is China a threat to the UK?

Tensions between China and Taiwan have mounted in recent years.

Taiwan is an island nation 100 miles off the coast of China. The country has had many different rulers over the course of its history.

Taiwan recently re-elected anti-Chinese president for unprecented third term (Picture: REUTERS)

In the 17th century, it was controlled by the Chinese empire, before it was claimed by Japan in 1895.

When Japan lost World War Two, China regained power.

Today, Taiwan is self-governed, but it is neither officially independent from China nor united with it.

Many Taiwanese people want their country to be recognised as separate from China.

Earlier in January, Taiwanese voters elected Lai Ching-te as their new President.

Lai previously served as vice president of the Democratic Progressive Party, which rejects China’s territorial claims in Taiwan.

Xi Jinping wants Taiwan to be united with China. (Picture: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

China views Lai as a dangerous supporter of Taiwanese independence.

While Lai said that he had an ‘important responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits’, he also cautioned that he is ‘determined to safeguard Taiwan from threats and intimidation from China’.

Only 13 nations recognise Taiwan as a state.

Countries are reluctant to make such a declaration as doing so would threaten diplomatic ties with China.

While it does not recognise Taiwan as a state, the US is one of the country’s key allies. It’s made a legal commitment to provide Taiwan with weapons if it needs to defend itself.

Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Garrison stationed in the Macao Special Administrative Region stage military exercises (Picture: EPA)

The UK government has said it has no plans to recognise Taiwan as an independent state.

However, the relationship between the two countries has strengthened in recent years, with the UK sending its warships on operations through the Taiwan Strait.

Last year, a group of British MPs called on the government to give ‘as much help as possible’ to Taiwan to defend itself against China.

It’s unclear whether China really plans to ever invade Taiwan.

Speaking last year, former foreign secretary James Cleverly said that ‘no country could shield itself from the repercussions of a war in Taiwan’.

Is the UK prepared for war?

The UK spends around £50 billion a year on defence.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Defence announced that 20,000 troops from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air force will be deployed across Europe in the first half of 2024.

It is one of the largest NATO deployments since the Cold War.

Shapps said that ‘we must be prepared to deter our enemies’. (Picture: PA)

Defence secretary Grant Shapps announced that the government will spend around £13 billion on ‘next generation’ Dreadnought submarines, which carry Trident nuclear missiles.

‘If we are to defend our homeland, we must ensure our entire defence eco-system is ready,’ Shapps said.

Rishi Sunak added: ‘In dangerous times, we are investing in defence, hardening our critical infrastructure and building our alliances.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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