By Ajey Lele
No war can be justified, be it a small war or a big war. But, it appears that in today’s world, what matters more is a perception, then the actual outcome of a war. It is known that the war is a chaotic situation with high uncertainty. The first victim of war is truth.
Exactly, two decades back on March 20, 2003, the United States (US) invaded Iraq under the pretext of disarming it from weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), a claim that was later discredited. However, the image created by the US and its allies was such that: they were trying to eradicate the biggest evil from the surface of the earth! Many in the world believed them and today even after two decades, Iraq continues to remain a problem with no solution insight. This war is known to have caused the deaths of more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians and around 5000 soldiers from the US and allied forces lost their lives. There was a significant financial cost of the war, possibly in trillions of dollars. Conversely, without getting into the merit of the rationale behind the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it could be safe to say that the western powers have managed the global perception so well that, in spite the US attacking the Iraq for wrong reasons there was not much dent to the US image globally, but same is not the case with Russia.
Recently, the US also successfully ‘developed’ an opinion that Russia is going to use nuclear weapons in this ongoing war. At the same time, Russia has also been partially responsible for increasing the nuclear chatter. Today, after the completion of the one year of the war, one more area of dispute is emerging, which is challenging the set global norms on warfare. The United Kingdom (UK)is planning to supply the shells with depleted uranium to Ukraine. As per the Russian President Vladimir Putin, such weapons come with a ‘nuclear component’ and they should not be used in the war. He has threatened to “respond accordingly” if the UK supplies to the Ukraine military shells and armor-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium. The UK defence minister has claimed that alongside a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, they also would be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds, which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.
As per experts, depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enrichment process and is around 60% as radioactive as natural uranium. However, the UK is of the opinion that such weapons do not come with any drawbacks like causing any environmental and health disasters. The UK knows that the US will support their move, since such munitions were fired by the US during the Gulf and Iraq wars. The UK is claiming that Russia is unnecessarily trying to raise the nuclear bogy.
It is known that the depleted uranium is considerably less radioactive than natural uranium. However, this does not mean that there are no ‘aftereffects’ of such weapons. The United Nations Environment Programme describes depleted uranium as a chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal.The research carried out in regards to the radiation exposure indicates that depleted uranium is responsible for long-term damage to human health and also to all other species.
A report by the United Nations Environment Programme indicates that the total amount of depleted uranium fired during the 1991 Gulf War was about 300 metric tons, and the US share to this was for the bulk of it and also there was some contribution by the UK, too.
As per the World Health Organization’s (WHO) scientific review (2001), there could be issues with kidney functions and in some cases there are chances of people getting lung cancer, when impacted with even a small dose of depleted uranium. However, the majority of research on this subject appears to have got caught in the aspects related to the so called ‘politics of research’. Most of the research supported by the US concludes that there are no such dangers, while the other research has a different take on this subject. The empirical evidence (actual cases in Iraq) suggests that exposure to depleted uranium and adverse health outcomes among the Iraqi population is a reality.
Over the years, the western powers have somewhat succeeded in pushing an idea that weapons created with depleted uranium are not that bad for health. Today, when the international court has issued a war crimes warrant for Putin, it would be of interest to see how President Putin succeeds in countering the UK claim that the depleted uranium based weapons are ‘just’ weapons! In this game of perceptions, could Putin successfully argue that actually what the UK is planning to do, should be viewed as a war crime?
The author is Consultant, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.
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