“Russia would not be a superpower without nuclear weapons”

Dr. Tarja Cronberg, a specialist in nuclear disarmament, is now looking into Russia’s status as a nuclear state.

“I am especially interested in Russia as “the other” in international politics. I want to map out why the country is so different from the other nuclear states and what kind of pressure have superpower relations put on Russia’s domestic nuclear politics”, Tarja Cronberg explains.

Cronberg began her stay as a visiting researcher at Aleksanteri Institute in beginning of January 2023.

In Finland, Cronberg is mainly known as a long-term politician. However, the former Ministry of Labor and Region Mayor of North Karelia used to work as a researcher in Denmark years before she entered politics.

At the time, she wrote two dissertations, one on architecture at Lund University in 1973 and the other at the Institute for Organisational and Industrial Sociology at the Copenhagen School of Economics in 1988.

“My research has always been related to the relationship between society and technology. I am a sociologist of technology who studies how technology is transformed from an idea into practice and how technology is used in the society.”

At first, Cronberg was focused on technology of everyday life but later her interest shifted to arms industry. In the early 1990’s, Cronberg received a grant to research how the leaders of military industries in the US and Russia were transferring their armies’ technological know-how to civilian production.

“Now I am researching an opposite phenomenon: how Russia’s society is being transformed to serve the army.”

Distinctive nuclear politics

There have been different stages in Russia’s nuclear politics. After the cold war, the country took part in disarmament and reduces its weaponry. According to Cronberg, in the 1960’s, Russia also resisted to international agreement that would have given superpowers rights to nuclear weapons.

Today, the country’s superpower status is fueled by nuclear arms.

“Russia would not be a superpower without nuclear weapons”, states Cronberg.

After the international nuclear agreements were signed, there hasn’t been a situation where a country waging a war has threaten to use its nuclear weapons. That is, until now. Tarja Cronberg has thus set out to find out what has led the international community to this point in history.

Cronberg believes that as a department in the juncture of both humanities and social sciences, the Aleksanteri Institute acts as asset in the research work:

“To give an example, The Russian Orthodox Church supports the state’s armament of nuclear weapons. A multidisciplinary perspective brings additional insight to the issue at hand.”

The threat of total destruction

Cronberg has specialized in international nuclear agreements and has been working with nuclear disarmament for the last decade. Some notable assignments in the field include chairing the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iran and working as a Distinguished Associate Fellow at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI.

In 2021 Cronberg published a monography called Renegotiating the Nuclear Order. In the book, she deliberates on how the international community is stuck in a position where there are both agreements on disarmament and agreements on rights to nuclear weapons, and there seems to be no means to get rid of the warheads. 

“The nuclear weapons are an extreme example of human society using technology: the humanity can destroy itself with its own invention. It is interesting to examine to what extent people are ready to accept risks that the technological development brings forth. Or how the humanity is trying to protect itself from total destruction.”

Cronberg does not directly comment on whether Russia’s nuclear threat poses a real risk. She is looking at the situation first and foremost at the level of structures:

“It is extremely problematic that a nuclear threat can be left to be carried out by one man. In the past also, dictators have been feared to use weapons of mass destruction, especially when their political power has been threatened.”

“Now the concern has shifted to the leaders of international superpowers that have massive stockpiles of nuclear warheads on alert and ready to be used. When a man is cornered, it is impossible to predict how he will act out.”