Is Nuclear War Inevitable?

Will Russia use nuclear weapons? What about other nations that have or soon could have nuclear bombs? What does the Bible say about a nuclear apocalypse?

The last time nuclear bombs were used was 1945. Over the years since then, threats of a nuclear apocalypse, perhaps started by accident, have risen and fallen.

But have recent conflicts, the perceived weakening of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and the proliferation of leaders with their fingers on the nuclear button now made nuclear war likely? Is it inevitable?

Will tactical battlefield weapons make what has been unthinkable, thinkable?

And once the nuclear genie is out of the bottle again, what will stop things from spiraling into all-out war, mutually assured destruction and nuclear winter? What can prevent human extinction?

Will Russia use nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

Post–Cold War dreams of resetting the nuclear clock have been dashed by renewed conflicts between superpowers. Russia and the U.S. seem unlikely to revive the arms control treaties of the past. And Russia’s invasion and stalemate in Ukraine have sparked new nuclear threats.

“Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, warned the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) . . . that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war.

“‘The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war,’ Medvedev, who serves as deputy chairman of Putin’s powerful security council, said in a post on Telegram.

“‘Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends,’ said Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012” (“Putin Ally Medvedev Warns NATO of Nuclear War If Russia Defeated in Ukraine,” The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 19, 2023).

Russia is unlikely to use its long-range strategic nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but what about so-called tactical nukes?

Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, director of the Norwegian Intelligence School, wrote in Foreign Affairs:

“If Russia were to consider using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, it would more likely turn to its substrategic nuclear arsenal. These are nuclear weapons mounted on air-, sea-, or land-based platforms that generally travel shorter distances than the strategic arsenal. Their warheads can have a smaller impact, with a yield range that spreads from one to several hundred kilotons. (For reference, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons.) In other words, these weapons can deal limited to significant battlefield damage and potentially level an entire city center . . .

Albert Einstein said, “I am definitely not of the opinion that the danger of war can be eliminated without world government. Without such a concrete safeguard the arms race and, ultimately, world war are inevitable.”“The most perilous moment will be when Ukraine is on the cusp of victory, and Putin feels he can salvage his invasion only through an unprecedented escalation. But another perilous moment will come if Russian military or political leaders decide that a direct military confrontation with NATO is inevitable” (“How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear,” Feb. 6, 2023).

The deterrence strategy of the Cold War was known as mutually assured destruction (MAD), with the assumption that no one would be crazy enough to start a war that would destroy both sides—and likely the whole world.

In his article “Is Nuclear War Inevitable?” Harvard professor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph S. Nye Jr. wrote:

“Nuclear deterrence is based on a usability paradox. If the weapons are totally unusable, they do not deter. But if they are too usable, nuclear war with all its devastation might occur” (Sept. 5, 2022).

With tactical nuclear weapons in the mix, and with more nations and groups seeking nuclear status, does any deterrence strategy make sense today?

China’s nuclear buildup

AP News reported, “China is expanding its nuclear force and is on pace to nearly quadruple the number of warheads it has by 2035, rapidly closing its gap with the United States” (“China to Increase Nuclear Warheads to 1,500, Pentagon Warns,” Nov. 29, 2022).

China’s rapid buildup of both conventional and nuclear weapons sets the stage for increasing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

All eyes are on Taiwan. China sent 1,727 planes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in 2022. These provocative incursions make the island a flash point.

In early 2023, Time reported that U.S. Gen. Mike Minihan warned his troops that he expects war with China: “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”

“‘I hope I am wrong,’ Minihan, who heads the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, wrote in an internal memo, which circulated on social media, to the leadership of its 110,000 members. Chinese President Xi Jinping, he explains, ‘secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025’” (“U.S. General’s Prediction of War With China ‘in 2025’ Risks Turning Worst Fears Into Reality,” Jan. 31, 2023).

Countries with nuclear weapons

Of course, Ukraine and Taiwan are not the only hot spots that could spark nuclear war.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. In total, the global nuclear stockpile is close to 13,000 weapons.”

Tensions between some of these countries (for example, between India and Pakistan or between the U.S. and North Korea) threaten to explode into nuclear conflicts.

And many more countries worry about the dangers of not having nuclear weapons of their own. Will Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries deem it necessary to have their own arsenal of nuclear weapons for protection and to be taken seriously in the nuclear age?

The chaotic U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan led many allies to question their dependence on the United States. Is the U.S. commitment to sharing its nuclear umbrella as strong as it once seemed?

As more nations and even terrorist groups get the bomb, the dangers will increase exponentially.

“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a conference reviewing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in August 2022.

Danger of nuclear accidents

In addition to the dangers of international tensions and unpredictable leaders, the chance of accidental nuclear war seems to make it even more inevitable.

Financial Times reported, “The history of the past 77 years has been littered with accidents and false alarms that could have escalated into a nuclear conflict. At least one former US defence secretary, William Perry, has argued that nuclear war is far more likely to result from a blunder than from a deliberate attack. ‘We have continued to focus our nuclear posture and policies on preparing for a surprise, disarming attack, and those policies actually increase the likelihood of an accidental nuclear war,’ he wrote two years ago” (“300 Nuclear Missiles Are Heading Your Way. You Must Respond. What Now?” Jan. 19, 2023).

Matt Reynolds gave some examples of nuclear accidents in Wired:

“In 1981, the US Department of Defense released a report counting 32 known accidents involving nuclear weapons. In March 1958, a B-47 bomber carrying an unarmed nuclear weapon accidentally jettisoned its bomb over South Carolina. The bomb exploded in someone’s garden, destroying their home and blowing a crater 50 feet in diameter. In that case the bomb didn’t contain nuclear material, but four years later two nuclear bombs that were many times more powerful than the one detonated over Hiroshima accidentally fell from a B-52 bomber flying over Goldsboro, North Carolina. One of those weapons broke apart, and a section containing uranium sank into waterlogged farmland and was never recovered. The other bomb went through all but one of its arming mechanisms—an accidental detonation was only one step away.”

Nuclear Armageddon threat

For most of the time since atomic bombs were unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of nuclear weapons has been deemed unthinkable. Mutually assured destruction has been the deterrent for any use of nuclear weapons.

But with the proliferation of nations with the bomb, the increasing risk of accidental war and the deployment of smaller tactical weapons, nuclear war is again back on the table.

And in our nightmares.

What does the Bible say about nuclear war?

Of course, the writers of the Bible did not mention nuclear weapons. The science and the terminology were developed long after their time. But Bible prophecies of the end times contain descriptions that seem eerily prescient.

Isaiah wrote about a time when “the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate,” with only a 10th of the people surviving (Isaiah 6:11, 13).

And the Bible prophesies other terrifying death tolls to befall sinful people in the end times:

  • “One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword [representing all kinds of weapons of war] all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:12).
  • “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths” (Revelation 9:18).

With increasingly lethal conventional weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological, such death tolls don’t require nuclear weapons. But they certainly do not rule them out. Humanity has a long record of using every weapon in its arsenal.

The elect—God’s chosen ones who play a part in saving this world from complete destruction—are learning the way of peace now.The threat of global nuclear war certainly plays a part in Jesus’ sobering prediction that humanity will be on the brink of self-destruction (Matthew 24:21-22).

But in the same prophecy, Jesus gave the good news that God won’t let the world end that way:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

“And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”

The Contemporary English Version makes verse 22 even clearer: “If God doesn’t make the time shorter, no one will be left alive. But because of God’s chosen ones, he will make the time shorter.”

How to prevent nuclear war

Dedicated people have spent untold hours hammering out treaties to try to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war. But most of the treaties have expired or had limited effectiveness.

What is the solution?

Albert Einstein, whose research revealed the incredible power of the atom, said, “I am definitely not of the opinion that the danger of war can be eliminated without world government. Without such a concrete safeguard the arms race and, ultimately, world war are inevitable.

“To ‘outlaw’ anything is of no value. We know from long experience . . . that without safeguards such obligations, however honestly intended, are not honored in the event of war.”

Einstein also said, “Unless the cause of peace based on law gathers behind it the force and zeal of a religion, it hardly can hope to succeed.”

Yet in the 75 years since, humanity’s best efforts at science, logic, law, government and religion have all failed to bring peace.

The Bible tells us a world government will come, and it will bring peace. But it will work only because it will be imposed by an all-powerful, all-wise and all-loving leader.

Jesus Christ will return to prevent human annihilation. The book of Isaiah calls Him the Prince of Peace and says:

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:7).

Today our world does not know the way of peace (Isaiah 59:8). When Jesus teaches the way of righteousness and peace, wonderful results will come:

“The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

The elect—God’s chosen ones who play a part in saving this world from complete destruction—are learning the way of peace now. They are praying for Jesus Christ’s return and proclaiming the good news of God’s government of peace. Learn more in the online article “The Way of Peace” and related articles.

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

Read More

Get the Latest

InSights Blog

Get the latest blog posts from Life, Hope & Truth straight to your inbox.


Never miss a post! Sign up to receive the week's latest articles, blog posts and updates.



Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region: