In early August we will observe the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese cities leveled, with hundreds of thousands of casualties, in the waning days of World War II. The bombs dropped there, while the most devastating weapons ever used in war, are dwarfed by those in today’s nuclear arsenals.
With nine nuclear weapons states and approximately 17,000 warheads deployed or readily deployable, many of these in a high-alert, launch-on-warning mode, nuclear war by miscalculation, miscommunication or accident remains a very present danger. More than 90 percent of these warheads are in the hands of two nations, the United States and Russia.
In many ways, the fact that we still face the threat of nuclear annihilation is a measure of the profound failing of humanity. To date, we have been unwilling or unable to deal with this enormous threat to our collective well-being and, indeed, our very survival.
Here in the U.S., the mainstream media, the politicians and their funders—those who dictate political agendas—have nearly defined away nuclear weapons as a non-issue. The sole exception seems to be nuclear proliferation to states that are official enemies, including Iran and North Korea. We in Peaceworks find it deeply troubling that the abolition of nuclear weapons through mutual, verifiable and universal nuclear disarmament, once an urgent issue that mobilized millions, is today not even on most citizens’ radar as an issue of concern.
Despite the ongoing, existential threat, we certainly have not heard any U.S. presidential candidate putting this forward as a concern for the voters in 2016. While not surprising, as this has been a fairly consistent pattern since the end of the Cold War, it is high time to insist that this very real threat is addressed.
In fact, despite our treaty commitments, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, ratified in 1970, to pursue universal disarmament, it is the intention of our government to maintain a huge arsenal of these doomsday devices in perpetuity. This policy has bipartisan support and, according to conservative estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, our elected officials continue to spend in the neighborhood of $35 billion of our taxes annually on these weapons and their delivery systems. We, the American taxpayers, are spending more on nuclear weapons than all other nations combined.
The sad reality is that all these bombs and all the money we spend on them are not making us more secure. Rather, they are telegraphing a message to other nations that nuclear weapons are an acceptable component of a major power’s military establishment.
In fact, our government’s attachment to its nuclear weapons is sending a signal to the rest of the world that going nuclear—acquiring weapons capabilities—gives stature and legitimacy. The longer the United States insists on maintaining its current nuclear position, the more likely we are to see proliferation, regional nuclear arms races and ultimately the use of nuclear bombs somewhere in the world.
And that “somewhere” will lead to disaster virtually everywhere in the world. Even a modest sized nuclear war, say between third-tier nuclear powers, like India and Pakistan, would, in all likelihood, cause significant blockage of incoming sunlight for a number of years, and lead to widespread cooling, crop failures and mass starvation. (For more info on Nuclear Darkness click HERE.)
While some argue that nuclear arsenals deter aggression, they lose sight of several factors. First, as nuclear delivery systems become more sophisticated, supposed nuclear deterrent systems become vulnerable to preemptive attack, and thus in crisis, nuclear-armed states face “use-it-or-lose-it” scenarios. As command and control systems age, it becomes more likely that there will be glitches that lead to accidental nuclear war. And the longer we delay nuclear abolition, the more nuclear-armed nations there will be in the world, not to mention the prospect of sub-national groups acquiring these weapons. The more fingers on the trigger, the more likely nuclear war will be a reality.
In truth, nuclear bombs are not an effective instrument of foreign policy. The consequences of their use are so horrific that it would be absolutely insane to use them in any confrontation. And the resources currently being squandered on arms are sorely needed to address very real threats to our security, including the climate crisis.
Now, as the world marks the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is time for as many of us as possible to speak out, with one voice, insisting upon mutual, verifiable and universal nuclear disarmament. It is time, once again, to take up the cause of nuclear abolition.
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