Seventy years after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there is to be a concerted move to ban nuclear weapons permanently. Tackling poverty and climate change stay top of the global agenda, but burying the spectre of nuclear war is win-win for all.
Just nine countries together possess more than 16,000 nuclear weapons. The USA and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status – ready to be launched within minutes of a warning. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
Over several decades, the failure to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries will acquire nuclear weapons. The only guarantee against their spread and use is to eliminate them without further delay. Unfortunately, the leaders of nuclear-armed nations have failed or refused to come up with detailed plans to eliminate their arsenals.
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both the scale of the devastation they cause, and their insidious radioactive fallout, make them unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city would kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would totally disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine and devastation.
Five European nations host US nuclear weapons on their soil as part of a NATO nuclear-sharing deal, and roughly two dozen other nations claim to rely on US nuclear weapons for their security. Furthermore, there are now some 40 nations with nuclear power or research reactors capable of being diverted to weapons production. The spread of nuclear know-how has increased the risk that more nations will develop the technology.
By the end of 2014, 57 countries had expressed support for a ban. South Africa, one of the first countries to dismantle and ban its nuclear capability, stated: “It is an anomaly that, while biological and chemical weapons have been subjected to international legally binding instruments banning their production, use and stockpiling … nuclear weapons have yet to be subjected to a similar prohibition.”
Predictably conspicuous by their absence and silence are the USA, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Two of them might be considered rogue states in Noam Chomsky’s definition: “A state that defies international laws and conventions, does not consider itself bound by the major treaties and conventions, World Court decisions – in fact, anything except the interests of its own leadership.” If the definition also includes unpredictability, paranoia, hypocrisy, and inhumane acts, Israel and North Korea qualify.
The abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent undeniable necessity. Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences. No effective humanitarian response would be possible, and the effects of radiation on human beings would cause suffering and death many years after the initial explosion(s). Eliminating nuclear weapons – via a comprehensive treaty – is the only guarantee against their use.
Nuclear weapons pose a direct and constant threat to people everywhere. Far from keeping the peace, they breed fear and mistrust. These ultimate instruments of terror and mass destruction have no legitimate military or strategic utility, and are useless in addressing any of today’s real security threats, such as terrorism, climate change, extreme poverty, overpopulation and disease.
On 6 August 1945 an American B-29 aircraft dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. It destroyed nearly five square miles of the city, instantly killing 80,000 people and injuring 70,000 more. On 9 August a second plane dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Two weeks later, on 23 August, a boy named Iccho Ito was born in that same city and survived to be elected its mayor in 1995. Having lived in a post-nuclear environment, Ito was vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons. He died in 2007, a victim of gang violence, but his passionate voice still rings out:
“The time has come for those nations that rely on the force of nuclear armaments to respectfully heed the voices of peace-loving people, not least the atomic bomb survivors, to strive in good faith for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and to advance towards the complete abolishment of all such weapons.”