Rayhan Ahmed Topader:
The first atomic bomb changed our world in July 1945. It was the ultimate weapon, a product of World War II and a trigger for the Cold War nuclear arms race to follow.
But as we remember this moment in history, we cannot lose sight of the dangerous consequences nuclear weapons continue to have on the world today. We must not become complacent about this threat after so many years and just casually accept their existence. Seventy-five years after Trinity, banning nuclear testing and working toward eliminating nukes is the only sensible path forward. Nuclear weapons must become part of our history only, not a threat to our future.
If it expires without renewal or a replacement, then we will have no treaty in place controlling the two largest nuclear arsenals. There will be no trust, no verification. Today, there are about 14,000 nuclear weapons worldwide according the Arms Control Association, most of them held by the United States and Russia. We constantly live with the fear of more nations, perhaps even terrorists, acquiring these weapons of mass destruction.Yet Trump continues to reject nuclear diplomacy including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear test explosions. Trump has also gone forward with expensive nuke modernization plans that will further drain America’s precious resources, forcing billions of dollars each year to go toward nuclear weapons.
It is time to return to the shared understanding that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought, to the collective agreement that we should work towards a world free of nuclear weapons, and to the spirit of cooperation that enabled historic progress towards their elimination. The United States and the Russian Federation, as the possessors of some 90 percent of nuclear weapons, are expected to lead the way. The New Start treaty retains verifiable caps. Its extension for five years would buy time to negotiate new agreements, including by potentially bringing in other countries possessing nuclear weapons. This month marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when humanity learned of the devastation a single nuclear bomb can unleash. The lingering suffering caused to the survivors, the hibakusha, should give us daily motivation to eliminate all nuclear arms. They have shared their stories so the horror experienced by Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten. Yet the nuclear threat is growing once more. A web
of agreements and instruments has been constructed to prevent the use of these uniquely destructive weapons and ultimately to eliminate them. But that framework has idled for decades and is starting to erode. The potential that nuclear weapons will be used intentionally, accidentally, or as a result of miscalculation is dangerously high.
For decades, nuclear testing led to horrific human and environmental consequences. This relic of a former age should be confined there forever. Only a legally-binding, verifiable prohibition on all nuclear testing can achieve this. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has proven its worth, yet some states have still to sign or ratify the treaty, preventing it from fulfilling its full potential as an essential element in the framework to eliminate nuclear weapons. Fuelled by mounting international tensions and the dissolution of trust, relations between countries that possess nuclear weapons are devolving into dangerous and destabilising confrontations. As governments lean heavily on nuclear weapons for security, politicians are trading heated rhetoric about their possible use and devoting vast sums of money to improving their lethality money that would be much better spent on peaceful, sustainable development. Along with climate change, nuclear weapons represent an existential threat to our societies. Most of the roughly 13,000 nuclear arms currently in global arsenals are vastly more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Any use would precipitate a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable proportions. Next year, the United Nations will host the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, one of the most successful international security agreements.
It contains the only treaty-based commitments undertaken by the five largest nuclear-armed countries to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons and imposes verifiable obligations not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. Its near universal membership means the vast majority of the international community is bound by these commitments. The NPT Review Conference is an opportunity to stem the erosion of the international nuclear order.
Fortunately, most United Nations member-states remain committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. This is reflected in the 122 countries that supported the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. They understand that the consequences of any use of nuclear arms would be catastrophic. We cannot risk another Hiroshima or Nagasaki or worse. As we reflect on the suffering of the hibakusha, let us view this tragedy as a rallying cry for humanity and recommit to a world free of nuclear weapons
And so, while the United States expanded its nuclear arsenal, it also crafted strategies for controlling and preventing its use. President Dwight Eisenhower made nuclear arms control a priority with his 1953 Atoms for Peace speech, which argued for diverting nuclear power to peaceful purposes. Eisenhower’s Open Skies proposal for mutual aerial inspection and a nuclear test ban treaty started diplomatic outreach with the Soviet Union.
This chapter examines how nuclear weapons have influenced international politics, both during and after the cold war. In particular, it distinguishes between the spread of nuclear weapons to more states, which poses an increasing threat to international security, and the decline in the absolute number of nuclear weapons due to the reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The chapter first provides an overview of the First Nuclear Age which lasted approximately from 1945 to the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union before discussing the risks in the Second Nuclear Age. It also considers other contemporary issues such as ballistic missile defences, the cultural dimensions of nuclear weapons acquisition, and the possibility of using nuclear weapons for terrorism. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the prospects for a Third Nuclear Age. Signifying its bipartisan nature, President John F. Kennedy picked up Eisenhower’s push for a test ban when he entered office in 1961. The shock of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which brought the United States and the U.S.S.R. to the brink of nuclear war, further increased the urgency for diplomacy. A hotline between the United States and the Soviets was set up to improve communications to prevent nuclear war. Instead of pursuing a strategy of substitution to reduce the political utility of nuclear weapons, it chose an additive approach: theater missile defenses and other conventional means were layered on top of deployed or readily deployable nuclear capabilities.
It doesn’t take many nuclear weapons to deter a clear-thinking foe from crossing the nuclear threshold. But a great many nuclear weapons are still presumed necessary to convey messages of resolve and to cover an extremely large number of targets. Deep cuts require not only extending the record of non-battlefield use, but also purposeful strategies to reduce the presumed political utility of nuclear weapons.
Writer and Columnist