Nuclear threat refuses to go

New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Aug 08, 2016, 01:44 PM(IST)

A woman lights a candle in front of the cenotaph for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing at Peace Memorial Park in?Hiroshima, western Japan, on August 6, 2016. Photograph:( Reuters )

Ironically, humanity faced its worst catastrophe due to a discovery in science — a nuclear bomb. The American military dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6,1945. As many as 140,000 were killed as a result of this atomic attack. The US was responding to a devastating Japanese attack on its naval fleet in Pearl Harbour in 1941 where 20 American naval vessels and more than 300 airplanes were stationed. More than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack.

The history

In 1945, four years after the Pearl Harbour attack, the then US President, Harry S Truman, asked the Japanese to surrender but on their refusal decided to send them ‘a present of death’ by dropping what the Americans, trivially, called a “Little Boy” that was capable of having an impact of 12,500 tonnes of TNT, a very potent explosive material.

After the Japanese and American negotiations broke down in Potsdam conference, the Japanese were expecting a conventional ground attack by the Americans. Hundreds of schoolgirls had been asked to clear the streets in case there was a bomb attack. But what actually happened shook Japan and the world. An atomic bomb was dropped. The city of Hiroshima was completely destroyed, three-fourths of the total number of buildings of the city were destroyed. The Japanese were unable to defend their soil and showed their incapability to respond to the strike. Since then, Japan has been under US influence. The US continues to have military presence in Okinawa Island that it captured in 1945 from Japan.

No lesson learned

The Americans claimed that they had ended the Second World War by dropping the bomb. But only the war ended, not the nuclear weapons. The genie was out of the bottle and many countries came to the conclusion that a nuclear stockpile was an essential part of their military arsenal.

In 1946, the United Nations assembly called for a complete elimination of the nuclear weapons and deal with the ‘problem’ of atomic discovery. It was a feeble attempt. The discovery had been made and there was no going back. Certain events just can’t be undone. In 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device and after that scores of countries started testing their nuclear weapons. The UK conducted its first nuclear test in 1952 on the Australian Island. France denoted its first nuclear weapon in Sahara Desert in 1960 and four years later China also entered this race. And on May 18,1974, India successfully conducted its first nuclear test what it called its ‘Smiling Buddha’. It requires courage and immense political will on the part of world leaders to wipe out such deadly weapons from the face of earth. Instead, what we see is the complete opposite. Countries are actually eliminating obsolete technologies and adopting better ones in the race for more effective and deadlier nuclear weapons. One shouldn’t be expecting anything different since the track for such a race was prepared long back in 1952. It was the year when the United States raised the stakes of a nuclear war by detonating the first hydrogen bomb.

Dismantling the weapons

There has been a push to get the governments to dismantle their nuclear weapons. But it is an expensive affair. The START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) plans to decommission ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and submarines. Both Russians and the Americans have exceeded the mandate of START and have begun disassembling the nuclear warheads mounted on these carrier systems and have moved to disassemble thousands of them.

Tonnes of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) will need to be stored, processed, and ultimately disposed of. The exact numbers can only be estimated as none of the two governments has given complete disclosures because of strategic reasons.

Canada has played an important role is helping dismantle some of these weapons. If we are to take the costs of $40 billion spent by the US in dismantling weapons until 1990 then with that as the background the world will land up spending hundreds of billions of dollars. But these costs would be worth every penny as long as the world can come to terms with the idea that it is for long-term sustenance of the planet.

Nobody wants to ban N-arms

As of 2016, the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: approximately 15,350 warheads. But some have argued that it is even more, as much as 40,000. But if we are to agree with the number of 15,350, then out of these, 4,000 warheads are deployed with operational forces and of these 1,800 warheads are at high alert that are ready to be used at a short notice.

Approximately 93 per cent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States. Even though these countries are claiming to reduce their warhead inventories, the pace is quite slow and there is a constant expenditure on R&D for upgrading the existing technology, thus negating the entire purpose of dismantling the warheads.

As for the other parts of the world, France, UK and Israel have relatively stable inventories, while China, Pakistan, India and North Korea are increasing their warhead inventories.

But what the privileged countries have done is form nuclear clubs and make treaties preventing others from possessing nuclear weapons. But this stance is hypocritical. While these countries may hope that through such treaties or exclusive groups, they can stop others from acquiring nuclear weapons, in reality they may not be able to keep the nuclear hopefuls out forever.

Way forward

The nuclear ambitions of the world are far from over. As we remember the ones we lost in Hiroshima, it is also time for the world to realise that in their quest for protecting themselves by having a nuclear weapon in their arsenal could very well cause the destruction of the world that we live in and the people that make it. That is why they are called the weapons of mass destruction. May the conscience of the world prevail and hopefully we will see a move by the civilised leadership of the world to dismantle and ban nuclear weapons entirely.
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