No Faith in Nuclear Weapons

There can be no faith in nuclear weapons.

Origins of Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons were developed in World War II mainly in the USA, with the help of the UK and Canada. The development was named the Manhattan Project and even before the first atomic bomb was dropped the scientists who created it fought for such a weapon of mass destruction not be used.

In 1945, Manhattan Project scientist Leo Szilard, created a petition to President Trueman that was signed by 70 scientists. The hope of the petition was that it would persuade the American Government to seek surrender from Japan without the bomb ever having to be dropped.

From the petition:

“[W]e, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief, to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.”

The petition was swiftly dismissed and the first atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945. An estimated 50,000 buildings were destroyed an immediate 200,00 people were killed. Three days later an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki destroying 60% of the city and killing approximately 35,000 people.

Japan soon surrendered and World War II shortly ended. In its wake an arms race began to create even more deadly bombs of mass destruction. The nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union. By the 1950s both super powers had enough nuclear power to obliterate the other side.

The Cold War and Beyond

Thus a form of stalemate ensured, which became known as the Cold War and lasted until the end of the 1980s. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down as a result of the economic collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union.

A new era of peaceful resolution was ushered in and by 1995 the five nuclear weapon states of China, France, Russia, UK and the USA signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The aim of the treaty is achieving nuclear disarmament, by nuclear weapons state countries promising not to increase their nuclear arsenal.

A year later, the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest court, unanimously highlighted the obligation to nuclear disarmament in its 1996 Opinion:

“There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

International Court of Justice

This means an obligation to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals to zero.

We have a legal obligation to have less, not more, nuclear weapons

By not honouring this legal promise it far less likely that non-recognized nuclear weapon states such as Israel and Pakistan will disarm. It will also spur countries such as South-Korea and Iran to continue developing their own nuclear programmes unchecked.

This gives rise to the possibility of nuclear terrorism and missles being hijacked and fired without the appropriate consent. Nuclear weapons and production sites all over the world are vulnerable to terrorist attack or to theft of weapons or weapons-grade materials.

Russia, due to the breakup of the former Soviet Union, has a weakened command and control system, making their substantial arsenal especially vulnerable to terrorists. In addition, nuclear weapons are not helpful in defending against or responding to terrorism because nuclear weapons cannot target a group that is unlocatable.

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons

The spread of nuclear weapons also makes accidents more likely. The risk of accidental war through miscommunication, miscalculation or malfunction is especially dangerous given the thousands of nuclear warheads deployed and on high alert status.

Given the short time periods available in which to make decisions about whether or not a state is under nuclear attack, and whether to launch a retaliatory response, the risk of miscalculation is high.

How can France, the UK and USA be democratic when the power to kill hundreds of thousands resides in the hands of a few individuals?

Nuclear deterrence is a dangerous policy that could be the trigger to World War III. Its implementation places humanity and most forms of life in jeopardy of annihilation. What if a world leader made a misjudgment? A simple error could be the catalyst to disaster.

Democracy also suffers because many of the nuclear weapon states make their decisions in secrecy with little involvement from the public. In the USA, for example, nuclear weapons policy is set forth in highly classified documents, which are not made available to the public and come to public attention only by leaks.

This lack of consent can be seen in the amount of money it costs to reasearch develop and maintain a nuclear arsenal. Nuclear weapons have drained resources, including scientific resources, from other more productive uses. The United States continues to spend some $25-$35 billion annually on its nuclear arsenal.

All of these misspent resources represent lost opportunities for improving the health, education and welfare of the people of the world.

We each have a responsibility to our children, grandchildren and future generations to end the threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity and all life. This is a responsibility unique in human history.

If we do not accept responsibility to speak out and act for a world free of nuclear weapons, who will?

Find out more from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

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