Reducing and then Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

Bharat Dogra

Ever since the horrors of a nuclear weapon were first seen at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki in August 1945, a leading concern of all peace-loving people has been to somehow avoid the repetition of this tragedy. The General Assembly of the United Nations has been emphasizing ‘total elimination’ of nuclear weapons. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said, “The only way to eliminate the threat posed by nuclear weapons is to eliminate the weapons themselves.”

However the harsh reality is that since the first and second use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in quick succession , thousands of nuclear weapons, most of them with a destructive potential many times more than that of the weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have accumulated. A war between two or more nuclear powers can potentially involve the exchange of a large number  of such weapons within a short time. This can destroy most forms of life over a wide area and result in such longer-terms environmental changes as will cause massive destruction of global life-nurturing conditions.

In the 74 years since Nagasaki nuclear weapons were available but were not used. This itself is an achievement. However depleted uranium  weapons were used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Efforts were made to reduce the total number of  nuclear weapons in the USA and the USSR. These efforts had some success. Some agreements to check the use of nuclear weapons were reached between these two countries ( in later years between the USA and Russia).

 At present by most accounts the total number of nuclear weapons in the world is around 14500. At the peak of the (earlier) cold war this number had reached a maximum of around 60000. So despite the persisting great threat from 14500 nuclear weapons, the reduction from the peak number is considered an achievement. However there are several doubts about this achievement too. The United Nations has stated recently ( statement on observing this international day), “not one nuclear weapon has been destroyed pursuant to a treaty.”

This statement also said that the international framework for disarmament has come under increasing stress. Specifically the statement said, “ On 2 August 2018 the United States withdrawal spelled the end of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.” Further this statement said that no nuclear disarmament negotiations are currently taking place.

The possession of nuclear weapons has spread to nine countries. Perhaps half a dozen more countries may be preparing to possess such weapons in the near future. Already the deployment or installation of nuclear weapons is spread over a larger number of countries than the weapon owning countries. In reality, almost the entire world is within the range of nuclear weapons.

In several confrontations involving brinkmanship, the world has been alarmingly close to the actual use of nuclear weapons.

Even when there is no top-level intention of using nuclear weapons, accidental factors can lead to a nuclear weapon exchange which in turn can get out of control. Such accidental threats may increase in the age of cyber warfare and AI warfare. A number of nuclear weapons have been reported missing from time to time, lost in oceans, huge ice sheets or great marshes, not traced yet and can be the cause of a major catastrophic event one day. The number of lost nuclear weapons ranges from around six or seven to even 50 according to the highest estimate.

The budgets devoted to further modernisation of nuclear weapons are increasing in leading nuclear weapons countries.

What is more, even the agenda of nuclear non-proliferation has been misused in such ways, using false information, as to destroy other countries not guilty of developing nuclear weapons. This is true of the destruction of Iraq by the invasion of the USA and its allies. More recently such a destructive tendency has been seen in Trump led USA going back on the six nation treaty with Iran and the subsequent imposition of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran.

The five permanent security members (in the United Nations) have veto-powers. All these five countries are nuclear weapon countries and have 97 per cent of all nuclear weapons in the world. None of these countries have so far shown any inclination for giving up their nuclear weapons.

In such a situation where is hope for a world which is free of nuclear weapons? In the short-run, some hope can come from renewed international efforts involving the best available scientific and technological talent, supported by people's peace movements and all the existing peace institutions to formulate new treaties and agreements so that the risks of actual use of nuclear weapons (including tactical nuclear weapons and depleted uranium weapons) can be minimised.

On a longer-term basis there should be a sustained world peace movement, cutting across national and all other narrow boundaries, with one of its important aims being focused on elimination of nuclear weapons, nothing less.

Is it possible that under growing pressure from a worldwide peace movement such far-reaching decisions as elimination of nuclear weapons can be actually  taken? This will be difficult to achieve but this simply has to be achieved. Otherwise the risks will remain unacceptably high and will only continue to increase with further increase in destructive capability of such weapons. Both the creating of a continuing broad-based, strong people's peace movement and legal and institutional reforms will be necessary to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. He is Convener of Campaign to Protect Earth Now and its SED Demand.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.     

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Oct 1, 2019

Bharat Dogra [email protected]

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