Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear weapons in a post Cold War world
On the 6th and 9th of August 2019 Japan commemorated the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. In holding a peace vigil in remembrance to those who had lost their lives, it became a demonstrative symbol to world leaders in the hopes of catalyzing them towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons. In today’s modern world which is ever more polarised, it is important to take stock of days like these and analyse the effects that nuclear weapons and weapons, in general, have had on global peace.
The industrial revolution sparked great advancements in arms manufacturing, with weapons becoming more accurate, effective and precise. Indeed, the advent of the nuclear bomb is representative of a complete revolution in military affairs. To put this into perspective, consider the largest traditional non-nuclear weapon, the Russian built Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (AVBIP), otherwise known as the "Father of All Bombs" (FOAB). This bomb uses a traditional blast to disperse its energy. The FOAB contains 44 tons of TNT (trinitrotoluene) and its blast radius is about 300 meters and can floor a small city centre to rubble. The nuclear bomb used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a blast radius of 16 km. 1 kilogram of nuclear fission fuel can release 20,000,000 times more energy than 1 kilogram of TNT used in traditional bombs. Furthermore, a nuclear bomb has the capacity to wipe out an entire generation in an area, with those lucky enough
to survive the blast of heat, suffering from radiation sickness. A nuclear bomb is a total weapon, it can desolate an entire nation, it is the Omega.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in over 250,000 deaths, far greater than the largest conventional bombings during WWII in Hamburg, which resulted in 41,000 deaths. The sheer power of these atomic weapons completely shifted and shuddered the global perspective on the consequences of conflict. Some Post-WW II analysis has highlighted that use of the nuclear bombings were part of the USA broader political and foreign policy goals, to establish the Pax-Americana doctrine. Japan was a few days away from surrendering regardless of the bombings. The USA used the bombings to demonstrate that it had won the nuclear race in light of a brewing Cold-War. Additionally, the ability to posess nuclear weapons also meant a state acquired a certain amount of power, prestige and polarity in international relations.
The remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should serve as a reference point to analyse where we are today. A nuclear bomb has not to be used since 1945 and nations have remained fairly restrained through various international laws on the proliferation of weapons such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which outlaws the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The restraint in the use of nuclear weapons is partially down to factors such as more effective diplomacy, deeper economic integration between states and the nuclear security theory commonly known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD was often seen as the main reason why the Cold War never got hot. MAD essentially means that if one nuclear state strikes another, the opposing state would have the capabilities to immediately retaliate with its nuclear weapon leading to mutually assured destruction.
However, the proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a major issue in international relations. There are non-signatories to the NPT such as India, Pakistan, Israel and states such as Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria which have signed the treaty and violated it by obtaining nuclear weapons. Any international agreement on world peace needs to include actors most likely to threaten world peace, thus states such as North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan need to be incentivised to comply with the NPT. That being said, in these cases it’s not certain that MAD would prevail in the case of rogue state behaviours like North Korea or Iran.
Additionally, there lies a structural fault in the global peace architecture of the world. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 5 permanent members, the body responsible for global peace, is an oxymoron for peace at best. The UNSC P5 members are China, France, USA, UK and Russia. They constitute the world’s largest armies, as well as the largest producers of arms, constituting 80% of global production and housing the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The sale of arms generates trillions of dollars per year and conflicts around the world help fuel the need for arms. How can the body trusted with world peace have such a vested interested in the production of arms? Furthermore, the P5 have refused to completely eradicate their own nuclear arms programmes as this is a part of their national security strategy. This then begs the question, why should Pakistan give up its nuclear weapons programme? Or why shouldn't Iran be allowed to pursue a nuclear project if the P5 refuse to give up their arms? The P5 peace mechanism is flawed and does not have any interest in total global peace and it is up to the rest of the global nations to pressurize the P5 to take steps towards a nuclear-free world. Thus it is clear to see that the issue of nuclear weapons is ever present, like a thorn in the side of the world.