On Monday, the big powers spurned yet another move to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They apparently prefer to be called the destroyers of our planet.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” J. Robert Oppenheimer said quoting from the Bhagawad Gita. He was one of the fathers of the first atomic bomb – the illegitimate child conceived and delivered by the top secret Manhattan Project.
The first atomic bomb was detonated by the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. On August 6 and 9 the same year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world’s first atomic bomb attacks killed more than 200,000 people in the two cities instantly. Tens of thousands of people exposed to high radiation died in the months and years to follow. The ill-effects are still being felt.
Oppenheimer, despite his liberal and socialist worldview, supported the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. But he later became an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and opponent of the global nuclear arms race.
However noble the nuclear non-proliferation initiative is, it smacks of hypocrisy and allows a few nuclear-armed nations to become global bullies and intimidate the rest of the world. Given the destructive power of modern-day nuclear weapons which are a thousand times more lethal than ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nothing short of total nuclear disarmament will ensure the safety of our planet, which we call our home. Every nuclear test is a stab on the back of Mother Earth. Every nuclear accident is a blow on her head. A nuclear war will be the ultimate death blow. If we love this planet and the humanity, we must not rest until the last of the world’s nuclear weapons is dismantled. But the humans are the Earth’s only species hell-bent on the destruction of the planet. According to 2016 estimates, the nine nuclear-armed nations – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea -- possess some 15,000-23,000 nuclear warheads which could destroy this world more than 100 times over.
Man can be good and evil. Leaders can be brutish and if driven by their animalistic id, they could become destroyers. With the United States and North Korea – both nuclear armed – being run by maverick leaders, the world’s first nuclear war is no longer just a subject for dystopian novelists to describe the aftermath in vivid detail. The dangerous reality or MAD (mutually assured destruction) is close and staring at us. The US has warned North Korea that its policy of strategic patience has ended, while reports say Pyongyang is preparing not only for yet another nuclear test but also for a nuclear war with the US.
Months before Donald Trump became the US President, Nato and Russia had deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, stoking fears of a nuclear war. The tense situation has somewhat eased now because of Trump’s special relationship with Russia. In the volatile Middle East, Israel has some 300 nuclear warheads and Iran is accused of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions.
In South Asia, too, a nuclear war cannot be ruled out, given the hostility between India and Pakistan.
Evil triumphed on Monday when a golden opportunity to bring about a nuclear-weapons-free world was squandered. The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France together with 36 other nations staged a walkout when the United Nations General Assembly began discussions on a global ban on nuclear weapons. Monday’s session came in sequel to a General Assembly resolution adopted in December to convene a conference “to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the UN conference said, “Let us all work harder and more creatively, so that we can achieve our common goal of a world, safer and more secure, without nuclear weapons, and better for all.”
He said the possession of nuclear weapons was fundamentally incompatible with humanity’s common aspirations for peace and security.
Pope Francis sent a message of support to the conference. “I wish to encourage you to work with determination in order to create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. The Pope said international peace and stability “cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”
While the widely respected pontiff called for concerted efforts to save our planet, President Trump, in a reckless act that underscored his contempt for warnings about climate change, revoked environment laws his predecessor, Barack Obama, had introduced, and his UN envoy Nikki Haley scuttled UN efforts aimed at total nuclear disarmament.
Addressing journalists at UN headquarters in New York, ambassador Haley, South Carolina’s former rightwing governor, defended her country’s need to possess nuclear weapons, saying, “in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” She was referring to the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” she asked.
Haley only confirms our worst fears that a nuclear war between the US and North Korea could be a reality. Imagine how many innocent people will die in both these countries. Some studies claim that North Korean missiles can wipe out 80 percent of the US population, while US strikes can reduce North Korea to mere nuclear ash.
Who wants to give up nuclear weapons, the very possession of which will deter even a thought of an attack in the mind of the enemy? Nuclear weapons mean power and they are here to stay until there emerges a weapon system that can deactivate nuclear weapons of an enemy state through hacking. Reports say the US, Russia and China are moving in that direction. But before such cyber weapons become a reality, a nuclear war could break out.