The Nobel Committee by awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has reiterated the danger nuclear weapons pose to life on earth. The message is timely, given the fact that the world is at the brink of a nuclear war over the North Korean issue.
ICAN won the Nobel for drawing attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of using nuclear weapons and for its efforts to work out a nuclear ban treaty. Yet, total nuclear disarmament is still an elusive dream of an idealist. Anything short of total nuclear disarmament is only a charade.
Take the story of a baby left in the wolves’ lair. Whether the den is inhabited by one wolf or a pack of thousand wolves, the infant will be devoured. To save the baby, we need to eliminate all the wolves. To save the planet and its billions of people, we need to dismantle all nuclear weapons. At present nine countries are said to possess some 15,000 nuclear weapons, each weapon 30 to 3,000 times more powerful than the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. The actual number is much more and increasing. All nuclear powers continue research to take their nuclear weapons to the next destructive level.
The possession of nuclear weapons enhances a country’s military power. Some say nuclear weapons deter invasions. North Korea’s nuclear weapons have deterred the US from “unleashing” what President Donald Trump described as the ‘fire and fury… the likes of which this world has never seen before.” On Monday, Trump tweeted to say “Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars [and] getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!” He was warning of a military response, but all what he could do was to send two B-1B bombers on Wednesday close to North Korea’s borders as part of a joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan.
The argument that nuclear weapons deter invasions condones such weapons and promotes proliferation and, therefore, is the anti-thesis of total nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons and the perverted mind of a popular leader form a calamitous combination.
No one knows how many millions or billions will die immediately if a full scale nuclear war takes place. Even if we were fortunate enough to survive the immediate impact of the nuclear holocaust, the secondary effect will make us walking dead or crawling dead. Dying of cancer, we will be facing fire storms, a prolonged nuclear winter and extreme starvation. There will be total breakdown of our social and economic life, as we plunge headlong into extinction. Sick and feeble, we won’t be able to inscribe our story on rocks before we die to let any intelligent alien, who will be on a transit through this destroyed planet in the future, know that nuclear weapons are evil and we brought our own destruction.
Despite the warnings the dreaded nuclear holocaust holds out and the efforts of organisations such as ICAN to create a nuclear-weapons free world, most human beings blinded by humanism-killing patriotism take pride in their nuclear weapons. In the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, the support for the use of nuclear weapons during a war is still high, 70 years after the country dropped two atomic bombs on the highly populated Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. A Stanford University study released in August this year says a majority of Americans would support the use of such weapons to kill millions of civilians if the US found itself in a similar wartime situation.
Professor Scott Sagan, who co-authored the study with Benjamin A. Valentino, noted, “The most shocking finding of our study is that 60 percent of Americans would approve of killing 2 million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 US soldiers.”
The professors conducted a similar survey in India, a country of 1.3 billion people, and the results were equally shocking. When presented with a hypothetical case where the terror group Lakshar-e-Taiba holed up in a secret bunker in Lahore, Pakistan, is preparing to launch a nuclear attack on India, a majority of the Indians who generally supported the government’s no-first-strike doctrine prefer the use of nuclear weapon to destroy the terrorists’ bunker even if it meant that some 50,000 Pakistani civilians will die.
The support for nuclear weapons is also high in neighbouring Pakistan, which figuratively ate grass to produce its first nuclear bomb. China, like India, has made a no-first-strike declaration. One can presume that the public support for nuclear weapons in this country of 1.5 billion people should be overwhelming; given the security threats it is facing over multiple territorial disputes in the South China Sea and across its borders.
It is also the same story in other nuclear weapon states -- Russia, France, Britain, Israel and North Korea. One can assume that more than half the world’s people want nuclear weapons to defend themselves.
But when asked in general terms, a majority of the earthlings will call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In Japan, which ironically takes shelter under the nuclear umbrella of the US, only 5 percent of the people back nuclear weapons. They rejected Trump’s campaign trail proposal that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons to counter the threat from North Korea.
Why cannot nuclear powers follow the example of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and do away with the weapon of the wicked. The ex-Soviet nations Kazakhstan and Ukraine have also done this, but there was no altruism. Instead of dismantling the weapons, they handed them over to Russia, soon after they became independent.
Probably sooner than later, there will come a time, when nuclear powers themselves will rush to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. That is when nations master the technology to hack into each other’s the nuclear power systems and destroy rival nuclear arsenals. It is not science fiction. In 2010, Stuxnet, believed to be an American-Israeli cyberweapon, sabotaged Iran’s nuclear programme.
Until such time, no nuclear power wants to see a nuclear-weapons-free world. Last month, ICAN realised one of its objectives when leaders of 120 nations signed a United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons. None of the nine nuclear power states was among them. Understandable! But why was Sri Lanka, which supported the resolution for the treaty, not among them? Sri Lanka’s absence was mysterious and conspicuous. After all, the country in the 1970s spearheaded a campaign to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone, free of nuclear weapons. Did Sri Lanka wilt under the pressure from nuclear powers? Certainly, the failure to sign the treaty amounts to a serious omission and a crime against humanity. In an apparent attempt to mitigate the blame, the Government last week published regulations declaring Sri Lanka a nuclear-weapons free country. A lame act!