06 August 2018
Why we must keep talking
about Hiroshima 73 years later
I was interviewed this afternoon by Sarah McInerney on Drivetime on RTÉ 1 and Aisling Roche of 3 News on TV3 as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament following this afternoon’s Hiroshima Day commemorations organised by Irish CND in Merrion Square, Dublin.
Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The hibakusha or survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are few in number today, but the world must not become deaf to their pleas.
At present, the US is preparing to spend more than $1 trillion on new missiles, bombers, and submarines over the next three decades. There are no negotiations underway to reduce US and Russian nuclear stockpiles, Britain and France still have their own nuclear arsenals, and China, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea are increasing theirs.
But, despite all expectations, the taboo against using nuclear weapons in warfare has held since 1945. There is still widespread fear and dread that if nuclear weapons were used in a surprise military attack or with the aim of being a ‘war winning,’ it would, in fact, become a civilisation-ending weapon.
The bomb was never used to end the Korean War, during the Cuban missile crisis or at the height of the Cold War, and diplomatic efforts eventually achieved deep nuclear arms reductions, through the 2011 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). US and Russian stockpiles are now down around 85 per cent from Cold War highs.
During the Cold War, there was, on average, about one test per week somewhere in the world at test sites. Each test was a warning of the bomb’s power and utility. Every test demonstrated commitment to battlefield use in the event of a breakdown of what was known, ironically, as mutual-assured deterrence or MAD.
But Russia has not carried out a nuclear test since 1990, the US since 1992, China and France since 1996, India and Pakistan since 1998, and North Korea recently declared it had closed its test site.
The absence of nuclear testing conveys a very different message: that nuclear weapons are not like other instruments of war. They are different, a class apart.
But there are few survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alive today, and memories of the Cold War are becoming dim too. A survey last year  shows 60 per cent of Americans would support a nuclear attack on Iran that would kill 20 million civilians, to prevent an invasion that might kill 20,000 American soldiers.
A generation of low-yield nuclear weapons would lower the nuclear threshold. The Trump administration is working on two new options, which include B-61 ‘dial-a-yield’ bombs that could be less than one kiloton – the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 15 to 20 kilotons.
It is questionable whether escalation could be controlled once the nuclear threshold has been crossed.
The George W. Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, which had facilitated deep cuts in offensive arms. Moscow then withdrew from a treaty banning the placement of multiple warheads on land-based missiles in 2002 and is building new, heavy missiles that can carry 10 or more warheads.
Moscow has also violated a treaty prohibiting intermediate-range missiles, a move that increases the possibility of a threat to Europe. The US is also taking steps to violate this treaty.
The 2011 START treaty, which caps the longest-range instruments of nuclear war fighting – inter-continental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers – is due to expire in 2021.
Is the era of superpower arms control that helped keep the Cold War from becoming an inferno coming to a close?
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 came at the end of World War in which 50 million to 80 million people were killed. If nuclear weapons are used again in warfare, the costs could be so much higher, and no-one knows how such a conflict would end. We must keep talking about Hiroshima until all nuclear weapons become illegal and are eliminated.