Hope and Hype of Hiroshima Can't Conceal Obama's Dismal Record on Nuclear Disarmament
May 28, 2016
Tim Wright / The Guardian & Ward Wilson and Jean-Marie Collin / UPI
An estimated 140,000 residents Hiroshima, almost all of them civilians, perished instantly in the vast inferno, or died within a few months from severe burns, blast injuries or radiation sickness. The president will make no apology on behalf of his nation for this horrific attack. The president speaks of a world without nuclear arms but, contrary to perceptions, under the Obama presidency, the pace of nuclear warhead dismantlement has slowed, not hastened.
Hope and Hype of Hiroshima Can't Conceal
Obama's Dismal Record on Nuclear Disarmament
Tim Wright / The Guardian
(May 26, 2016) -- Seven years ago, in the Czech capital of Prague, Barack Obama delivered his first major foreign policy speech as president. To rapturous applause, he laid out his vision for "the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons". It earned him that year's Nobel peace prize.
On Friday he will bookend his two terms in office with another appeal for nuclear disarmament, this time during a historic trip to Hiroshima. No other sitting US president has ever visited the Japanese city that was razed to the ground by a single atomic bomb in the final days of the second world war.
An estimated 140,000 people, almost all of them civilians, perished instantly in the vast inferno, or died within a few months from severe burns, blast injuries or radiation sickness. Many more succumbed years later to cancers and other radiation-related illnesses.
The president will make no apology on behalf of his nation for this horrific attack. That he has made clear. But most of the remaining survivors, known as hibakusha, have not demanded one. Their focus instead is on the future -- how to realise the oft-cited, long-elusive goal of a nuclear weapon-free world, lest anyone else ever suffer as they have.
Many hibakusha have been dismayed by the president's dismal record on disarmament. Setsuko Thurlow, who was 13 years old when the building she was in collapsed around her from the atomic blast, wrote in the New York Daily News last week: "We are frustrated by Obama's eloquent propensity to say one thing and do another."
Under the Obama presidency, contrary to perceptions, the pace of nuclear warhead dismantlement has slowed, not hastened. Indeed, the two presidents Bush and Bill Clinton each made greater gains in downsizing the colossal US nuclear stockpile amassed during the cold war.
But more alarming than this failure to destroy old nuclear weapons has been the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of new, "smaller" ones, for which the threshold of use would be lower, according to former military commanders.
At great expense, the president has bolstered all three components of the nation's "nuclear triad": the strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles. This was the price paid for securing Republican support in 2010 for the ratification of a modest bilateral arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Obama's much-publicised "nuclear security summits" largely ignored the greatest source of nuclear insecurity in the world today: 15,000 nuclear weapons, including 1,800 on hair-trigger alert. Instead, they focused on measures to keep "vulnerable nuclear material" out of terrorists' hands -- a vital endeavour, certainly, but for all the fanfare the results were small.
Now the United States is stridently resisting diplomatic moves by two-thirds of the world's nations to declare nuclear weapons illegal. It boycotted UN talks in Geneva this month aimed at setting the stage for negotiations on a prohibition treaty. But it cannot veto this initiative, just as it could not veto the processes that led to bans on landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008.
While a prohibition on nuclear weapons will not result in disarmament overnight, it will powerfully challenge the notion that these weapons are acceptable for some nations. It will place them on the same legal footing as both other types of weapons of mass destruction -- namely, chemical and biological weapons.
In Geneva, Australia spoke neither for nor against a ban. Under the caretaker government, it was compelled to remain silent on matters for which there is no bipartisan agreement. The Coalition government has fervently opposed the "ban the bomb" movement, arguing that the so-called US "nuclear umbrella" guarantees Australia's "security and prosperity".
Labor, by contrast, has declared its firm support for "the negotiation of a global treaty banning [nuclear] weapons", welcoming "the growing global movement of nations that is supporting this objective". This was an important addition to its revised national platform in 2015.
Its new policy, no doubt, will prove unpopular with our powerful ally -- whoever may serve as the next commander-in-chief -- but it is in harmony with the policies of our nearest neighbours, from whom we have grown increasingly isolated on this issue in recent years. Among the most outspoken proponents of a ban are New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Australia should look to these and other nuclear-free nations in our region, and beyond, for guidance on disarmament matters -- not to a nation bristling with 7,000 nuclear weapons. The US will not, alas, lead the way to a world without these horrible weapons. Even under one of its most progressive presidents, it has failed abysmally to do so.
The promise of Prague was broken. Let us not get caught up in the hope and hype of Hiroshima. To succeed in eliminating nuclear weapons, we must begin by stigmatising and prohibiting such weapons. The US will not support us in this endeavour. But the overwhelming majority of nations will. We must stand firmly on the right side of history.
The problem is not North Korea or Russia or China, or whoever else we may perceive as the enemy. The problem is the weapons these and others possess and threaten to use every day through the doctrine of "deterrence". They are inherently indiscriminate, inhumane and immoral weapons. Soon, too, they will be illegal. Australia must stop defending them simply out of deference to its ally.
As Obama Visits Hiroshima, Time for
All Nations to Back Down from Nuclear Brink
Ward Wilson and Jean-Marie Collin / UPI
WASHINGTON, DC (May 26, 2016) -- This Friday President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima in Japan. Many Americans are concerned that he will apologize for the World War II bombing of that city with an atomic bomb -- an action they believe was necessary and justified. Many other Americans are hoping that he will apologize and wipe away what they see as a stain on our national conscience.
But the meaning of Obama's visit is larger than the guilt or innocence of the United States. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after all, symbolize what nuclear weapons can do. They are reminders of the power and destructiveness of the weapons.
Those two cities will forever be synonymous with tragedy, pain, and fear. But rather than focusing on whether the United States acted rightly or wrongly, the visit of the president of United States in Hiroshima is a unique moment to reflect on the larger meaning of nuclear weapons.
What will go through Obama's mind during the minute of silence that will be observed? What will he conclude after seeing the museum, the photos and bits and pieces of the wreckage of the city -- knowing that someone a few meters away has the nuclear "football" -- the briefcase that holds the command codes to launch US nuclear weapons? Will he think about his daughters? Will he think about the famous picture of a Japanese woman wounded by heat, where the skin has been melted?
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki established nuclear weapons as the currency of power in the 20th century. They were the weapons a nation needed to be respected and to keep itself safe. But with the arrival of the 21st century, some of those old truths have fallen away.
Historians now doubt whether nuclear weapons forced Japan to surrender, pointing out that the Soviet Union declared war on the same day that Nagasaki was bombed. What if nuclear weapons are not as intimidating as we have always imagined?
Nuclear deterrence was a mainstay of the Cold War, but now it seems clear that it will inevitably fail one day. The problem is not the weapons. The problem is the fallibility of human beings. After all, nuclear deterrence is not a machine that runs quietly by itself in the corner. We make the threats, we evaluate them, we decide how to respond. We're involved at every step in nuclear deterrence.
If human beings are prone to folly -- and we are, and if human beings are involved in nuclear deterrence -- and we are, then nuclear deterrence is inherently fallible: It will fail one day.
This is just human nature and common sense. How can we continue to rely on a process that will inevitably fail with catastrophic consequences? A nuclear war would kill something like 400 million people and leave civilization devastated for centuries.
Yet despite the fact that we now see the dangers and unreliability of nuclear weapons more clearly than we did during the Cold War, nuclear-armed states are not scaling back their dependence on these weapons -- they're increasing their reliance on them. The world has quietly embarked on a new nuclear arms race.
Russia is rearming, the United States is planning to spend a trillion dollars on upgrading its nuclear weapons, and China is expanding its previously tiny arsenal.
The prime minister of France explicitly said that a new arms race was underway when he inaugurated France's new Laser Megajoule: "Now France is leading the race for deterrence technology." We haven't learned the lessons of the Cold war, apparently.
Nuclear weapons are the Maginot Line of the 21st century. This famous French fortification system, built at enormous cost between 1928 and 1940, was expensive, impressive, a symbol of national security, and ultimately ineffective. It didn't prevent of the Nazi invasion.
Nuclear weapons are often held up as symbols of national greatness, but the problem with symbols is that people sometimes fall in love with the symbol and forget to be sure that the weapon system itself is really useful. Nuclear deterrence doesn't engage with the security challenges most states face in this century: terrorism, cyberwar and climate change.
Obama and President Francois Hollande of France say they want a world without nuclear weapons. But Obama has increased spending on nuclear weapons and Hollande has said that, "Deterrence is what ensures we can live in freedom."
Nuclear weapons are clumsy, dangerous weapons, nuclear deterrence is too unreliable to depend on over the long run and to use nuclear weapons would be immoral. It may be difficult finding a careful and secure method of backing away from the current mess -- ensuring that all of the world's nations get rid of their nuclear weapons together, but let us begin.
Ward Wilson is director of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project of BASIC (the British American Security Information Counsel). Jean-Marie Collin is director of parliamentarians for Non-proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament for France and Francophone countries and vice president of Initiatives for Nuclear Disarmament.}
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