Image: Science in HD (Unsplash)
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”– These famous words uttered by the scientist of the Manhattan project, Dr.J.Robert Oppenhemier taken from the sacred Hindu text the Bhagavad-Gita on the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb in 1945. On the 6th and 9th of August 2020 Japan commemorated the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb droppings on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In today’s modern world which is becoming ever more polarizing, it is important to take stock of days like these and appraise the effects that nuclear weapons and weapons, in general, have had on global peace.
The modernisation of arms through the industrialisation process had led to may advancements in arms manufacturing. Weapons have become more accurate, effective and precise which have consequentially led to an increase in loss of human life. A quintessential indicator of this progress is the difference between conventional arms and nuclear arms. The advent of the nuclear bomb is representative of a complete revolution in military affairs. To put this in perspective, consider the largest traditional non-nuclear weapon, the Russian built Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (AVBIP) or commonly 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. Contrastingly nuclear bombs deliver their blast energy in three amalgamated ways, through a blast constituting 50%, 35% being heat and 15% through radiation. To simplify this even further, 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 is a generational bomb, it can wipe out an entire generation and those lucky enough to survive the blast of heat, suffer from radiation sickness and eventually perish. A nuclear bomb is a total weapon, it can desolate an entire nation, it is the Omega. The aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in thousands of deaths, numbers vary but a conservative estimate is that over 250,000 people died from these bombings whereas the largest bombings during WWII in Hamburg resulted in 41,000 deaths. The sheer power of these weapons completely shifted and shuddered the global perspective on the consequences of nuclear weapons, conflict, and human loss.
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 the brewing Cold-War. Additionally, the ability to possess 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 analyze 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 on the non-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 Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD was often seen as the main reason why the Cold War never escalated. MAD essentially means, that if one nuclear state strikes another, the opposing state would have the capabilities to immediately retaliate with its nuclear weapons leading to mutual destruction. 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 who have signed the treaty and violated it by obtaining nuclear weapons. Any international agreement on world peace needs to include actors most likely to presage world peace, thus, states such as North Korea, Iran and brewing tensions between 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) permanent 5 members, the body responsible for global peace is an oxymoron for peace at best. Let’s elaborate on this, 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 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, these P5 have refused to completed eradicated their own nuclear arms programs as this is apart of their national security strategy. This then begs the question, why should Pakistan give up its nuclear weapons program? Or why shouldn’t Iran be allowed to pursue a nuclear project if the P5 refuse to give up their arms? Thus, the P5 peace mechanism is flawed and does not have a vested interested in total global peace and thus, it is up to the rest of the global nations to pressurise the P5 to take steps towards a nuclear-free world!
By Jervin Naidoo
Jervin Naidoo is an academic at the University of Pretoria and holds an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick, and is the founder of The Art of Politics.