An excuse for nuclear weapons

Sixty years ago, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, followed by one on Nagasaki three days later. The killing and injuring of hundreds of thousands of people ushered in an age that threatened nuclear annihilation. Since the East-West confrontation ended 15 years ago, the world has tended to move away from the risk of a major nuclear conflagration, yet it remains far from eliminating nuclear weapons. Rather, in the past couple of years, the world has suffered setbacks even in its endeavors to curtail their spread.

A series of events have hampered antinuclear moves. For example, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference failed, and North Korea and Iran have been pushing their own nuclear programs. Their development efforts may not yet be at the stage of producing large bombs, but it has reached the extent where they worry their neighbors and destabilize regional peace.

The NPT review conference held in New York in May did not produce any agreement to further strengthen the NPT regime because of a rift between nuclear and nonnuclear-weapons states. While nonnuclear-weapons states insisted that nuclear-weapons states cut their nuclear arsenals and refrain from developing new nuclear weapons, the latter, in particular the United States, demanded that the NPT member countries focus on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. The failure of the review does not necessarily mean the collapse of the NPT regime, but it is certain that it has weakened the momentum of efforts to rid the world of nuclear threats.

In 2002, in the first reduction agreement of its kind in nearly a decade, the U.S. and Russia signed a treaty to cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces by approximately two-thirds to 1,700-2,200 warheads each by 2012. But even with this treaty, the weapons will only be mothballed — not destroyed — and no verification procedures are provided. It is estimated that over 30,000 nuclear warheads are scattered throughout the world at present.

The nuclear-weapons states must bear responsibility for taking a lead role in working to realize the NPT’s ultimate ambition of creating a nuclear weapons-free world. They can do this by carrying out substantially deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals. Only when they move in this direction will they have a credible ability to persuade other nations, including nuclear gray states like India, Pakistan and Israel, to abandon their nuclear weapons and forgo programs that may lead to the production of nuclear weapons.

As America’s responsibility for nuclear disarmament as the only superpower in the world is especially heavy, it is regrettable that the U.S. refuses to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. On the contrary, it is moving to turn nuclear weapons — whose use has been unimaginable since the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — into more “practical” weapons such as small-yield mini-nukes and earth penetrators.

We would like to point out that the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the nuclear-weapons states for nuclear disarmament provides countries like North Korea and Iran with an excuse for pursuing a nuclear-development program.

North Korea apparently has been using its nuclear-weapons program as a means of securing political and economic gains. To many people, this seems deplorable. If North Korea becomes a full-fledged nuclear-weapons state, it not only poses a serious threat to other nations in the region but may also encourage an extreme reaction on the part of some elements in Japan, including demands that Japan also arm itself with nuclear weapons.

The confession by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program, sounded an alarm because it showed that one individual could play a significant role in proliferating nuclear-arms technology. Although he dealt with states, his case points to the danger of terrorists acquiring nuclear-weapons technology from scientists who do not guard themselves against the risks of contributing to proliferation. It shows that the fear felt since the collapse of the Soviet Union that nuclear-weapons technology might find its way into the hands of terrorists is not far-fetched.

With the number of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings dwindling, it becomes all the more important that the experiences of the two cities, as well as accurate knowledge about the dreadfulness of nuclear arms, be handed down to future generations worldwide.

An encouraging sign was the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims’ sponsorship of an atomic bomb exhibition in Chicago that coincided with the NPT review conference — the first such event by the body. As the only nation on Earth to suffer from atomic bombings, Japan should step up such efforts in earnest.