Nuclear arms are not weapons of war but weapons that would wreak total, global destruction.
SEVENTY-FIVE years ago, on Aug 6,1945, in a horrendous act of inhumanity, President Truman of the United States ordered the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese town of Hiroshima. The consequent whirlwind of fire and heat obliterated 90% of the city.
Temperatures near the blast reached 6,982°C. Nearly 140,000 innocent civilians were incinerated.
As if this bestiality was not enough, on Aug 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 and maiming countless others.
In addition to the 214,000 or so killed, another 230,000 survivors of the two blasts succumbed to the effects of the nuclear holocaust within five years.
Supporters of the nuclear strikes argue that had it not been for this show of brute power, Japan would not have surrendered, and the war would have continued with monumental loss of lives on both sides.
Others, including the late South African President Nelson Mandela, are on record that the nuclear attack was uncalled for because Japan was actively negotiating a surrender. Its supply lines had been cut, its air force was in shambles, and Tokyo was in ruins due to earlier fire-bombing raids that had killed 140,000 and injured a million.
Some critics also allege that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki decisions were motivated by strategic goals.
The US committed this atrocity because it wished to serve notice on the USSR’s (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) leader, Joseph Stalin, that if the USSR tried to achieve in Asia-Pacific what it secured in Eastern Europe, America would use its nuclear might to teach it a lesson.
A decade after the stench of World War II had faded, some glimmer of hope appeared. In 1956, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established to ensure nuclear activities are conducted only for peaceful purposes.
Regrettably, the IAEA is denied access by many nuclear nations to their military programmes.
In 1963, a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to forbid nuclear tests in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater was signed by the US, Britain and the Soviet Union.
This was commendable, but it did not prevent these superpowers from misusing third world territories to conduct dangerous underground tests that they dare not conduct on their own soil.
As with much of international law, Asian and African interests are generally sacrificed to support the strategic designs of North Atlantic nations.
In 1968, a landmark Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was signed. This treaty is supported by 191 nations and is perhaps the most universally supported legal instrument of international law.
Its positive contribution is that it bans the spread of nuclear weapons. Its weakness is that it merely encourages and does not require countries that already possess these weapons of mass destruction to disarm. It recommends to the nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.
Regrettably, no nuclear armed country has disarmed. In June 2019, Russia had 6,490 nuclear warheads; the US 6,185; France 300; China 290; the UK 200; Pakistan 160; India 140; Israel 90; and North Korea 30.
In June 2019, the world was bristling with 13,885 nuclear warheads. Many countries are modernising their arsenal and using new technology to develop low yield, “tactical” nuclear weapons.
Due to the failure of the NPT to produce nuclear disarmament, the UN in July 2017 adopted a new and comprehensive Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which imposes a total ban on use of nuclear weapons, threat to use, development, testing, production, possession, stockpiling, transfer and stationing in another country.
For countries already armed, there is a recommended process for the destruction of the arms in a legally binding time frame.
Regrettably, none of the nine states with nuclear bombs participated in the negotiations. Out of the 122 states that signed the treaty, fewer than 50 have ratified it. The treaty is therefore not yet in operation.
Malaysia, too, has withheld ratification on the dubious ground that it plans to have a nuclear power plant by 2030.
Ironically, Japan, the victim of the perfidy in 1945, has not signed due to its defence alliance with the US.
The US, UK, France, Australia and South Korea have refrained from joining due to their belief that “nuclear deterrence is essential to peace”.
This is a tired, old argument. The dangers of possession are too many. A deranged leader may start a conflagration. There are international leaders who periodically issue the threat that “all options are on the table”.
Terrorists may hijack a facility. There may be accidents. There may be misinterpretation of cyber interference as an attack on a nuclear system.
Any detonation of nuclear weapons will cause unimaginable humanitarian suffering and devastate the environment. The catastrophic consequences will be immediate as well as long term and will impact not only governments but also each and every inhabitant of our interconnected world.
Covid-19 has taught us that no government or international agency has the capacity to respond adequately to the colossal humanitarian needs that a nuclear war would generate.
Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy, co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, summed it up well: “Nuclear arms are not a weapon of war, but weapons that would wreak total global destruction.”
Citizens of the world must therefore raise their voices against their governments, demand ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and seek enhancement of the scrutiny powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
All governments must also be reminded that “you can start a war when you will; you can’t end it when you please”.
Emeritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi is Tunku Abdul Rahman Professor at UM and holder of the Tun Hussein Onn Chair at ISIS Malaysia. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.