One atomic bomb can wipe out an entire city. Today, the nuclear powers have more than 17,000 nuclear warheads. Ever since nuclear weapons were developed, attempts have been made to limit their proliferation and to abolish them altogether. All members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have committed themselves to working for nuclear disarmament. So far, however, there has been little movement in that direction.
An international campaign is now trying to increase the pressure for nuclear disarmament by focusing on the catastrophic consequences that the use of nuclear weapons will have on people – the humanitarian consequences. But many obstacles stand in the way of a world without nuclear weapons.
- What is the history of nuclear weapons?
- Which international agreement is linked to nuclear weapons?
- What is moving in the nuclear field?
- Why are nuclear weapons not abolished?
2: USA first with nuclear weapons
On August 6, 1945, an American bomber dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima . Of a population of around 350,000, about 100,000 died immediately. Of the 76,000 buildings in the city, almost 50,000 were destroyed in total, and another 20,000 were badly damaged. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on the small town of Nagasaki , and about 25,000 lives were immediately lost. These are the only two times nuclear weapons have been used in war, but it is no exaggeration to say that the world was now changed forever. The nuclear age had begun.
The atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 had a devastatingly far greater destructive power than conventional weapons . As early as 1945, an atomic bomb could wipe out an entire city. In addition, it could lead to serious medical consequences as a result of radioactive radiation – including an increased risk of cancer in the survivors. However, the bombs that destroyed the two Japanese cities become miniatures compared to the hydrogen bombs that were developed in the early 1950s. In a test in 1961, the Soviet Union carried out a test bombing of a bomb with an explosive power 2,500 times as large as the Hiroshima bomb.
Both Britain , France and China developed nuclear weapons during the 1950s and 1960s. Today, India , Pakistan , Israel and North Korea have also acquired nuclear weapons. Between 1945 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union built tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. With such an overwhelming stock, the two superpowers could keep each other in check with what was called a terrorist balance . A possible attack from one of them would trigger massive retaliation from the other given the large stockpiles of nuclear weapons on both sides. The abbreviation MAD(mutually assured destruction) expressed this balance of terror in a condensed way. It briefly and easily illustrated the fatal consequences of a possible nuclear war.
It has been common to argue that precisely the possible consequences of a nuclear war helped to prevent war. The certainty of the consequences was enough for the great powers to reconsider and refrain from armed confrontation, the argument went. It can be a hasty and simplified ending. In retrospect, we know that on several occasions it has been close that nuclear weapons were used, including during the Cuba crisis in 1962.
After the Cold War , the world’s nuclear arsenals have been greatly reduced. But there are still more than 17,000 nuclear warheads in today’s nuclear powers, weapons that can be used immediately. In addition, there are reserves and weapons that must be destroyed, but which can be reactivated in a relatively short time.
3: The role of nuclear weapons in international politics
Due to their enormous destructive potential, nuclear weapons have characterized international politics since 1945. According to softwareleverage.org, the countries that have acquired nuclear weapons have justified their need for nuclear weapons with national security considerations. The nuclear weapons have further contributed to forming a hierarchy in world politics where the nuclear powers have been given a special status. At the same time, since the first atomic bomb was developed, diplomatic efforts have been made to limit the proliferation of and completely abolish the world’s nuclear weapons.
The most important international agreements are Non-Proliferation Treaty (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) of 1970. In the committed the five countries that had nuclear weapons in 1967 (USA, USSR, UK, France and China), pledged to work for disarmament and final disarmament. All other countries that have acceded to the agreement have committed themselves to refraining from acquiring nuclear weapons. (More about the Non-Proliferation Treaty, see HHD no. 23, 2009–2010 ). NPT is the backbone of the international effort to control nuclear weapons. The agreement has not been able to prevent India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons since then. Nevertheless, it is the most important international instrument in place to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.