Hiroshima, 1945

Japan in 1945..
The nuclear age begins when America uses the first atom bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War II to an end. Nearly a decade of physics research and development pays off. For a brief period, the US appears to reign as the sole superpower nation due to its monopoly over the atom bomb.

A desert in Kazakhstan in 1953..
Joe-4, the first Soviet atomic bomb, makes its debut. The US is still ahead, since it develops the first hydrogen bomb that dwarfs the original atomic bombs.

In the years that follow..
Britain gets its first nuclear bomb in 1952, followed soon by the French in 1960 and the Chinese in 1964. The nuclear club continues to expand, with rival neighbors India and Pakistan acquiring nuclear arms in 1974 and 1998, respectively. From the beginning of the nuclear era and even before their invention, it’s painfully clear that nuclear weapons are stronger than anything mankind has ever built, and could easily lead to complete annihilation of life on the planet if used. From cases of French soldiers in the Sahara to Japanese fishermen who got too close to nuclear testing sites, the world gets a small taste of just how horrific nuclear effects are.

To this day…
For good reason, nuclear weapons have always been at the back of everyone’s minds, and now they’ve resurfaced in the popular consciousness thanks to a number of recent world events. First off, President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev finally agreed on terms of a treaty designed to further limit the number of nuclear warheads each nation has. The latest installment of the Strategic Arms Reduction (START) treaties stipulates that both countries will reduce the number of nuclear arms they have by a third and need to submit to UN weapons inspections to carefully keep track of nuclear stockpiles. Neither nation may have more than 2,000 nuclear arms, but have to cut down their inventories to 1,500 bombs and 700 delivery systems.

A few days ago..
Another major development is Obama’s announcement of his Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which contains a number of revisions to the typical American approach on using nuclear weapons. Most notably, under Obama’s new rules, the US will promise not to use nuclear arms against hostile nations that are signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, unless a nation is actively researching nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction. The official US stance against North Korea and Iran remains unchanged, so overall the new NPR limits the situations in which the US may deploy nuclear weapons. To win over other countries, Obama is holding an international summit on nuclear weapons this weekend, with over 40 countries planning to attend, but one nuclear club member is opting out: Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his decision to send another Israeli representative in his stead, throwing another wrench into the already complex and testy dealings between America and Israel. Netanyahu’s sudden choice to steer clear of Obama’s nuclear summit also raises lingering questions about Israel’s secretive nuclear capacities. For now, Israel remains the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear bombs, and the nuclear issue is sure to remain prominent due to rival Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In 1986..
Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, troubled by the secrecy surrounding his nation’s nuclear program, reveals all he knows about Israel’s nuclear developments to Britain’s Sunday Times, such as number of warheads produced, procedures for enriching plutonium, and descriptions of bomb types. The Mossad subsequently kidnaps him and he is tried and imprisoned for revealing state secrets. Vanunu continues to be a thorn in Israel’s side, as he frequently is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and numerous organizations like Amnesty International have called for his release and accused Israel of torturing and unjustly punishing him.

In 1968..
Ireland and Finland propose the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to limit nuclear proliferation. Since the treaty went into effect in 1970, 189 nations have signed it. The main three terms of treaty call for disarmament, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the use of nuclear power for solely peaceful purposes. Several notable members of the nuclear club, including Israel, Pakistan and India have still not signed the treaty.

Several days ago in Prague..
In many ways, this meeting showed clear differences from past interactions between the US and Russia, and hopefully might even be proof that the new “reset” era promised by the Obama administration has finally arrived. Obama and Medvedev both spoke highly of each other, with Obama claiming that Medvedev is a “friend and partner” exercising “strong leadership”, and Medvedev returning the praise by citing “very good personal chemistry” with Obama. Both fortunately and unfortunately, no one raised questions about the ongoing issues of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russian human rights abuses, or American and Russian missile defense systems coming dangerously close to each other in Europe.

Click to enlarge.

The renewal of START is a positive step not only for usually tense US-Russia relations but also for the world, since reducing the risk of nuclear destruction is a common goal for all countries, but START’s problem is that it leaves so many questions unanswered about what lies next for Russia and America, as well as the role of nuclear weapons in the world. Like it or not, we have to acknowledge that the ultimate goal of complete nuclear disarmament so many people pursue is naïve and impossible at best and totally foolish at worst. Nuclear weapons are here to stay, and unbelievable as it sounds, that is actually something we should be thankful for.

Last October…
Around the time of the Nobel Committee’s out-of-the-blue proclamation that Obama was the latest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, one TIME editorial argued that if the Nobel Committee was truly interested in promoting peace and minimizing warfare, it ought to give recognition to a true peacekeeper: nuclear weapons. The article establishes a number of little-known and little-considered points for not entirely abolishing nuclear weapons; for example, even if legitimate and law-abiding nations all renounce nuclear arms and deactivate all their warheads, what will stop terrorists and rogue states like Iran and North Korea from doing so? America and the rest of the free world would be at an enormous disadvantage if it lacked nuclear weapons when dealing against such enemies. As political writer and commentator Charles Krauthammer noted lately, one of the most useful weapons the US possessed during the Cold War against the USSR was its threat to use nuclear weapons as a counter for any attack the Soviets made against Europe, keeping communism at bay and giving America a major advantage.

More importantly, the article argued that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear arms have made people aware of the potential of mutually assured destruction (MAD) brought about by nuclear technology. Before the invention of nukes, humanity endured two world wars and countless constant conflicts occurring nonstop around the world, with 15 million people perishing a year on average due to warfare. In the past three decades, the figure has dropped steadily to 3 million a year. While new wars are always taking place and people are always dying of genocide, execution, famine, and other related effects of war, nuclear weapons now make countries think twice before plunging immediately into what TIME terms “the long, seemingly inexorable trend in modernity toward deadlier and deadlier conflicts”.

Now with Obama’s new nuclear policy..
These reasons are why Obama’s recent revisions of decades-old US nuclear policy have both positive and negative consequences. On the bright side, fewer nukes in all nations leads to lower risk of nuclear destruction of humanity and the world, as well as greater security and confidence that nuclear weapons are less prevalent. However, the US is now more constrained in its ability to deal with enemy threats and rogue nations under the new nuclear rules, and an America completely devoid of nuclear arms, although unimaginable, would be much easier prey for terrorists and hostile countries.

In the years to come..
For Obama, the current challenge is to balance negotiations with Russia and other members of the nuclear club to gradually decrease the number of nuclear weapons in the world while managing to not completely eliminate all of them, especially America’s own stockpile. Not only is this necessary, but Obama must also isolate and prevent rogue nations from developing nuclear arms further. In these cases, nuclear arms would definitely come in handy, since paradoxically, nukes are most effective at stopping conflict when they are not used at all.

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Derek Sun

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