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Hiroshima and the Persistence of Nuclear Weapons

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On this fateful day, 70 years ago, the first of the only two atomic bombs ever used was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, with a second catastrophic detonation wreaked on Nagasaki on August 9th , killing over 220,000 people by the end of 1945, with many tens of thousands of more dying from radiation poisoning and its lethal after effects over the years.

Yet despite these horrendous cataclysms in Japan, there are still 16,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, all but 1,000 of them held by the US and Russia. Our legal structures to control and eliminate the bomb are in tatters, as the five recognized nuclear weapons states in the Non-Proliferation Treaty—the US, UK, Russia, France, China–cling to their nuclear deterrents, asserting they are needed for their “security” despite the promises they made in 1970, 45 long years ago, to make good faith efforts to eliminate their nuclear arms. This “security” in the form of nuclear “deterrence” is extended by the United States to many more countries in the NATO nuclear alliances as well as to the Pacific states of Japan, Australia, and South Korea. Non-NPT states, India, Pakistan and Israel, as well as North Korea which left the NPT, taking advantage of its Faustian bargain for “peaceful” nuclear power, to make nuclear weapons similarly claim their reliance on nuclear “deterrence” for their security.

The rest of the world is appalled, not only at the lack of progress to fulfill promises for nuclear disarmament, but the constant modernization and “improvement” of nuclear arsenals with the US announcing a plan to spend one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, delivery systems and warheads, having just tested a dummy nuclear bunker-buster warhead last month in Nevada, its B-61-12 nuclear gravity bomb!

At this last NPT Review Conference in May, which broke up when the US, UK, and Canada refused to agree to an Egyptian proposal for a conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, made to fulfill a 1995 promise as part of the commitments from the nuclear weapons states for an indefinite extension of the 25 year old NPT, the non- nuclear weapons states took a bold step.   South Africa expressed its outrage at the unacceptable nuclear apartheid apparent in the current “security” system of nuclear haves and have nots—a system holding the whole world hostage to the security doctrine of the few.

In the past two years, after three major conferences with governments and civil society in Norway, Mexico and Austria to examine the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, over 100 nations signed up at the end of the NPT to the Austrian government’s Humanitarian Pledge to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

There are now 113 countries willing to move forward to negotiate a prohibition and ban on nuclear weapons to stigmatize and delegitimize these weapons of horror, just at the world has done for chemical and biological weapons. See www.icanw.org It is hoped that countries harboring under their nuclear umbrellas will also be pressured by civil society to give up their alliance with the nuclear devil and join the Humanitarian Pledge.

This August, as we remember and commemorate around the world the horrendous events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s long past time to ban the bomb! Let the talks begin!

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Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, which works for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 

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