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A Hiroshima Day Appeal for Nuclear Abolition

By Gunnar Westberg and John Loretz

More than 60 years ago, the world was put on notice by the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that we were living on borrowed time. More than 40 years ago, physicians and scientists described in frightening and comprehensive terms how a nuclear war would kill tens of millions of people indiscriminately, destroy entire societies and ecosystems, and cause cancers and genetic damage in unborn generations. In time we learned that, at its worst extreme, a nuclear exchange involving thousands of warheads could cause a nuclear winter that would lead to the extinction of humankind.

Almost from the moment the first photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were published, the people of the world began to organize to demand nuclear disarmament. Those demands led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, and a steady stream of other agreements meant to rein in the nuclear threat. The NPT, in particular, contained the promise of a nuclear-weapons-free world—a promise that the United States and the former Soviet Union ignored throughout the Cold War, and that tragically remains unfulfilled more than a decade since that conflict came to an end.

Today, we see no signs that the nuclear weapon states who signed the NPT have any intention to eliminate their nuclear weapons, as they have committed themselves to do under Article VI. To the contrary, we see new warheads, new nuclear missions, and new nuclear capabilities in the plans of all the nuclear weapon states for decades to come. Some of those states have declared that nuclear weapons are no longer only a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons by others, but could have warfighting roles in conflicts with either nuclear or non-nuclear weapon states. These dangerous new doctrines are provoking non-nuclear states to reconsider their promise not to acquire nuclear weapons, if the alternative is to live with a permament double standard.

In fact, three nuclear weapon states have emerged outside the NPT regime, a fourth has violated its NPT obligations in order to become a nuclear weapon state, a fifth is under suspicion of doing the same, and others are talking nervously about acquiring nuclear weapons of their own. The knowledge, the technology, and even the fissile materials required to build nuclear weapons are spreading to the most dangerous corners of the world, so that nuclear terrorism is now an unavoidable threat.

The world is shirking its responsibility to take these threats seriously in the only way they can be taken seriously if we are to prevent any future Hiroshimas or Nagasakis: by condemning nuclear weapons as medical, social, and moral atrocities once and for all; by forbidding anyone to possess them for any reason; and by establishing a set of international norms and institutions to enforce that prohibition.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, has said “Our ultimate goal is the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings. Only then will we have truly recovered hope for life and a future on this planet.”

For this reason, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) has launched ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (www.icanw.org). Not just North Korea’s nuclear weapons (though certainly those); not just India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (though certainly those); but all nuclear weapons in those countries and in the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, and Israel. Only the complete elimination of nuclear weapons from the world’s arsenals under a binding international treaty – the Nuclear Weapons Convention proposed by IPPNW and other NGOs committed to abolition – will fulfill the world’s humanitarian and moral obligation not only to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but to all future generations on Earth.

The world had a lucky escape from nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War. We may not be so lucky in the 21st century if we do not face up to the task we have been putting off since August 9, 1945.

Gunnar Westberg is Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW); John Loretz is IPPNW Program Director.

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