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60th Anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima

someone on a west mids mailing list :) | 05.08.2005 12:47 | Anti-militarism | Birmingham

The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, on August 6th, 1945, at a time when Japan was already suing for peace, was a massive leap in the horrors which human beings can inflict upon each other. Never before had so much damage been done to so many in so short a time. Never before had weapons continued to kill for many years after their use. Never before had weapons been used which would kill and maim future generations.

It is only by sheer good luck that a full-scale nuclear attack has never been launched since. The nearest we have come to nuclear war was the Cuban crisis in 1963, but that is not the only time that nuclear weapons have nearly been released.

The good fortune does not extend to the populations living near the several nuclear test sites in the world - the Pacific Islands, used by the French, the US Nevada desert, used by both the US and the UK, Lop Nor in China and the Russian test site in Kazakhstan. The radiation from the many nuclear tests has caused cancers and terrible birth defects. Nuclear weapons do not have to be used in war to have awful effects.

Neither have they deterred war. During the Cold War the USA fought its “war against Communism” by proxy, in far away places, most notably in Korea and Vietnam, and without nuclear weapons. France’s nuclear weapons did not prevent bloodshed in Algeria, nor UK weapons prevent the Falklands War. The logical conclusion of the argument that nuclear weapons prevent war is that every country in the world should have them, a horrifying prospect. Every increase in the world’s nuclear arsenals makes accident or theft of nuclear materials more likely.

Far from keeping us safe, nuclear weapons are an ever-present threat to the populations of the countries where they are based. Our UK warheads are manufactured at Aldermaston, in Berkshire, and based at Faslane on the Clyde estuary. They are carried by road, often on the West Midlands motorways, and even through Spaghetti Junction. There have been several minor accidents to the warhead convoys, though, thankfully, not yet a serious incident.

We cannot let an event as terrible as Hiroshima happen again. Today’s nuclear weapons are far more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki. Each UK Trident nuclear warhead is eight times more powerful than the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. Each of the four Trident submarines can carry sixteen missiles, and each missile can carry three warheads. We do not know how many are actually carried because this information is classified. The UK, Chinese and Israeli arsenals are believed to be roughly the same size, France has slightly more, while Russia and the US have several thousand each. India and Pakistan have fewer than 100 each. North Korea claims to have produced a nuclear weapon. The entire world population could be killed several times.

In July 1996, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the use of nuclear weapons is subject to International Humanitarian Law, which forbids the use of weapons which do not discriminate between civilians and the military. Would a nuclear weapon really be fired at a troop ship in the middle of the Pacific, so far from land that no radiation could reach the nearest inhabitants? Yet our government insists that it would use nuclear weapons only in accordance with International Law. Unfortunately, the International Court of Justice is an advisory body, with no powers of enforcement.

The prospects for the future are poor. In May, the signatories to the 1970 Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (all countries in the world except India, Israel and Pakistan, which have never signed, and North Korea which withdrew three years ago) met for the five-yearly Review Conference of the Treaty. Under its provisions, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US are recognised as possessing nuclear weapons but promise 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”. The non-nuclear states promised not to acquire nuclear weapons, and the treaty encourages all countries to develop nuclear power programmes, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is the clause under which Iran can justify the current development of it nuclear power programme.

The 2000 Review Conference had ended with the five declared nuclear powers re-affirming their commitment to nuclear disarmament. The only positive thing to be said about this year’s Review Conference is that those commitments remain in place, despite strenuous efforts by the US to have them declared redundant in the light of September 11th. However, there is little sign that any of the five are making serious efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals. UK Ministers point to a 70% reduction in firepower since the end of the Cold War. But many of the weapons withdrawn were old and obsolete. The warheads on Trident missiles can each be aimed at a separate target, unlike the previous system where all warheads on a missile would have landed on the same target.

In a written statement to the House of Commons on 19th July, just before the House rose for the summer recess, the Ministry of Defence announced plans to spend £350 million a year over the next three years to “sustain the existing warhead stockpile in service”. There are indications that some of this money will be used to fund an expansion of Aldermaston. This parliament has to make a decision on whether or not to replace Trident. If the UK were really honouring its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it would be spending £1 billion on dismantling, not sustaining, its warhead stockpile. How can we expect others, such as Iran, to abide by their commitments when we flout our own?

A nuclear war now would end civilisation as we know it, and the more nuclear weapons there are in the world the greater the danger of accident. They are useless against the forces which currently threaten us. Let us use this 60th anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons to resolve to spend the billions wasted on weapons which we can never use to address the true security of all citizens of the world.

Jenny Maxwell, Treasurer, West Midlands Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 0121 643 4617

someone on a west mids mailing list :)