Flipping the Nuclear Coin

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Nagasaki

Today is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. While the death toll is not exactly known, 74,000 deaths were commemorated by Nagasaki city officials on this anniversary. There are arguments to be made both in favor of and against this use of nuclear force presented in this Wikipedia article about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From the quotes in the Wikipedia article contradicting the decision, we can see that military leaders of the time Eisenhower and MacArthur believed that the bombings were “completely unnecessary.”

What was the purpose? To send a message to the rest of the world? We know that the Russians got the message very clearly, as it can be said that the use of the A-bomb on Japan marked the beginning of the nuclear arms race and cold war. Today we still feel the reverberations of those explosions as we struggle to deal with the former Soviet Union’s unsecured nukes, concerns of nuclear terrorism, the proliferation of weapons in states such as Pakistan and North Korea, and the unknown ambitions of states such as Iran. What can the US do to lead the world away from the precipice of nuclear disaster?

Perhaps we should disarm of all of our nuclear weapons. I can think of no morally justifiable use for nuclear weapons. If we can never be justified in using them, they make little sense as a deterrent –unless our enemies think that we are willing to use them nonetheless. But what does it say for our credibility in foreign relations if we depend on the perception that we are willing to abandon our morality? Besides that, terrorists will not be deterred by our nuclear arsenal.

To my mind, the status quo exacerbates the proliferation problem. Other states seek their own nuclear weapons out of the desire of possessing their own deterrent. North Korea claims that they pursue their nuclear program in answer to the threat of US exercising military force on the peninsula. Pakistan surely fears the same threat from India, Israel the threat from it’s neighbors, China…

Nuclear proliferation is the real domino effect of the cold war.

On the other side of the nuclear coin, there is nuclear energy. Energy that doesn’t pollute the air or produce green house gasses. Energy that doesn’t require the extraction of fossil fuels from the planet. Energy that as technology develops could eventually be totally sustainable and without waste. Energy that could be used for electricity to “charge” batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Energy that could fuel a new industrial revolution that lets us slip the bonds of oil addiction. (There is a downside to nuclear energy, that we would have to address for at least the short term, but with innovation I believe we can overcome that.)

Which brings us back to Iran which is pursuing it’s own nuclear program. So far they are engaging in “conversion and enrichment activity — which it has the right to conduct under the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty.]” They claim it is an energy program, we claim they seek nuclear weapons. Either way, who are we to say that they can or cannot pursue it? Enriched uranium can be used either for power generation or weapons production. It’s a flip of the nuclear coin: there will always be concerns around independent enrichment programs. Is there a way to safeguard against nuclear weapons proliferation without stifling progress in the area of nuclear energy?

What about “…a global nuclear fuel company, possibly under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency [that] would collect, reprocess, and distribute fuel to every nation in the world, thus keeping potential bomb fixings out of circulation[?]”¹ If we would disarm, and be willing to participate in such an organization, we would gain credibility in our commitment to saving the world from nuclear disaster, and establish the legal grounds on the world stage to go after future questionable programs such as Iran’s.

1. Wired: Nuclear Now!

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