On August 6 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, killing more than 140,000 people. A few days later, on August 9 1945, it dropped the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki killing more than 70,000 people. Apart from the huge death toll, the survivors of the atomic attack faced severe problems due to the radiation exposure, such as elevated risks of cancer, while the ground temperatures in both the cities soared to more than 4,000 degree Celsius.
Currently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has reshaped the dialogue around the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent tool of coercive diplomacy and the risk of the world coming to an end in the case of a nuclear conflict. Moreover, the existence of 90 percent of the total nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia have further fueled the fire of the threat of Ukraine war transforming into a cataclysmic nuclear war.
In June 2022, an inaugural meeting of the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (TNPW) was held in Vienna where a political aspiration for a world free of the existence and threat of nuclear weapons was converted into an agreement for nuclear disarmament, though its practical efficacy was limited in that there were no legal obligations for non signatories.
The meeting of the TNPW was followed by the 50th anniversary Review Conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York in August 2022, which failed to agree on a final document owing to Russian objections to its military actions in Ukraine near nuclear reactors, particularly the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant.
In May 1998, India, owing to the security imperatives arising of strategic uncertainties in the region, tested five nuclear tests. The uncertainties included the modernization of conventional, nuclear and missile forces by Pakistan and China and also the decision of the US to back China as an ally in the mission to impose a non proliferation order in Asia. Despite the extension of the NPT in 1995, most Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) refuse to consider the movement towards nuclear disarmament an urgent legal obligation under the NPT.
Moreover, most NWS consider it their prerogative to exercise the right to first use of nuclear weapons. For example, a recent proposal by Germany calling for the US, NATO and its allies to renounce its policy of first use was met with cold disapproval. Similarly, Russia, threatened by the increasing US Defence budget, US Stockpile Stewardship Programme, the expansion of NATO and unilateral military actions in Kosovo and Iraq, has continued to expand its nuclear arsenal.
India, however, has always supported the cause for non proliferation. For example, the leader of India, Jawaharlal Nehru stated in 1940, “Both because of our adherence to the principle of non-violence and from practical considerations arising from our understanding of world events, we believe that complete disarmament of all nation states should be aimed at, as in fact an urgent necessity, if the world is not to be reduced to barbarism”.
India has a long history with nuclear disarmament in that: Nehru pioneered the ideas of a nuclear test ban treaty, a freeze on the production of fissile material, the 1982 “Programme of Action on Disarmament, the 1988 Rajiv Gandhi “Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non violent World Order”, 1993 resolution for securing an early global ban on the production of fissile material.
However, the call for unilateral nuclear disarmament is steeped with thorns on all sides. For example, the non nuclear weapon states were forced into granting the NPT an extension in 1995 while the 1997 Presidential Decision Directive of the US government authorised the use of nuclear weapons against threats from chemical and biological weapons etc.
Similarly, NATO is expanding its use of British Trident submarines and US free fall bombs deployed in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey against WMD attacks by what it perceives as “rogue” states, thereby causing increased cynicism amongst the non nuclear weapon states.
Moreover, to decommission idle nuclear facilities, dismantle tens of thousands of weapons, accounting for fissile materials and placing them under requisite safeguards, would require a herculean effort by the NWS.
The feasibility of total recall of nuclear weapons can be stemmed from the 1995 US document, which states, “Since it is impossible to uninvent nuclear weapons or to prevent clandestine manufacture of some numbers of them, nuclear weapons seem destined to be the centerpiece of US strategic deterrence for the foreseeable future.”
The threat of nuclear war and accidental or misuse of nuclear technology, however, cannot remain unmerited.
For example, on September 29, 1957, nuclear waste exploded in the Russian town Ozyorsk, the original site of the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The already heavily polluted area was contaminated and the disaster released more radioactive contamination than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Similarly, nuclear war was averted on October 15, 1962, when a U.S. military plane discovered Soviet nuclear missiles under construction in Cuba, only about one hundred miles from the Florida coast.
President John F. Kennedy sent in the U.S. Navy to surround Cuba and demanded that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev dismantle the missiles. After several tense days, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a public guarantee from the United States that it would not attack Cuba, a Soviet ally.
Moreover, according to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 2022, even a limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving the use of 100 Hiroshima-size (15kt) bombs in total could cause a global famine through nuclear winter effects that would destroy crop production, disrupt global food distribution networks and over a decade kill up to two billion people.
The past and the future political realities of the world should remind us to exercise caution in the manufacture of further nuclear weapons and their accidental or willful misuse, which would spell a catastrophe for the world at large.
Abhishek Ranjan is the Founder and Director of Red Lantern Analytica.