Nuclear War—Is It Still a Threat?
By Awake! writer in Japan
“Every thinking person fears nuclear war, and every technological state plans for it. Everyone knows it is madness, and every nation has an excuse.”—Carl Sagan, astronomer.
ON AUGUST 6, 1945, an American warplane dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and in an instant took an immense price in human lives and property. This was the first atom bomb to be used in warfare. The explosion completely devastated five square miles [13 sq km] of the city, which had 343,000 inhabitants. Over two thirds of the city’s structures were destroyed, leaving at least 70,000 dead and 69,000 injured. Three days later a second atom bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki; 39,000 people were killed and 25,000 injured. About half the city’s structures were destroyed or damaged. Never before in the history of mankind had such a powerful weapon been used. The world had changed. It had entered the nuclear age. Within a few years, the United States, the former Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China developed the much more destructive hydrogen bomb.
The Cold War—the rivalry between Communist and non-Communist nations—spurred on the development of superior nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Fear gripped the world as ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) were developed that could make a nuclear strike at targets in countries more than 3,500 miles [5,600 km] away in minutes rather than hours. Submarines were equipped with enough nuclear missiles to blast 192 separate targets. Nuclear arsenal stockpiles were once estimated to be up to 50,000 warheads! During the Cold War, mankind stood on the brink of what some people called a nuclear Armageddon—a war with no winners.
The End of the Cold War
During the 1970’s, the tension of the Cold War was eased “as evinced in the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] I and II agreements,” explains The Encyclopædia Britannica, “in which the two superpowers set limits on their antiballistic missiles and on their strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.” Then, the late 1980’s saw the thawing of the Cold War and its eventual end.
“The end of the Cold War gave rise to hopes that the legacy of a nuclear arms race and confrontation between the United States and Russia was coming to an end,” says a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As a result of nuclear disarmament efforts, hundreds of nuclear arsenals have been dismantled in recent years. In 1991 the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Treaty on Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, which, for the first time in history, obligated these two nuclear superpowers not merely to limit but also to reduce their deployed strategic warheads to 6,000 each. At the end of 2001, both parties declared that they had complied with the treaty by cutting down their strategic nuclear warheads as agreed. Further, in 2002 the Moscow Treaty, which obligates further cuts to between 1,700 and 2,200 in the coming ten years, was agreed upon.
Despite such developments, however, “this is no time for complacency when it comes to the threat of nuclear war,” said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He added: “Nuclear conflict remains a very real, and very terrifying possibility at the beginning of the 21st century.” Lamentably, a nuclear disaster—far worse than what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is still a threat in our day. Who is threatening? More important, can it be avoided?