Opinion

OPINION | ART HOBSON: Deterrence no longer a rational approach; the United States and others must support UN treaty

USA, others must support U.N. treaty


In the wake of the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings and the release of the movie "Oppenheimer," it's a good time to talk about ending the threat of these dreadful weapons. I encountered this dread in 1946 when an 11-year-old "Hobby" heard about Hiroshima on his parent's car radio.

The bad news is that, along with global warming, The Bomb is an existential threat to civilization. The good news is that the chances of real action on both issues are now at an all-time high.

For global warming, this is because the evidence is now obvious daily, making it absurd for the fossil fuel industry to continue its decades-long propaganda campaign supporting oil production.

For nuclear weapons, this is because of the United Nations' "Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons." It prohibits the nations that have signed the treaty from testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, deploying, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits providing nuclear weapons assistance to other nations.

The U.N. adopted this treaty in 2017 with 122 nations in favor, one opposed and 70 not voting. Those opposed or not voting included the USA and the NATO nations, which slavishly follow the USA in such matters.

Note that U.N. adoption of the treaty does not obligate any nation to abide by it. Only those nations that sign the adopted treaty are obligated to abide by it. To date, 92 nations have signed.

According to the Doomsday Clock set every year by the science and security advisors to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the current time is 90 seconds to midnight, a symbolic fact that brings tears to my eyes. Will civilization survive? The world is now in a race against this clock to induce the nine nuclear nations as well as other nations capable of building such weapons to sign and abide by the treaty.

As more and more nations sign the treaty, the pressure rises on abstaining nations to support civilization on this crucial matter. The most important nations to persuade are the nine that possess these obscene weapons, namely (in chronological order) the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Spearheading this existential race is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN. Leaders include Austria, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Thailand. No nuclear nation has supported the treaty; the USA and Russia have expressed explicit opposition. The NATO nations, Australia and Japan have also expressed opposition to the treaty. Unfortunately, all these nations believe nuclear weapons enhance their security.

Pacifists, of course, support the treaty, but support for it extends far beyond this community. In 2007, former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, along with former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former senator and nuclear policy expert Sam Nunn, authored a Wall Street Journal article advocating total nuclear disarmament. They had previously argued that these weapons are needed for deterrence. Kissinger, for example, had signaled a U.S. willingness to use nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War.

Now, however, they assert that nuclear weapons, far from making us safe, pose an overall threat. These hawks (of both the conservative Republican and liberal Democrat variety) had supported nuclear weapons but now argue that the world is better off with zero nuclear weapons.

What has changed? It's called "nuclear proliferation." The three Great Powers -- (1) the USA allied with the U.K. and France, (2) Russia, (3) China -- were most powerful when only they owned nuclear weapons. But then Israel, India, Pakistan and the upstart North Korea joined the club. With Iran and Saudi Arabia now threatening to join, possession of nuclear weapons is becoming more and more of a losing proposition for the Great Powers.

Japan is critical to this debate. For obvious reasons, it has become much more antiwar since losing a war in 1945. However, the G-7 industrial powers, which includes Japan, declared last May that they (foolishly) continue supporting nuclear weapons for deterrence. Meanwhile, on the anniversary of his city's nuclear bombing, the mayor of Nagasaki recently stated that "As long as states are dependent on deterrence, we cannot realize a world without nuclear weapons" and declared support for zero nuclear weapons.

Many Japanese, especially bomb survivors and their relatives, are angered by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's support for nuclear weapons and his opposition to the U.N. treaty. Japan, the only direct victim of The Bomb, should be quick to join the treaty.

The USA should be leading the world toward unanimously signing the treaty.


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