Nuclear weapons debate

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Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have remained highly controversial and contentious objects in the forum of public debate.
A graph showing evolution of number of nuclear weapons in the US and USSR and in the period 1945-2005. US dominates early and USSR later years with and crossover around 1978.
U.S. and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, 1945–2005.

The nuclear weapons debate is about public controversies relating to the use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Even before the first nuclear weapons had been developed, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project were divided over the use of the weapon. The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades.

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence and complete elimination of nuclear weapons would make conventional wars more likely and destroy the current Nuclear peace the world is experiencing.

Various American government officials, who were in office during the Cold War period, are now advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons. These officials include Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry. In January 2010, Lawrence M. Krauss stated that "no issue carries more importance to the long-term health and security of humanity than the effort to reduce, and perhaps one day, rid the world of nuclear weapons".[1]

History[edit]

The Fat Man mushroom cloud resulting from the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki.

Even before the first nuclear weapons had been developed, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project were divided over the use of the weapon. Some—notably a number at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, represented in part by Leó Szilárd—lobbied early on that the atomic bomb should only be built as a deterrent against Nazi Germany getting a bomb, and should not be used against populated cities. The Franck Report argued in June 1945 that instead of being used against a city, the first atomic bomb should be "demonstrated" to the Japanese on an uninhabited area.[2] This recommendation was not agreed with by the military commanders, the Los Alamos Target Committee (made up of other scientists), or the politicians who had input into the use of the weapon. Because the Manhattan Project was considered to be "top secret", there was no public discussion of the use of nuclear arms, and even within the U.S. government, knowledge of the bomb was extremely limited.

The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Exploding with a yield equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT, the blast and thermal wave of the bomb destroyed nearly 50,000 buildings and killed approximately 75,000 people.[3] Detonation of the "Fat Man" atomic bomb over Nagasaki occurred on 9 August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. J. Samuel Walker suggests that "the controversy over the use of the bomb seems certain to continue".[4]

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles grew,[5] and nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for testing and demonstration purposes. Countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons—and that acknowledge possessing such weapons—are (chronologically) the United States, the Soviet Union (succeeded as a nuclear power by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.[6]

Arguments[edit]

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. In the early 1980s, following a revival of the nuclear arms race, a popular nuclear disarmament movement emerged.[7] In October 1981 half a million people took to the streets in several cities in Italy, more than 250,000 people protested in Bonn, 250,000 demonstrated in London, and 100,000 marched in Brussels.[8] The largest anti-nuclear protest was held on June 12, 1982, when one million people demonstrated in New York City against nuclear weapons.[9][10][11] In October 1983, nearly 3 million people across western Europe protested nuclear missile deployments and demanded an end to the arms race.[12]

Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence. Deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of an aggressive action. Nuclear weapons are said to have induced "nuclear peace" during the Cold War, when both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. possessed mutual second-strike retaliation capability, eliminating the possibility of nuclear victory for either side.

Various American government officials, who were in office during the Cold War period, are now advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons. These officials include Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry.[13][14] They believe that the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence is obsolete, and that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.[13][15]

The risk of accidents, misjudgements or unauthorised launches, they argued, was growing more acute in a world of rivalries between relatively new nuclear states that lacked the security safeguards developed over many years by America and the Soviet Union. The emergence of pariah states, such as North Korea (possibly soon to be joined by Iran), armed with nuclear weapons was adding to the fear as was the declared ambition of terrorists to steal, buy or build a nuclear device. Only by a concerted effort to free the world of nuclear weapons could the terrifying trend be reversed.[15]

Some scientists project that a war between two countries that resulted in 100 Hiroshima-size atomic explosions could cause significant loss of life, in the tens of millions. There could also be much soot thrown up into the atmosphere which would blanket the earth, causing the disruption of food chains in what is termed Nuclear Winter.[16][17]

Others argue that nuclear weapons have made the world relatively safer, with peace through deterrence and through the stability–instability paradox, including in south Asia.[18][19] Kenneth Waltz has argued that nuclear weapons have helped keep an uneasy peace, and further nuclear weapon proliferation might help avoid the large scale conventional wars that were so common prior to their invention at the end of World War II.[20] In the July 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs Waltz took issue with the view of most U.S., European, and Israeli, commentators and policymakers that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. Instead Waltz argues that it would probably be the best possible outcome, as it would restore stability to the Middle East by balancing Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.[21]

Professor John Mueller of Ohio State University, author of Atomic Obsession[22] has also dismissed the need to interfere with Iran's nuclear program and expressed that arms control measures are counterproductive.[23] During a 2010 lecture at the University of Missouri, which was broadcast by C-Span, Dr. Mueller has also argued that the threat from nuclear weapons, including that from terrorists, has been exaggerated, both in the popular media, and by officials.[24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lawrence M. Krauss. The Doomsday Clock Still Ticks, Scientific American, January 2010, p. 26.
  2. ^ Schollmeyer, Josh (January/February 2005). "Minority Report". "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  3. ^ Emsley, John (2001). "Uranium". Nature's Building Blocks: An A to Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 478. ISBN 0-19-850340-7. 
  4. ^ Walker, J. Samuel (April 2005). "Recent Literature on Truman's Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground". Diplomatic History 29 (2): 334. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2005.00476.x. 
  5. ^ Mary Palevsky, Robert Futrell, and Andrew Kirk. Recollections of Nevada's Nuclear Past UNLV FUSION, 2005, p. 20.
  6. ^ "Federation of American Scientists: Status of World Nuclear Forces". Fas.org. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  7. ^ Lawrence S. Wittner. "Disarmament movement lessons from yesteryear". Archived from the original on 2012-12-09.  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 July 2009.
  8. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 147.
  9. ^ Jonathan Schell. The Spirit of June 12 The Nation, July 2, 2007.
  10. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 145.
  11. ^ 1982 - a million people march in New York City
  12. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  13. ^ a b George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. A World Free of Nuclear Weapons Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, page A15.
  14. ^ Hugh Gusterson (30 March 2012). "The new abolitionists". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 
  15. ^ a b "Nuclear endgame: The growing appeal of zero". The Economist. June 16, 2011. 
  16. ^ Philip Yam. Nuclear Exchange, Scientific American, June 2010, p. 24.
  17. ^ Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon. Local Nuclear War, Global Suffering, Scientific American, January 2010, p. 74-81.
  18. ^ http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/ESCCONTROLCHAPTER1.pdf
  19. ^ http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/2911/the-stability-instability-paradox
  20. ^ https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/waltz1.htm Kenneth Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better,”
  21. ^ Waltz, Kenneth (July/August 2012). "Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability". Foreign Affairs. 
  22. ^ http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Politics/InternationalStudies/InternationalSecurityStrategicSt/?view=usa&ci=9780195381368
  23. ^ http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2333 From 19:00 to 26:00 minutes
  24. ^ http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/AtomicO John Mueller, "Atomic Obsession"

Further reading[edit]