Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Published in Editorial, Issue 5 (September/October 2018), Volume 26


August 2018 marked the 73rd anniversary of the ushering in of the nuclear age, with the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (on the 6th) and Nagasaki (on the 9th). Within twenty years all five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, USSR, UK, France and China) were nuclear-armed, with enough weapons between them to ensure the destruction of the planet several times over; we became familiar with the chillingly apt acronym MAD—‘mutually assured destruction’.

Several other states looked set to follow, provoking a worldwide demand for nuclear non-proliferation. It is to Ireland’s eternal credit—and to that of Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken in particular—that this small state was in the vanguard of these demands. From 1958 onwards Aiken tabled a number of non-proliferation resolutions at the UN, which laid the groundwork for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ten years later. (In recognition of his role, Aiken was the first foreign minister to sign the treaty in Moscow in July 1968.)

While other states did subsequently acquire nuclear weapons (India, Pakistan and probably Israel), the NPT continues to be the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Current concern has focused on the possibility of a ‘rogue’ state acquiring nuclear weapons, but the focus on proliferation and so-called ‘rogue’ states ignores the fact that 99% of the world’s nuclear weapons are in the hands of either the US or Russia, whose respective current foreign policies can hardly be described as ‘responsible’. The former has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, torn up the painstakingly negotiated Iran nuclear deal and generally adopted a simplistic zero-sum approach to foreign policy, while the latter has shown no respect for the sovereignty of its neighbours, with armed interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, as well as an ongoing cyber war against sovereign states worldwide. ‘Roguish’ behavour in both cases, surely?

Meanwhile, the technology of mass destruction has not been standing still. Recently China claimed to have successfully tested a hypersonic aircraft that could eventually be used to deliver warheads at six times the speed of sound. The US and Russia are not far behind in developing similar weapons, whose manoeuvrability and speed will make them difficult, if not impossible, to intercept, thus opening up the possibility of a pre-emptive strike. Frank Aiken must be turning in his grave!

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