Seventy-four years ago today, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. This nuclear weapon resulted in the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people. Three days later on Aug. 9, a similar attack was carried out on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, killing an additional 80,000 people. The events of these two days forever changed history, opening a Pandora’s box that has threatened the future of humanity to this day.
Following these bombings the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union began, resulting in nuclear stockpiles that today that contain 13,890 weapons, the majority of which are controlled by these two countries. Most of these weapons are many times the yield of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
Over the years, arms control treaties have attempted to rein in and halt this proliferation driven in large part by the mythological concept of nuclear deterrence — under such thinking each adversary must outdo the other, fearing loss of dominance.
The 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) committed the nuclear powers to work in “good faith” to eliminate nuclear weapons under Article VI.
In 1987, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) went into force. This landmark treaty eliminated 2,692 short, medium and intermediate range nuclear missiles with a range of between 550 and 5,500 km. These weapons were among the most dangerous in our stockpiles with immediate launch on warning and first strike capabilities. The treaty, which contains language to address concerns and compliance, was abrogated on Aug. 2 when the United States withdrew.
Unfortunately, with this move and others before, the United States has lost its leadership role in arms control.
The new arms race began in 2011 with President Barack Obama’s grand bargain in which he agreed to modernize the U.S. weapons arsenal in trade for Republican support of the New Start treaty. This renewed arms race, estimated to cost $1.7 trillion over 30 years with inflation, has resulted in each of the seven nuclear nations following suit in rebuilding their arsenals.
The United States inadvertently further showed its hand In June this year when the Joint Chiefs “Nuclear Operations” Document 3-72 was released outlining its plans for fighting and “winning” a nuclear war. The “Strangelovian” document states:
“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability…Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”
These statements fly in the face of scientific fact and reality.
Nuclear war and climate change are the two existential threats we face today. As the planet warms and conflict increases with competition for scarce natural resources, the connection between these threats grows. And while lip service has been given to climate change during the current presidential debates, no significant questions have been asked of candidates about the imminent threat of nuclear war. As if a conspiracy of silence existed between our corporate media and elected officials, or a complete lack of understanding of this risk, silence persists.
Fortunately, the United States medical and scientific communities — working with the international community — continue to speak out warning of these threats. Identifying the humanitarian and climate effects of even a small limited nuclear war in the “Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion People at Risk” report, they have documented that even a limited regional nuclear war using less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the global nuclear arsenals would result in the potential deaths of 2 billion people on the planet.
With the leadership of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the international community responded in 2017 with the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This treaty — now with 70 signatory nations — is positioned to go into effect in 2020, once 50 nations have ratified it. At that point nuclear weapons will join all other weapons of mass destruction in becoming illegal. From that point forward, it will be a breach of international law to have, develop, produce, transfer or threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
American citizens, faith communities, scientific, medical and NGOs are joining the rapidly growing movement supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons. There is a national movement called “Back from the Brink” that supports the treaty and the precautionary steps necessary while waiting for it to go into effect. All organizations and individuals are invited to endorse the campaign. Ultimately — in this race against time and luck running out — when the people lead, the leaders will follow.
When future generations look back, it will be noted and remembered what side of history we were on when our planet was threatened. The world cannot wait. The choice is ours.
Robert Dodge, M.D., is a family physician practicing in Ventura, Calif. He is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (www.psr-la.org), and sits on the National Board serving as the Co-Chair of the Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons of National Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org). Physicians for Social Responsibility received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is a partner organization of ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Price.