Hiroshima Day: bleak prospects for disarmament

By Reuters Staff
August 5, 2009

(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in this column are his own)

Yet another Hiroshima Day will be observed on August 6 with grave solemnity in Japan but few other parts of the world will mark the mushroom day of August 6, 1945 with the deep concern it ought to receive.

Sixty-four years after the apocalyptic destructive potential of the atomic bomb was recognized, it may be posited that the global community is less secure apropos the nuclear domain with every passing day.

While Myanmar is now perceived to be the latest potential member of the nuclear  weapon ‘club’, the overlap between state and non-state entities who are contributing to covert nuclear  proliferation remains as opaque as it has been for well over three decades.

The highly publicized but little investigated A.Q. Khan episode that irrefutably pointed to a clandestine nuclear Wal-Mart has been swept under the carpet since it did not serve the realpolitik compulsions of the major powers – and this includes some of the non-weapon states who are prominent members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

While U.S. President Obama is publicly committed to global nuclear disarmament – but recognizes that it will not occur not in his lifetime – and former American Cold War stalwarts led by Henry Kissinger advocate the ‘cause’, the reality in the strategic grid of the world is stark.

The most comprehensive estimate of the global nuclear arsenal places the current stockpile (as of June 25, 2009) at 23, 335 warheads. Of these, more than 8,000 are deemed to be operational.

India, which was always in the vanguard of the disarmament debate became a reluctant nuclear weapon power in May 1998 and is now reviewing its options as a state with nuclear weapons.

With the launch of the ARIHANT on July 26, it is now committed to acquiring a nuclear deterrent at sea – the invulnerable ‘second-strike’ capability. Welcome to the global nuclear reality on Hiroshima Day.

While nuclear deterrence strategy and practice is averred to be cast in stone – a tenet inherited from the menacing Cold War decades – the global nuclear environment is brittle, sullen and uncertain.

Adversarial dyads are bristling and the US-Russia divergence over missile defences is case in point.

States with nuclear weapons including those with nascent arsenals, non-state entities that have extreme revisionist agendas and the inevitability of the permeation of knowledge through the ever growing global technological advances have only added to the complexity of the nuclear challenges that now abound.

Many commendable non governmental initiatives have been mooted over the last decade in different parts of the world and a sturdy set of detailed reports and recommendations are now available.

Yet no significant state level policy-shift has been made – except for the rhetorical commitment that is made – the most well-known being that of U.S. President Barack Obama.

No state that has the nuclear weapon capability – or the ostensible protection this WMD provides – is willing to forsake it unilaterally. This reliance on the ‘nuke’ is an indicator of the insecurity index of the security planners worldwide and it is instructive that even Japan is unable to move out of the US nuclear umbrella – let alone an Australia or UK.

The case for a blue ribbon Global Nuclear Convention that distils all the available reports and assessments and objectively suggests the way ahead is imperative. The nuclear doctrine, strategy and related operational posture of  nuclear weapon states needs to be reviewed and the non-state entity with its  tangled  tentacles candidly identified  – along with the many red herrings that have been deliberately strewn.

It is prudent to recall that even as some constituencies reflect over the enormity of   Hiroshima Day – as many as 2,200 American and Russian warheads are on high alert and ready for ‘launch on warning’ use.

Such irrefutable empirical reality can lead to cynicism – but this should not be devoid of hope – that the Holy Grail of total disarmament is elusive but we must persevere.

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Japan said today it would stand by a self-imposed ban on nuclear weapons as it commemorated the anniversary of the Hiroshima attack.

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