Nuclear weapons: Flirting with Death
An opinion piece by UK student and Daisy Alliance Intern, Blake Moss
Introduction: Understanding Dangers
You wake up to a cold grey sky, you don’t know the day of the week, the date, or time because all technology has been rendered useless by electromagnetic pulses, a result from a nuclear detonation. Your three cans of Campbell's soup and a few cockroaches you scavenged is all the food you can find that is not contaminated with radioactivity. It’s time to find more food and water so you head out into the cold, radioactive, desolate wasteland in front of you with a small amount of hope you’ll find clean water, a non-radioactive food source or some type of human contact your conscious so desperately desires. This will be a difficult task considering the below zero temperatures and air quality that is moderate, at its best. Along your journey you see only mute greyness, nature has been depleted and destroyed, animal life is nonexistent. You see no purpose in your life, the world is barren, empty, and cold.
This may sound like the opening scene from a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller but what many do not realize is this is the lifestyle we’re flirting with. The U.S. budget to expand their nuclear weapons program is 9 times that of their nonproliferation budget (Donnely 2018)! In addition, international agreements limiting a repeated Cold War Era arms race are starting to deplete, and nuclear power states see little desire to give up the weapons that afford them so much power. Effectively driving smaller states with authoritarian leadership to obtain these weapons in hopes of becoming further legitimized.
Many view nuclear weapons as a sign of power and strength, signifying the ability to literally destroy the world with the push of a button. This is cowardly ignorance! Nuclear weapons signify death and the destruction of humankind and they possess no other purpose. The original theory that lead to the mass production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons was “mutually assured destruction” or MAD. The principle behind MAD was based on the theory that if a preemptive nuclear attack occurred the victim would have so many automatic retaliatory measures in place, ensuring that both participants would ultimately destroy each other, thereby assuring mutual destruction. According to this theory, no one would perform a first or preemptive strike because it would grant complete destruction, luckily the theory has withstood the test of time. The flaw is not in the logic of MAD, but rests under the fact that humans naturally defy logic due to, are sometimes rash and unpredictable behavior.
Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has dodged 15 nuclear accidents. Those are 15 occurrences that could have easily ended humanity as we know it (Roth 2007 pg.41). If 15 occurrences that were a hair away from leading to a nuclear detonation in a 73 year time period doesn't grab your attention it is likely you do not understand the sheer destructive power of these bombs.
The power and destructive properties of nuclear bombs do not lie purely in the power of its blast. In addition to a spherical fireball that can spread at a rate of up to 500mph in an over 4-7 Km area, with temperatures comparable to that of the sun, nuclear weapons also produce 300 different unstable radioactive isotopes with half-lives reaching millions of years. In addition to radioactive isotopes causing havoc on the environment, these devices also emit several radioactive waves and electromagnetic pulses. Initial radioactive waves containing thermal radiation cause major burns, if not vaporization to any organic material they come into contact with, outreach and severity of this type of radiation depend on the type of delivery device. The area inside the blast radius has, at this point, been transformed into a huge microwave. Residual radiation comes one minute after detonation, this is the type of radiation that soaks into the soil, rocks, and groundwater causing crop and water contamination for an unknown, but lengthy timetable. The hodgepodge of radioactivity then leads to the creation of electromagnetic radiation or pulses (EMP’s). EMP’s are caused by an electrical forcefield that forms over the area of detonation, the size depends on the altitude of detonation and several other factors. This forcefield produces pulses that render anything electric completely useless, which in today's society is almost more dangerous than the superheated blast and radiation (Norris 2018).
The effects discussed above vary depending on the yield of the bomb, the type of detonation, and the specific fissile material present in the warhead(s). Although the effects of these bombs vary, it is irrelevant to their destructive power. The 1945 bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only nuclear weapons that have been used for offensive measures and killed 180,000 people (Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Since the 1940’s nuclear weapons have grown 3,000% in strength (average mid-yield weapon), and numerous new capabilities and methods of delivery have also been developed (Bennet 2016). It is obvious that no matter the size, strength, or method of detonation these weapons are unimaginably destructive, even the weakest of today's nuclear weapons make the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in 180,000 deaths look like a mere Bic lighter.
With the above in mind, what is the justification for these weapons? There is none! Under the logic of MAD the justification for possession of these weapons is shaky. Even Robert McNamara the original implementor of this policy admits there is no justification, U.S. nuclear stockpile “insane” several times (Roth 2007 pg. 41); this was when nuclear weapons were 3,000 times “weaker”. It is clear there is no longer any reason these weapons should be present on this earth. For national security purposes, they are our own worst enemy because the same weapons that we develop others can as well and the prospect of terrorists gaining control of these weapons is a very real possibility. Also, a nuclear attack on any one area of the world would affect the world as a whole, especially over time. In addition to all of the other reasons nuclear weapons are a pointless evil is the fact that they do not discriminate. Unlike other forms of conventional warfare, the destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be targeted and, therefore, they have no strategic value. These bombs will kill everyone and destroy everything in its sight regardless of their "reason" for being used or their target.
Some say these bombs bring power to the possessing nation, and this is true to an extent. The leaders and nations that have bombs do garner an increase in power, but power through fear, not respect. The non-nuclear states of the world do not respect those states with nuclear weapons but fear them. They understand they have no choice but to submit to the power of the bomb or create their own. Therefore, the cowardly behavior by nuclear weapons states causes the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These bombs will never cause a nation to gain legitimacy or true power because it makes it impossible for it to be respected. A strong man gains power through respect, a weak man gains power through fear and a man that is feared is never respected.
Why Should YOU Care?
You may be wondering how this affects you or why you should be worried about something you cannot alter. I will tell you why I care. I care because I want to live long enough to have children. I want those children to live in a world where one accident doesn't destroy the earth as they know it. I want to be able to walk outside and breathe fresh air that is not polluted by radiation. I want to swim in the ocean and eat seafood without worrying about radiation poisoning. I want to be able to see the sun. I don’t want billions of innocent people to die. I want the human race to continue. That’s why I care, and why you should care to!
Call to Action
When in leadership all eyes are on you. Others see the actions of leaders or those at the top and follow their example. The U.S. is in a leadership position, we set the status quo and we have the ability to change international trends. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) the U.S. possesses 6,800 warheads in its arsenal, 1,800 are on high alert status and can be fired at the push of a button with no congressional approval (Nuclear arsenals 2018). Also, President Donald Trump has recently ordered trillion-dollar updates to our “outdated” nuclear arsenal in competition with Russia; updates that nine times exceed the nonproliferation budget (Donnely 2018). In addition, Trump has also made statements leaning toward leaving the New START treaty, which is a major contribution to nonproliferation efforts due to its trust-building ability in the rocky U.S.-Russia relationship, two nations that possess 92% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, according to ICAN. In a world where leaders lead by example, whether they mean to or not, the U.S. is telling the world that nuclear weapons are okay while condemning their development at the same time.
We can and must stop this deadly trend, this flirtation with death and it is up to YOU. The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was created in 2017 by ICAN and its signees are increasing daily. If it was signed by the 9 states currently possessing nuclear weapons an effective multilateral path to world disarmament would be possible. This starts with the U.S.; citizens from the U.K., France, and Germany have recently started to demand in large number that their country initiates nuclear disarmament by signing this treaty and although this has not lead to anything concrete, these governments have no choice but to but heavily consider the strong testament of the people they serve. We must stand up to our government by writing to our representatives, capitalizing on social media, and utilizing our voices in a society where everyone hears everything. A few voices easily ignored, 300million voices cannot be ignored. The government serves us, we do not serve the government!
A world free of nuclear weapons is a prospect that seems impossible, but I guarantee it is NOT. If our policymakers in the U.S. can be persuaded to sign the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons it is likely Russia would follow, eliminating close to 90% of the world’s weapon, giving states no reason to nuclearize or not to denuclearize. We are the leaders that can change the status quo, not our policy makers or state governments, but the citizens. Unless you want to live in a world like the one described in the opening paragraph you need to care about this issue enough to make your voice heard, the fate of the world is in your hands!
Bennett, J. (2018, February 15). Here's How Much Deadlier Today's Nukes Are Compared to WWII A-Bombs. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a23306/nuclear-bombs-powerful-today/
Donnelly, J. M. (2018, July 02). US Spending Less to Secure World's Nuclear Bomb Materials. Retrieved from https://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/u-s-spending-less-secure-worlds-nuclear-bomb-materials
Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Retrieved from https://cnduk.org/resources/hiroshima-and-nagasaki/
Norris, R. S., & Cochran, T. B. (2018, April 20). Nuclear weapon. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/nuclear-weapon/The-effects-of-nuclear-weapons
Nuclear arsenals. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.icanw.org/the-facts/nuclear-arsenals/
Roth, B. A. (2007). No time to kill: What you need to know about the most important issue in the world today. S.L.: Roth.