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Lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

M.S. Swaminathan

The voice of sanity of the survivors of the 1945 nuclear annihilation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is yet to be heard. States that possess nuclear weapons should not lose even a day in working towards eliminating them.

ON AUGUST 6, 1945, the most dreadful of the weapons of mass destruction — the atom bomb — was dropped in the civilian area of Hiroshima. Three days later, another atom bomb was dropped in Nagasaki. In 1955, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued their famous manifesto seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons and appealing to all inhabitants of Planet Earth: "Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way is open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."

In 1957, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto led to the birth of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an organisation devoted to ending the nuclear peril and reminding scientists of their ethical responsibility for the consequences of their discoveries, particularly in the area of nuclear threat to human survival.

The Pugwash Conference held in 1995 in Hiroshima on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the advent of atomic weapons concluded, "the end of the cold war, and the beginning of deep reduction in the huge nuclear arsenals that the war spawned, have provided an unprecedented opportunity for the abolition of nuclear weapons as well as the abolition of war." Meeting again in Hiroshima in July 2005, the Pugwash Council observed, "The decade since 1995, when Pugwash last met in Hiroshima, has been one of missed opportunities and a marked deterioration in global security, not least regarding the nuclear threat. In that time, additional States have acquired nuclear weapons, there has been little tangible progress in nuclear disarmament, new nuclear weapons are being proposed, and military doctrines are being revised that place a greater reliance on the potential use of such weapons." The prospects for nuclear terrorism and adventurism have now become real. The voice of sanity of the survivors of the 1945 nuclear annihilation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is yet to be heard. This is unfortunate since only they know what hell on earth means.

Members of the Pugwash Council, meeting just steps away from Hiroshima's ground zero, have hence appealed to fellow scientists and citizens to confront the threat of nuclear weapon use that could materialise at any time, without warning, in any part of the world. To political and government leaders, our message is simple, but stark: as long as nuclear weapons exist, they will one day be used.

The Seventh Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), held in the spring of 2005 in New York, ended in a deadlock. The five original nuclear weapon states (the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China) showed themselves unwilling to take decisive action to implement their obligations under Article VI of the NPT to move decisively toward the irreversible elimination of their nuclear arsenals. All states must share the blame for missing a solid opportunity at the Review Conference to resolve problems such as equitable access to civilian nuclear technologies, as allowed under Article IV, while at the same time tightening protections to ensure that such materials are not diverted for military use.

The broad framework of nuclear weapons disarmament is in danger of collapsing. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not entered into force, the U.S. and Russia need to accelerate and enlarge the reductions called for by the Moscow Treaty, and negotiations have yet to begin on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) to eliminate production of weapons-grade Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and plutonium. Far more needs to be done to control and dispose of existing stockpiles of HEU that run the risk of falling into the hands of terrorist groups. Large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons continue to be deployed in Europe and elsewhere, having no military rationale whatsoever, while pressures mount from certain quarters for developing and deploying space weapons.

Next month, a U.N. Summit will be held in New York to review the progress made in achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals in the areas of food, water, health, education, and clean environment for all. The explosive progress in science and technology witnessed in recent decades has provided uncommon opportunities for realising these goals. Yet, most developing countries, including India, are falling behind the targets set. The extensive co-existence of unacceptable poverty and unsustainable lifestyles is not conducive to the creation of a climate for peace and harmony. What we urgently need is a shift in emphasis among militarily and economically powerful countries from military to moral leadership. At the same time, Einstein's advice to fellow scientists, "concern for Man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours in order that the creation of our minds shall be a blessing and not a curse," should be the guiding motto in scientific laboratories everywhere in the world.

It will be useful to recall the role Jawaharlal Nehru played in mobilising scientific opinion against nuclear weapons. Early in 1954, he called "for the setting up of a Committee of scientists to explain to the world the effect a nuclear war would have on humanity." This idea was taken up by Joseph Rotblat, who along with Pugwash was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, and Eugene Rabinowitch, resulting in the organisation of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. The name of the organisation comes from Pugwash Village in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the first conference was held in 1957. Nehru was also the first foreign Prime Minister to visit Hiroshima. In 1957, he praised the atom bomb survivors for their determination to spread around the globe information on the enormous harm radiation can cause to both the present population and to the generations yet to be born. Even now, harmful mutations are being observed in children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, the genetic harm is as serious as the immediate harm. Nehru played a major part in getting the first U.N. Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy organised in Geneva in 1955. This conference was chaired by the late Homi Bhabha, the then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission who outlined in his Presidential Address a strategy for harnessing the multiple contributions that nuclear tools can make to strengthen food, health, and energy security in the world.

Six steps

In my Presidential Address delivered at the Pugwash Conference held in Hiroshima on July 27, 2005, I outlined the following six steps to achieve the goal of a nuclear peril free world:

1) All nations with nuclear weapons should adopt during 2005 a legally mandatory policy of "no first use of nuclear weapons," as homage to the survivors of the nuclear tragedy of 1945.

2) Respect commitments to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, conclude a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and ban all research relating to the development of new nuclear weapons.

3) Conclude a Nuclear Weapons Convention outlining a road map for getting to zero by 2020.

4) Avoid prospects for nuclear terrorism and adventurism by eliminating all unsecured nuclear fissile material and by implementing the concrete steps proposed by Pugwash for the elimination of HEU; otherwise there is risk of nuclear power groups and individuals emerging, in addition to nuclear power states.

5) Because of the multi-dimensional threats posed to human security by climate change, and the consequent need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, interest and investment in nuclear power plants are growing. The civilian uses of atomic energy are likely to grow. Hence, the U.N. may convene an International Conference on the Civilian Uses of Atomic Energy to develop a Code of Conduct to ensure that the non-military use of nuclear fuels does not get abused and to further strengthen safeguards and the inspection role and monitoring capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

6) Democratic systems of governance are fast spreading in the world, which involve the holding of free and fair elections periodically. It would be useful to develop a Hiroshima-Nagasaki 60th Anniversary Appeal that calls upon all political parties in every country to include in their next election manifesto, a firm commitment to work for speedy nuclear disarmament with a view to rid the world of the nuclear peril as soon as technically feasible. Without global political commitment, this goal cannot be achieved. At the same time, it would be useful to introduce in school curricula information on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, to bring home the immediate and long term disastrous impact of a nuclear war. Without public and political education, the climate for peace and nuclear disarmament will not exist.

Looking at the brighter side, nuclear weapons have not been used in 60 years. This is a tribute to the work of Pugwash and numerous civil society organisations. Unfortunately, the growing number of suicide bombing incidents indicate that we are now entering uncharted territory in human conflicts and retribution. At least to prevent the potential non-state use of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon states should not lose even a day in working towards the goal of totally eliminating such weapons.

(The writer is President, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.)

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