Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Lessons learned?

In August 1945, little more than three weeks after the Trinity test inaugurated the atomic age, the United States detonated "Little Boy" over Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands. Days later, the same fate was visited on Nagasaki with "Fat Man." Historians have debated whether the bombings were necessary or gratuitous; justified or criminal; responsible for Japan's surrender or largely irrelevant to it. Today, with the remaining survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaching the end of life, to what extent has the world absorbed the lessons of the bombings—and can seven more decades elapse without the wartime detonation of a nuclear weapon?

Round 1

The unlearned lessons of 1945

In May 1945, a committee of military officers, physicists, and mathematicians—including well-known figures such as Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann, and Norman Ramsey—met to discuss possible targets in Japan for the Bomb. The committee's records reveal the motivations and attitudes of these influential advisors. They recommended that the "initial use [be] sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released" and rated Kyoto as an "AA target" because it had "the advantage of the people being more highly intelligent and hence better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon." Kyoto was eventually spared by the Truman administration, which settled instead on Hiroshima. The "advantage" of that city, also rated "AA," was that "possible focusing from nearby mountains" could cause "a large fraction of the city [to] be destroyed."

After the United States dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima, it distributed a leaflet explaining to the Japanese that Washington possessed "the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. … This awful fact is one for you to ponder." Simultaneously, the White House released a triumphant statement declaring that it was "now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city."

These records demonstrate that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were designed and executed as acts of terror. Nationalist US historians have argued that the bombings were preferable to a US invasion—but this is a debate into which no counterfactuals need be introduced. A simple factual question is sufficient for rendering ethical judgment: Did the US government make earnest efforts to save both Japanese and American lives?

The historical record is conclusive that it did not. Putting aside the Potsdam Declaration—whose demand for unconditional surrender appears to have been phrased to invite rejection and provide a justification for dropping the Bomb—the Truman administration refused to consider alternatives to the use of the Bomb on a populated area. The prescient Franck Committee, in a memorandum communicated to the secretary of war in June 1945, recommended the "demonstration of the new weapon … on the desert or a barren island." This idea was promptly rejected by the secretary's scientific advisory panel, whose members saw "no acceptable alternative to direct military use."

This history is important because it is emblematic of the disregard with which policy makers in Washington treat human life in pursuit of strategic objectives. If Americans had better understood this characteristic of their government at the end of the war they might have demonstrated greater opposition to subsequent US interventions in other countries. But after the war, nationalist apologists were successful in obscuring the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This partly explains why domestic opposition to US aggression against Southeast Asia—which started just a few years after World War II and eventually led to millions of deaths there—was muted for so long. Today, the US military still projects the Bomb in a positive light. The "shock and awe" campaign at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 was inspired by a doctrine that sought to "achieve a level of national shock akin to the effect that dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese."

Justifications for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki are ultimately based on the idea that yardsticks applicable to most nations are inapplicable to the US government and its allies. The same presumption has often undermined international arms control efforts. The mainstream Western discourse on Iran holds that it would be undesirable for Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb—but simply ignores the fact that US or Israeli possession of nuclear arsenals is equally problematic.

This is not just an ethical issue—it is also a practical problem for disarmament. The United States, going back to farcical attempts by Gen. Leslie Groves to buy up the world's uranium supply during World War II, has waged but slowly lost a battle to possess nuclear weapons while controlling their spread to other nations. In the seven decades since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, eight nations have acquired nuclear weapons. Given the inherent instability of a configuration of multiple nuclear powers, the only way to ensure that the world does not see another nuclear explosion in the next seven decades is to recognize that nonproliferation is simply unsustainable without universal disarmament.

A just order. Just as politics has failed to incorporate the lessons of the bombings, the scientific community has failed to introspect meaningfully on its role in developing nuclear weapons. Even members of the "target committee" escaped opprobrium in academia. Richard Feynman's memoir exemplifies the manner in which the scientific community rationalized its collaboration with the military: "von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don't have to be responsible for the world that you're in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility."

Scientists, assuaging their consciences in this manner, willingly accepted the postwar embrace of the US defense establishment. As science historian Paul Forman explains, "Faced with big bucks, neither political persuasion nor anti-political disposition were strong enough to hold the physicists."

This arrangement cedes power to the defense industry over directions of research. But it also limits the space available for dissent in academic institutions. For instance, a US law known as the Solomon Amendment can be used to deny federal research funding to any university that denies access to military recruiters, or bans the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

The situation is similar in India, where the Department of Atomic Energy funds research in both mathematics and theoretical physics. In 1962, the eminent mathematician D. D. Kosambi was removed from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research—ostensibly for publishing an incorrect proof of the Riemann hypothesis, but more plausibly for his public opposition to nuclear weapons and energy. Decades later, the department instructed the Institute of Mathematical Sciences to take action against members of its faculty who had written in opposition to India's 1998 nuclear tests. Similar incidents have occurred more recently—though, by their nature, they are difficult to document comprehensively.

In the nuclear era, the survival of humanity is closely tied to the abolition of war; this much has long been clear. But lasting peace is possible only in a just international order—where aggression by powerful countries isn't tolerated, international relations are guided by equality instead of by exceptionalism, and science is guided by social rather than military objectives. On the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is time for the world to acknowledge and act on these lessons.


Nuclear weapons: Not taboo enough

I wish I could argue that the world had properly absorbed the lessons of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Unfortunately, I must argue the opposite.

Why? First and foremost, large numbers of people around the world believe that dropping the atomic bombs—regardless of how catastrophic the consequences were for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—saved lives, perhaps millions of them, by bringing World War II to a prompt conclusion. But history doesn't substantiate this point of view. Japan had already lost much ground in the Asia-Pacific region. Europe's fascist regimes had fallen; the war had ended in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; and Japan was left to fight its enemies alone. Under such circumstances the Japanese Empire couldn't have prolonged the war much longer in any case. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, “[T]he Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Second, no one was taken to court as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and this has had a profound impact on how the bombings are perceived. German and Japanese war criminals faced the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, but a man such as General Curtis LeMay—whose air force burned cities from one end of Japan to the other, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki—faced no such justice. "If we'd lost the war," LeMay later said, "we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." But the United States did not lose the war, and in the decades since there hasn't been enough debate about the legality of the bombings. As a result, nuclear weapons have gained a certain legitimacy.

Third, members of the nuclear club—the United States and Russia, for example—have sometimes issued nuclear threats in order to achieve policy goals. The goals have ranged from deterring adversaries' military operations to effecting regime change. Unfortunately, threats such as these can convince national leaders that preserving their regimes requires establishing a nuclear deterrent—as has been the case with North Korea. But then, leaders throughout history have wanted to acquire the most powerful weapons of their era. Thus it is difficult to maintain optimism about prospects for the nonproliferation regime over the coming decades.

Finally, practitioners of international relations often treat nuclear deterrence as if it were indisputable fact. According to a common telling of Cold War history, the United States and the Soviet Union were forced by mutual assured destruction and one another's second-strike capability to exercise restraint. This prevented crises from erupting into dangerous conflicts. But the conditions that prevailed in that era were highly peculiar. For example, the most populated areas of the United States and Soviet Union were separated by enormous distances. If either side had launched a nuclear attack, the other side would have had time to launch a reprisal. This indeed made deterrence fairly reliable. What international security analysts often fail to recognize is that deterrence is less reliable in a compact region such as the Middle East. Also, in that highly volatile region and elsewhere, hatreds between nations are sometimes so intense that, if certain leaders had nuclear weapons at their disposal, they might have used them already—regardless of the consequences (even to themselves). Many people have not internalized the tragedy that befell the Japanese people with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and likewise they sometimes lack empathy for fellow human beings in rival nations.

The international community has made concerted, elaborate efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. But technology for building nuclear weapons continues to spread. The possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist organizations with apocalyptic views can by no means be disregarded. I fear that seven more decades will not elapse without the wartime detonation of a nuclear weapon.


In the lifetimes of the survivors

Editor's note: In consideration of the president's trip, we are reprinting this Bulletin article from August, 2015.

The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is a highly symbolic one. Seventy years, after all, is roughly an average human lifespan—so time is running out for the relatively few individuals who have first-hand experience of a wartime nuclear detonation. Many survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known in Japanese as Hibakusha, have already passed away. Fewer than 200,000 are still living. The average Hibakusha is now more than 80 years old. What will their legacy be? Has the world absorbed the lessons that the Hibakusha have sought to teach? And how will Hiroshima and Nagasaki be remembered by generations to come?

For decades, Hibakusha have spoken tirelessly and courageously about their tragic experiences. They have warned the world about the cruel, inhumane, and immoral effects of nuclear weapons. They have repeatedly sent delegations to the UN General Assembly and to review conferences for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They have conducted letter-writing campaigns urging nuclear weapon states to accelerate disarmament. They have appealed to both policy makers and ordinary people to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

But outside Japan, their voices have often been ignored. Indeed, their message has sometimes been misinterpreted so badly that the horrific experiences they describe have been portrayed as an incentive for nations to develop nuclear weapons in the name of deterrence.

But deterrence doesn't explain why nuclear weapons have not been used in wartime over the last seven decades. The United States considered using nuclear weapons during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars—but did not use them. US leaders rejected the nuclear option not because they feared retaliation but because they understood the physical, humanitarian, and political consequences that the nuclear option would have entailed. In other words, it is not an adversary's readiness to use nuclear weapons, but rather recognition of these weapons' catastrophic impact, that has prevented wartime nuclear detonations for 70 years.

But as Hibakusha continue to age, and as their memories fade, the taboo surrounding the use of nuclear weapons may weaken in national policy debates. Even in Japan nowadays, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is challenged less and less. This has provided space for a handful of ideologues to advocate that Japan become nuclear-armed itself.

Still, the Hibakusha, whose dream is to see a world without nuclear weapons within their lifetimes, have in recent years gained hope for disarmament. Their renewed hope is largely due to the international community's increased focus on the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons.

A movement gets moving. The "humanitarian initiative" arguably began with a 2010 appeal by the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross that noted "the unspeakable human suffering" that nuclear weapons cause and called for their elimination "through a legally binding international treaty." The next year, the Council of Delegates of the Red Cross and Red Crescent issued a resolution that highlighted the "destructive power of nuclear weapons [and] the threat they pose to the environment and to future generations." The resolution appealed to all states to "ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used" and to work with urgency and determination toward a binding agreement that eliminates nuclear weapons.

Then, during a 2012 NPT meeting in Vienna, the nation of Switzerland issued a statement on behalf of 16 countries emphasizing the humanitarian dimensions of nuclear disarmament. The statement stopped short of calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. But the number of countries that support the statement has grown. By April of this year, 159 countries had signed on to a sixth version.

In the interim, a series of international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was conducted. Featuring testimony from Hibakusha, these conferences built upon the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; there was also testimony from survivors of nuclear tests. Experts highlighted the catastrophic effects that would proceed from any nuclear detonation—whether intentional, accidental, or as a result of miscalculation. Tens of millions would be killed, injured, or displaced. The global climate would be disrupted, leading to famine. Communication infrastructures would be destroyed and the global economy would be impaired, rendering impossible any effective humanitarian response by governments or relief agencies.

In response to these appalling scenarios, the chair of the 2014 humanitarian conference in Nayarit, Mexico stated that the “time has come to initiate a diplomatic process” toward reaching “new international standards and norms, through a legally binding instrument.” He also stated that “in the past, weapons have been eliminated after they have been outlawed” and that “this is the path to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.” In other words, he called for an outright ban on nuclear weapons—something that would go far beyond the relatively weak disarmament requirements of the NPT. He identified the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks as “the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal.”

Existing international law doesn't regulate nuclear weapons properly. Unlike other weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons are not banned in explicit terms. The NPT is the only multilateral treaty that contains a binding commitment to nuclear disarmament—but this treaty, while it prevents most states from acquiring nuclear weapons, effectively allows five states to possess them. What's needed, then, is a complete legal prohibition against all nuclear weapons.

In order to redress this fundamental deficit in the disarmament regime, the Austrian government at the 2014 humanitarian conference in Vienna initiated what has become known as the Humanitarian Pledge. In the pledge, Austria called on all parties to the NPT to "identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” This statement, though rendered in rather bland diplomatic language, appears to identify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as inadequate for achieving disarmament and pledges action to create an alternate, much stricter legal structure. A number of civil society groups have begun promoting the pledge—and it has now been endorsed by some 110 governments, a number that continues to grow.

A fitting legacy. For 70 years, Hibakusha have worked to communicate that nuclear weapons are inhumane and the consequences of using them are unacceptable. In Nayarit, the Hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow said that “Although we Hibakusha have spent our life energy to warn people about the hell that is nuclear war, in nearly 70 years there has been little progress in the field of nuclear disarmament. … It is our hope that this new movement to ban nuclear weapons will finally lead us to a nuclear weapon–free world.”

Now, within the limited time left to those who have first-hand experience of wartime nuclear detonations, is the moment to establish an international treaty that stigmatizes nuclear weapons, criminalizes them, and provides for their total elimination. Such a treaty would honor the Hibakusha's seven decades of work and provide them a fitting, lasting legacy.


Round 2

Political forest, technical trees

In Round Two, my colleague Akira Kawasaki discussed the Fukushima disaster and its implications for nuclear weapons, while Mustafa Kibaroglu delved into Japan's stockpiles of plutonium. Both authors made important points about the technical and humanitarian aspects of nuclear safety and security. But it's important not to lose sight of the central political question that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki present: What sort of political system allowed the US government to commit terrorist acts and then enabled the leaders responsible to escape both domestic and international consequences?

The arms control community has largely steered clear of such questions. This is not to suggest that the technical issues it addresses instead are unimportant. Kibaroglu, for example, reminds us through his discussion of Japanese plutonium that civilian nuclear industries automatically increase proliferation risk. Policy makers use this ambiguity to their advantage. As early as 1955, the first chairperson of India's atomic energy commission, Homi Bhabha, admitted that the “atomic power industry … will put into the hands of many nations quantities of fissile material from which … atomic bombs will be … [an] easy step.” Sure enough, India's atomic energy program provided a basis for nuclear weapons. Currently, India is preparing to operationalize a prototype fast breeder reactor that is advertised as a 500-megawatt power reactor, but which has been kept out of international safeguards and may be used to generate as much as 140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year.

Kawasaki, meanwhile, is correct that the Fukushima accident highlights the peacetime dangers posed both by power reactors and by nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry uses the term “defense in depth” to describe the redundant safety systems that protect reactors. But sometimes a single unforeseen event can simultaneously affect multiple system elements; for example, at Fukushima, 12 of 13 back-up diesel generators were disabled by the tsunami. So skepticism is justified when governments use precisely the same buzzwords to suggest that their control over nuclear arsenals is perfectly reliable. And nuclear weapons may also be vulnerable to Strangelovian scenarios, in which an insider deliberately engineers a disaster. The Germanwings crash of March 2015—in which a copilot steered his aircraft into the French Alps while using the plane's own security systems to keep the pilot locked out of the cockpit—was a chilling example of just such an event.

Challenge and reform. While it is necessary to improve nuclear safety and security, we must not forget that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conscious political decisions. And despite the horror of the bombings, the US government has repeatedly considered taking similar actions again.

In 1969, Henry Kissinger wrote a memo to Richard Nixon that outlined possible plans of attack against North Vietnam. The memo emphasized not only that “the action must be brutal,” but also that “[i]t must … be based on a firm resolve to do whatever is necessary to achieve success.” This memo was accompanied by a list of “important questions,” including: “Should we be prepared to use nuclear weapons?” More recently, in 2006, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the Bush administration had considered using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

The US government didn't carry out nuclear attacks in either case, but such incidents must be viewed within the proper historical context—namely, that the US military has repeatedly used non-nuclear terror tactics. In 2004, for example, faced with resistance in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, US forces besieged the city and attacked it with white phosphorus—an incendiary chemical—seizing Fallujah General Hospital and causing a large fraction of the city's population to flee in terror.

Events like this reveal a political system in which those who wield power are fundamentally detached from the human consequences of their actions. In the United States, the powerful are insulated from domestic political consequences by internal propaganda that paints their actions as necessary and just—or, at the least, basically well intentioned.

It is in this realm that public intellectuals—by vigorously confronting such false claims—can play an important role. True, fulfilling this function requires academics to move beyond their traditionally defined disciplines and negotiate terrain that is inherently political rather than technical. But only by fundamentally challenging and reforming the system that enabled Hiroshima and Nagasaki can we hope to rid the world of nuclear weapons.


How plutonium undermines the Hibakusha

Akira Kawasaki wrote in Round One that the noble disarmament efforts of the Hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—"have often been ignored" outside Japan. Indeed, the Hibakusha's message has "sometimes been misinterpreted so badly" that it has "been portrayed as an incentive for nations to develop nuclear weapons in the name of deterrence."

That is a shame. Still, I can't help wondering if the world's failure to heed the Hibakusha's message may be attributable at least in part to Japan’s vast, growing stockpile of plutonium. I wonder if possession of so much fissile material dilutes the disarmament message that Japan—as the only nation to have suffered wartime detonations of nuclear weapons—is uniquely qualified to deliver.

Over the years Japan has accumulated about 47 metric tons of plutonium (separated from spent reactor fuel). Of the 47 tons, 36 are stored in the United Kingdom and France; 11 reside in Japan. This quantity of plutonium—enough to build thousands of nuclear weapons—considerably diminishes the international community's confidence that Japan will never attempt to develop nuclear weapons. And thus it undermines the sympathy that Japan deserves as the world's only direct victim of nuclear warfare.

Certain political tendencies in Japan exacerbate the problem. As Kawasaki wrote, "the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is challenged less and less" in Japan today, and "a handful of ideologues … advocate that Japan become nuclear-armed itself." Meanwhile, when disarmament advocates suggest that Japan follow Sweden's example by making non-nuclear status a permanent, unconditional feature of the country's foreign and security policy, Japanese officials reply that the country's Atomic Energy Basic Law already forbids military uses for nuclear technology. This does not inspire confidence within the international community that Japan will remain non-nuclear forever.

What to do. Japanese authorities should consider taking a series of tangible steps to provide the utmost assurances that under no circumstances will Japan ever go nuclear.

First and foremost, Japan's plutonium stocks must increase no further. This means scrapping plans for the Rokkasho plutonium reprocessing facility—which, after decades of delays and tens of billions of dollars in expenditures, is now scheduled to begin operating in 2016. Second, Japanese authorities should consider expanding their program for using plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel in power reactors. This could lead to reductions in plutonium stocks over time. If Japan separated no more plutonium and gradually used up the plutonium it already possesses, it would send a powerful nonproliferation message to the world—and perhaps strengthen international efforts to make the proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty a reality.

I realize that taking Japan to task over its plutonium stocks could be perceived as an injustice when the Japanese government's nonproliferation record has been commendable over the decades. And I realize that Japan's leaders, understandably, worry about North Korea's nuclear arsenal. Thus it is only fair to suggest that, while Japan solves its plutonium problem, its friends and allies seek ways to strengthen solidarity with Tokyo and enhance the nation's security.


As Fukushima proved, nuclear dangers persist

On August 9, 2011—66 years after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki but only about five months after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue observed that, until Fukushima, many people had believed in the myth of safety at nuclear power plants. "But what about the more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world?" asked Taue. "Do we still believe that the world is safer thanks to nuclear deterrence? Do we still take it for granted that no nuclear weapons will ever be used again?"

Four years later, the Fukushima disaster remains in the news—more than 100,000 evacuees are unable to return home and the site still isn't under control. Meanwhile, seven decades have passed since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the world's attention has shifted away from nuclear weapons. But the risks these weapons pose have not disappeared.

Human error, technical failure. In 2012, a commission mandated by Japan's Diet to investigate the Fukushima disaster reported that the accident had been a "profoundly man-made disaster." The commission concluded that both the plant's operator and the national regulator had been aware that the Fukushima facility required structural reinforcement—but chose not to tackle the problem. Indeed, Japan's government, industrial sector, and nuclear experts maintain a collusive relationship that has earned them a derisive nickname: the "nuclear village." The International Atomic Energy Agency, in its May 2015 final report on Fukushima, criticized the plant's operator for paying insufficient attention to "low probability, high consequence" events. This failure partly stemmed, the agency reported, from "the basic assumption in Japan, reinforced over many decades, that the robustness of the technical design of the nuclear plants would provide sufficient protection against postulated risks."

Are nuclear weapons exempt from such blundering? No—there is every reason to believe that individuals responsible for nuclear weapon safety will exhibit, like other human beings, a reluctance to deal with difficult challenges, a tendency to turn away from inconvenient truths, and a simple capacity for error. US investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, in his 2013 book Command and Control, reported on the many serious accidents involving nuclear weapons, or "broken arrow" incidents, that have afflicted the US nuclear complex over the decades. Schlosser, arguing that there can be no definitive way to ensure that nuclear weapons are completely safe and secure, has called nuclear weapons the world's "deadliest, most dangerous machines."

Even if one assumes that nuclear weapons will never be deliberately used in wartime again—and such an assumption may be wishful thinking, given the number of unpredictable conflicts around the world today—grave concern still must surround the assumption that individuals who exercise command and control of nuclear weapons will never commit catastrophic errors that lead to a detonation. (Kyodo News reported this year that US missileers based in Okinawa, in the final phase of the Cuban Missile Crisis, had received a nuclear launch order—an order issued in error.) Nor can one assume that technical systems will never fail, whether from prosaic causes such as aging or more unlikely ones such as cyber attacks.

To be sure, the probability of a nuclear detonation is low. But the probability of an accident at Fukushima was supposed to be low as well. When the accident happened, the consequences were catastrophic.


Round 3

Science for peace

Earlier in Round Three, my colleague Akira Kawasaki discussed the dichotomy between Japan's stated principles, which advocate disarmament, and its policies, which do not advance this cause. Mustafa Kibaroglu performed a similar analysis for Turkey. The same dynamic exists in other places. For example, the United Kingdom is committed to nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but when the Labour party recently elected a new leader who opposes nuclear weapons, the ruling Conservatives described him as a "threat to national security." But to conclude this roundtable marking the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, I feel it is appropriate to return attention to the United States, which carried out those attacks.

US nuclear policy remains an urgent issue today—among other reasons, because of Washington's ongoing military involvement in West Asia and its dispute with Iran. In this context, several aspects of the US debate on the Iran nuclear deal give cause for concern.

The mainstream US debate has been confined within narrow boundaries. On one hand, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell argued in September that there was "no question that Iran's nuclear program [was] designed to develop a nuclear weapon" and lamented the Obama administration's "acquiescence to Iranian hegemony." The speaker of the House, John Boehner, criticized the deal for not allowing "inspectors to have anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access." To allay such concerns, 29 leading American scientists had written to President Obama in August, describing the deal as "an innovative agreement, with … stringent constraints"—but also suggesting that "the detection of a significant violation of this agreement will provide strong … justification for intervention."

However, this defense of the deal fails to note a fundamental issue: Evidence that Iran has recently pursued nuclear weapons is thin. Indeed, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recounted that when the United States produced "evidence" for Iran's weaponization program, "the problem was, no one knew if any of [it] was real." Later, when Yukiya Amano replaced ElBaradei, the agency altered its stance. But this is hardly surprising in light of leaked diplomatic cables from the US mission in Vienna. The cables described Amano's elevation as a "once-a-decade opportunity"—partly because Amano "was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision … [including] the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program."

Furthermore, it is necessary to recall that Iran has never conducted an attack within the borders of the United States and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. The US government, meanwhile, backed a 1953 coup that unseated the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mosaddeq. In the 1980s, Washington supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and, in 1988, the US Navy shot down a civilian Iranian airliner, killing 290 passengers. More recently, Washington has aided the Jundallah terrorist group in southeastern Iran.

The history of arms control inspections in Iraq is also relevant, particularly regarding the "anywhere, anytime" demand. Scott Ritter, a UN weapons inspector who participated in Iraqi inspections in the 1990s, noted that the United States used the process "as a Trojan horse to insert intelligence collection capabilities to go after Saddam Hussein."

These facts explain the Iranian government's reluctance to open its military facilities to intrusive inspections. They also illuminate US objectives in West Asia: US policy makers are primarily concerned with preserving US dominance in the region and not with national security. So Tehran presents a problem: It is not bound by Washington's directives, unlike Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, which depend on US aid and support.

The United States could ensure security by insisting that Israel join a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and by publicly abjuring the use of force against Iran, instead of emphasizing how military action remains on the table. These measures have already been endorsed by a majority of the world's governments through the Non-Aligned Movement, but American scientists are often apprehensive about articulating them for fear that they will not be taken seriously in Washington. However, the upcoming US election offers an opportunity for progressive scientists to move beyond providing advice and support to Democrats—who, after all, differ from their Republican colleagues only in advocating a more realistic approach to Washington's program of dominance. By combining their technical knowledge with internationally accepted political propositions, they can intervene directly in the public debate on Iran to expose the contradictions of US nuclear policy and strike a blow for peace.


Turkey’s nuclear contradictions

My Round Two essay, which argued that Japan's stockpile of plutonium undercuts the disarmament message of the Hibakusha, seems to have been the inspiration for my colleague Akira Kawasaki to discuss "the double standards inherent in Japan's nuclear policies." Here in Round Three, I'll reciprocate by discussing the nuclear double standards of my own nation, Turkey.

Turkey is a member in good standing of the nonproliferation and disarmament regimes—a signatory to instruments such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and a member of initiatives such as the Zangger Committee and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Moreover, it has long advocated creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Turkish officials, in view of the Middle East's increasingly dire security situation, portray establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone as a matter of urgent collective responsibility.

But Turkey is also a member of NATO, and in the context of the alliance's security strategy and its principles of solidarity and burden sharing, Ankara has for decades allowed US nuclear weapons to be deployed in Turkish territory. Officials believe these weapons strengthen Washington's commitment to transatlantic security and contribute to the credibility of extended deterrence.

So on one hand, Turkey is committed to a world free of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Ankara allows US nuclear weapons within its territory and emphasizes that disarmament will require time and patience—indeed, that total disarmament will not be possible any time soon. This contradictory approach diminishes Turkey's stature in the nonproliferation and disarmament regimes—at least in the eyes of Turkey's Middle Eastern neighbors, whose cooperation is indispensable if a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region is to be established. To eliminate the contradiction and establish consistency with Turkey's long-stated principles, Ankara should—through a deliberate review process and close consultations with Washington—begin the process of returning tactical nuclear weapons to the United States.

Turkish officials might argue that sending US weapons back where they belong would undermine Turkey's security. But even as NATO-Russia relations worsen amid developments in Ukraine, imagining a "hot" confrontation between NATO and Russia—let alone a nuclear exchange—is, in the language of the strategist Herman Kahn, "thinking about the unthinkable." Even if such a scenario played out, tactical nuclear weapons would barely play a role!

Moreover, NATO could provide extended deterrence to Turkey through means other than basing nuclear weapons on Turkish soil. For example, US nuclear-armed submarines could temporarily be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean. They could pay port visits to Turkey. Steps such as these would deliver a powerful message to unfriendly countries. For that matter, no nuclear weapons are deployed in 20 of 28 NATO nations, but all 28 are covered under the alliance's nuclear umbrella.

Paradoxically, should nuclear weapons be withdrawn from Turkey, some Western experts might look suspiciously at Turkey’s plans for nuclear power, wondering if Ankara intended to develop nuclear weapons of its own. But Turkey would have no security-based incentive to follow such a course. And embarking on a nuclear weapons adventure would complicate Turkey's already strained relations with the European Union, damaging Turkish ambitions for eventual EU membership.

Other European nations that host US nuclear weapons have engaged in their own debates about whether to retain them. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium—all have expressed willingness at least to discuss removing US nuclear weapons from the European continent. Some other countries, concerned about their security position vis-à-vis Russia, have resisted the idea (as has Turkey itself). But against such a backdrop, Turkey would not be out of place if it engaged in serious discussions about removing the weapons from its territory.

The Turkish public, meanwhile, isn't favorably disposed toward NATO and the United States these days. As NATO has transformed itself from a collective defense organization with a "hard power" stance into a collective security organization with a "soft power" stance, its powerful image has been diluted. NATO is increasingly seen as primarily serving US interests and maintaining US hegemony. Anti-American sentiment is pervasive in Turkey today, and removing US nuclear weapons from Turkish soil would likely be a popular step.

Hosting US nuclear weapons does little to enhance Turkish security. But it undermines Turkey's nonproliferation and disarmament credentials and rankles the Turkish public. The time has come for Washington to take its weapons home.


A long way to Tokyo

In the second round, Mustafa Kibaroglu argued that Japan's stockpile of plutonium undermines the disarmament message of the Hibakusha. Suvrat Raju focused on Washington's continuing readiness to use nuclear weapons—an issue that directly bears on Japan because of the nuclear umbrella that Washington extends to Tokyo. Both my colleagues' essays, albeit in different ways, shine a light on the double standards inherent in Japan's nuclear policies.

In Japan, both policy makers and ordinary people have trouble recognizing the country's deep nuclear contradictions. Japanese prime ministers have asserted for years that abolishing nuclear weapons is among the country's utmost priorities, and Tokyo has regularly submitted resolutions to that effect at the United Nations. Thus among the Japanese public there is a widespread perception that Tokyo plays a leading role in disarmament. But the perception isn't quite accurate.

Decades after the Cold War's end, Japan remains bound to a Cold War concept of nuclear deterrence. In 2012, when Switzerland and 15 other nations released a statement regarding the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, Japan initially refused to sign on because of the statement's call to "outlaw" nuclear weapons. When Tokyo eventually reversed course, it did so only because of public criticism—and emphasized that it would not support a ban on nuclear weapons in the near term. Nor has Japan yet associated itself with the Humanitarian Pledge, a growing initiative that calls for "fill[ing] the legal gap" toward the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

Tokyo has sometimes resisted even partial steps toward disarmament. When Washington was conducting the Nuclear Posture Review that was completed in 2010, a "sole purpose" strategy came under consideration. Such a strategy would have defined nuclear weapons' only purpose as deterring a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. After an internal debate, the Japanese government opposed the change over fears it would fray the nuclear umbrella.

Then in 2013, at Nagasaki University, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida presented his "comprehensive thoughts on Japan's overall nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation policy." He proudly reported that Japan would call on nuclear weapon states to limit their use of nuclear weapons to "extreme circumstances based on the right of individual or collective self-defense." The Nagasaki survivors in attendance were shocked, wondering how Japan could condone the use of nuclear weapons even in self-defense.

Kishida's remarks created a scandal in Nagasaki and in Hiroshima. But little attention was paid to Japan's official reliance on US nuclear deterrence—or to the Japanese government's request, in the early stages of the six-party talks over North Korea, that Washington not pursue northern denuclearization by ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Pyongyang. How can a nation lead the world toward disarmament when it envisions the possibility of Washington launching a nuclear strike on its behalf?

Just as Japan's disarmament policies are riddled with contradiction, so it is with nonproliferation. In Japan the view is widespread that the country's nuclear power plants are purely for peaceful purposes and bear no relation to weapons. Scholars, backed up by government and industry, authoritatively claim that Japan's plutonium cannot be used for weapons because it is only "reactor grade." The Japanese public generally doesn't understand that plutonium poses a serious proliferation risk no matter what form it takes.

Kibaroglu suggests that Japan address its plutonium problem by using plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel in power reactors. But I believe that consolidating the plutonium stockpile, and storing it under strict controls, would be a much safer approach. It would also, considering Japan's decreased dependence on nuclear power in the post-Fukushima era, be more realistic. As for the spent fuel that power reactors produce, on-site dry storage would be much preferable to reprocessing in both safety and nonproliferation terms. In any event, beginning full operations at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant (currently scheduled for 2016) would send a terrible signal regarding global weapons proliferation.

The survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings often struggle to communicate their message to overseas capitals such as Washington, Moscow, and Pyongyang. Hiroshima and Nagasaki lie just a train ride from Tokyo—but sometimes a vast distance seems to separate the Hibakusha from their own nation's capital city.


Topics: Nuclear Weapons


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