On 6 August 1945 the US military dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people were killed instantly, in what can be considered the greatest act of terrorism in history. Another 70,000 people were injured, many of whom died in terrible suffering and could not be helped, as 90 per cent of the medical personnel were also killed or injured. Others suffered permanent sequelae from burns and radiation or contracted various types of cancer.
After 76 years, we refuse to believe that a similar tragedy can ever happen again, even though the facts are stark. According to the latest SIPRI figures on the world’s nuclear arsenal, there are 13,080 nuclear weapons with a potential for destruction far greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The United States and Russia have 90 per cent of the world’s arsenal, followed by China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and India with 165 each, Israel and North Korea.
All these nuclear states have programmes to modernise their arsenals, so that by 2020 they exceeded 60 billion Euros. If the number of weapons and the wastefulness of their maintenance and modernisation is worrying, no less so is the fact that 2,000 nuclear warheads are kept on constant alert, which means that they have only a few minutes to make decisions that could be transcendental for humanity.
According to a study reported in El Salto on the simulation of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, the consequences would be catastrophic for the entire planet. In a week of war in which 250 warheads were detonated in their territories, they would cause the immediate death of between 50 and 125 million people. Yet the worst was yet to come. The black smoke would block sunlight from reaching the earth, rapidly lowering temperatures for years to late Ice Age levels, what has been called “nuclear winter”. Reduced sunlight would drastically reduce harvests, causing a severe food crisis with unpredictable consequences for people, animals and plants.
ICAN: the long struggle for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons
ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) was founded in 2007. It is the promoter of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, approved by the United Nations General Assembly in June 2007 by 122 votes in favour. That same year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite boycott and pressure from NATO and other nuclear powers not to ratify, the treaty entered into force on 22 January 2021 after being ratified by 50 states.
It prohibits the use, development, testing, production, acquisition, possession and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. It is also illegal to assist, encourage or induce anyone in any way to engage in any activity prohibited in the treaty.
Certainly, definitively averting the nuclear threat to humanity would be a major step forward. The treaty is a good starting point, but only that, as no nuclear-armed country has signed it and it is only binding on those countries that ratify or accede to it.
Despite ICAN’s meetings with Spanish parliamentarians, our government has not yet acceded to the treaty. Does the government think that threat, extortion, nuclear blackmail is a valid form of politics? Does it think that it is licit to end the lives of millions of citizens in the name of any value, divinity or homeland?
It is urgent that in every country it is the citizens who demand that our governments put an end to criminal military policies. As Tica Font says, “The people who inhabit this planet need a clear, effective and binding commitment to nuclear disarmament”.
ICAN is currently made up of around 500 organisations from some 100 countries, including Spain. They are the basis for future awareness campaigns to force their respective governments to sign the Treaty, out of respect for their own population. The fact that other countries have the guarantee that your country will not be a nuclear threat to them becomes, paradoxically, your best defence.
Special mention should be made of the hibakusha (person bombed), the surviving victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had to endure helplessly witnessing the destruction of their homes, the death of their relatives, their friends, their neighbours, sometimes amidst terrible pain, tearing and deformation. Doubly victimised, they had to endure job and emotional discrimination as if they were responsible for having survived. They soon began to organise themselves to demand aid and treatment from the government.
Their life experience and their determined struggle to prevent the repetition of another nuclear holocaust has been one of ICAN’s major supporters.
From Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to Mutually Assured Support (MAS)
The military logic of Mutually Assured Destruction responds to a cruel, destructive and vindictive vision of military defence. It does not actually defend us citizens from anything, but exposes us and uses us as hostages. The only thing it guarantees us is that if our enemy (who will it be?) tries and succeeds in destroying us, he will be destroyed too. Thank you, saviours! What a feat, to have succeeded in making the planet uninhabitable!
We can continue to take care of our geraniums, pamper our pets, save for holidays, defend forests and wetlands, build neighbourhood spaces, defend public services, weave networks of solidarity… none of this will be made easier or defended by armies, but they can destroy it as in Hiroshima if we are not able to stop the nuclear escalation.
The fact that there has been no nuclear conflict so far is no guarantee for the future. Indeed, for some analysts, if we do not remedy this, it is only a matter of time before a nuclear confrontation breaks out. We know, despite military secrecy, that there have been critical moments when the first bomb was about to be fired. The short time available to respond heightens the possibility of human error, misinterpretation or miscalculation. Nor is an accident or a deliberate action in the belief that one has an advantage by firing first is out of the question.
We are at a time when the rise of authoritarian regimes, the resurgence of nationalism, the exaltation of patriotic symbols, economic crises and the construction of the enemy as the cause of all evils do not help in the search for good solutions to conflicts between states. Unfortunately, this “All for the Fatherland”, in the name of which so many crimes against humanity have been committed in recent centuries, is once again gaining dangerous momentum.
It takes too much faith to trust the future of humanity to the mental health of our leaders, the rationality of the military or the infallibility of civil servants.
The military logic of “if you want peace, prepare for war” has led us to a dead end. It is the patriarchal logic of violence, exploitation, domination, conquest and subjugation. In its macho version it focuses on women. In its militaristic version, it focuses on territories, wealth and peoples.
We must turn this infernal logic on its head to speak of solidarity, mutual support, trust, justice… and bet on life. Beyond the nuclear threat, we are squandering on military spending what we need to deal with the climate emergency and its consequences, to eradicate hunger and inequality, to restore public services, to weave networks of solidarity and trust between peoples. In short, to guarantee human security for all the inhabitants of the planet.