On August 9, 1945, the United States dropped the ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb on Nagasaki, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This was the second time a nuclear weapon was used in combat, both times by the United States, whose government still maintains the right to a first nuclear strike.
At a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of the bombing today, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue argued that fears of another nuclear bomb attack are growing. At Nagasaki's Peace Park, he stated, "the international situation surrounding nuclear weapons is becoming increasingly tense. A strong sense of anxiety is spreading across the globe that in the not too distant future these weapons could actually be used again."
Tensions are escalating between the United States and North Korea, in part due to President Donald Trump's bellicosity and reluctance to engage in diplomatic talks. Hours after reports that North Korea had developed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile, Trump issued an aggressive and irresponsible threat to the regime, stating that "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening, beyond a normal state. As I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."
Trump's empty threats are exactly the wrong approach to solving the North Korean dilemma, in which two inexperienced men with nuclear arsenals stand on the brink of conflict. His unilateral statement didn't remotely acknowledge regional dynamics. War on the peninsula would impact more than just the United States and North Korea. Our ally South Korea would be devastated, and a potential conflict carries the risk of spreading to China, Japan and other countries in the region.
His failure to mention Japan was especially egregious, as it was only a short while before Nagasaki's day of rememberance. In such a context, it is wrong to forget the innocent victims of the US nuclear attack on the city of Nagasaki 72 years ago to the day.
Unfortunately, the United States still retains the right to a nuclear first strike, and the president has the unilateral authority to initiate a nuclear war. During the Obama administration, Ploughshares Fund petitioned President Obama to declare a “no first-use” policy with regard to nuclear weapons, a policy that China, for example, has adopted.
More recently, we were part of a coalition that garnered half a million signatures for a petition calling for the restriction of the president's unilateral ability to launch nuclear weapons. We are strong and active supporters of H.R. 669, which would require Congressional authorization for a nuclear first strike. This legislation is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but we are preparing for a long fight that may span several presidential administrations.
In his remarks, Mayor Taue also said that Japan's absence during diplomatic negotiations for the UN Nuclear Prohibition Treaty, adopted in July, is "incomprehensible to those of us living in the cities that suffered atomic bombings." Grantees like the International Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) were instrumental in bringing about the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons agreed to by 122 nations on July 7. Although the US and the other eight nuclear-weapons states do not support the treaty — which opens for signature next month — it marks an important turning point in longer-term efforts to stigmatize the weapons and eventually eliminate them.
Ploughshares Fund, its partners and the nuclear arms control community will continue to fight the dangers of nuclear weapons until the last weapon is gone. We owe that to the innocent victims of the twin tragedies 72 years ago — and to future generations to come.
Photo: Nagasaki's peace statue. The statue's raised arm points to the threat of nuclear weapons and the outstretched arm symbolizes the call for peace. Flickr (cc) / M dela Merced