The Case for Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament

On the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki people’s attention is once again looking at whether or not countries should possess nuclear weapons. Following the Iran nuclear deal in the US and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum in the UK, the issues of nuclear weapons’ usage and cost are now being openly debated.
When looking at the disturbing images that came from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it is hard to justify the use of such a weapon when one bomb, which are much less powerful than those around today, can indiscriminately kill tens of thousands of people in seconds. As Japan mourns the loss of around 200,000 people, around 80% of whom were civilians, it’s time that the British people demand that these weapons be consigned to history.

Aerial shot of Hiroshima before and after the bombing.
Aerial shot of Hiroshima before and after the bombing. (RT)
The issue of whether or not to renew the Trident nuclear submarine system has been brought into the spotlight due to the Scottish Independence Referendum as the SNP made it clear that they would seek to remove the submarines from Scottish territory if there was a ‘Yes’ vote. In addition to this moral opposition to having weapons of mass destruction, the main focus was around the exorbitant cost of their replacement and continued maintenance, which has been estimated at around £100 billion over their 40-year lifespan.
The economic argument against these weapons has also remained prescient in light of the 2015 General Election result, which resulting the Conservatives continuing their austerity regime; many people, particularly in Scotland, accurately point out the number of teachers or nurses that could be recruited if the eye-watering amount of money to renew Trident was redeployed to improve public services.
But there are two other arguments that I believe are more important than the cost; the falsehood of deterrence and the lack of an ethical justification for their use. People who support Britain continuing to have nuclear weapons, either temporarily or permanently, say that the world is dangerous and uncertain so these weapons stop people from acting recklessly. Indeed they point to ISIS or Putin’s Russia as evidence of the dangerousness of the world, often followed up with something like ‘what if ISIS gets a nuclear weapon?’, thinking that our warheads would deter them.
Both these examples are foolish because Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which aren’t conclusively proven but let’s pretend they are, still happened, regardless of Britain, America or France’s nuclear arsenals. Moreover ISIS has already shown that they are willing to execute aid workers and burn people alive; if ISIS get a nuclear weapon then they will probably use it, and probably against Iran or Israel, thus starting a nuclear war. The only way to make sure that ISIS doesn’t get a nuclear bomb is to demand countries in the Middle East and around the world get rid of their stockpiles.
Not even this guy is crazy enough to start a nuclear war. I think.
Not even this guy is crazy enough to start a nuclear war. I think. (CNBC)
On a more ethical note I would like to make two points. Firstly, if successive British Prime Ministers are saying that they would never use nuclear weapons but refuse to cancel them we are therefore forced to conclude that should another country launch all their nuclear missiles, the British Prime Minister would fire all of Britain’s warheads back at them. That, I would argue, would be the most petty and vengeful thing that could ever be done because rather than running for cover or accepting the inevitability of certain death, the PM would be running around endeavouring to decide who to take with him.
People of a country don’t collectively decide to nuke another nation, one unhinged leader does; therefore it would be hugely immoral to kill potentially millions of people because of the decision of one madman, especially as those people would probably wouldn’t endorsing the dropping of lots of atomic bombs. Also it’s not like the British people will think less of a PM who doesn’t retaliate as they would probably be running around looking for their relatives before the entirety of humanity was vaporized.
The second point is one of hypocrisy; how can any country that is trying to acquire nuclear weapons be lectured by Britain or America when both have vast nuclear arsenals. Similarly, countries that feel threatened, for whatever reason, would probably feel less threatened if those powers didn’t have the capability to annihilate the entire human race several times over. These countries must lead by example and get rid of their nuclear weapons in order to prevent international disputes escalating into potential flashpoints for a nuclear apocalypse.
There's over 15,000 nuclear bombs in the world. That makes me feel much safer.
There’s over 15,000 nuclear bombs in the world. That makes me feel much safer. (Pintrest)
As if the lessons from history are not powerful enough, the idea of weapons that can kill indiscriminately with such force that only shadows of people are left, shouldn’t make anybody feel any safer. Considering that military leaders have historically targeted civilians in nuclear attacks and that the bombs currently possessed by a small group of nations are much stronger than those used 70 years ago, I am very concerned that this lie of deterrence remains so pervasive in the public discourse of British politics.
The cognitive dissonance that is most peculiar is that most people loathe politicians and wouldn’t trust them to babysit their children, but are perfectly fine with the same untrustworthy bunch initiating a nuclear holocaust, not only killing every person on earth but possibly all life on this planet, leaving our little blue marble in space radioactive for millions of years. I for one believe that nuclear disarmament, as quickly as possible, should be made a priority, lest we get a leader come onto the scene that plays fast and loose with the idea of nuclear war.
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