Nuclear weapon

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Concept.png Nuclear weapon 
(“Weapon of mass destruction”Sourcewatch
Nuclear weapon.jpg
A US nuclear test over Bikini Atoll in 1954
Type technology

In May 1975, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported that the United States had over 30,000 nuclear weapons at home, at sea, in Europe, and in Asia. Of these weapons, 8,500 were considered strategic weapons and 22,000 tactical weapons. The main difference between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is their range.[1] TNW include gravity bombs, short-range missiles, artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes which are equipped with nuclear warheads.[2]

In July 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) estimated that the US had reduced its nuclear weapon stockpile to 6,800 warheads.[3]

Official narrative

According to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, those nations which have these weapons of mass destruction are obliged to try to prevent their spread and to eliminate their own holdings of these weapons. A nuclear war involving USA or Russia could quite possibly result in a nuclear winter and cause humans and most other life forms to go extinct.[4]

History

Nuclear weapons were first developed by the Manhattan Project in the USA and twice deployed on Japan at the end of World War II. Their creation and stockpiling was a major element in the cold war. At least 33,000 US citizens were killed by their development and mass production.[5] Many tens of thousands of other people were killed as a result of the nuclear tests carried out in remote locations such as Pacific islands.[6]

Non-Proliferation Treaty

In 2017 the world's 9 nuclear armed-states had some 15,000 warheads, over 90% of which were held by the US and Russia

The United States conducted its first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Just four years later, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test explosion. The United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) followed. Seeking to prevent the nuclear weapon ranks from expanding further, the United States and other like-minded states negotiated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed the NPT and possess nuclear arsenals. Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices since that time. Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms, and Syria is suspected of having done the same. Still, nuclear non-proliferation successes outnumber failures and dire forecasts decades ago that the world would be home to dozens of states armed with nuclear weapons have not come to pass.

At the time the NPT was concluded, the nuclear stockpiles of both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia numbered in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, US and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited, and later helped to reduce, the size of their nuclear arsenals. Today, the United States and Russia each deploy more than 1,500 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles, and are modernising their nuclear delivery systems.

China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearisation pledges.[7]

In 2010 the Pentagon revealed that the US had 5113 nuclear weapons, down from over 31,000 in the late 1960s. More recent FOIA requests to determine the current number have been denied, notwithstanding their claim that "increasing the transparency of global nuclear stockpiles is important to non-proliferation efforts".[8]

The only nation to have acquired but then given up nuclear weapons is South Africa. The exact fate of some of South Africa's weapons is uncertain, and rumours suggest that three of them were "misplaced".[9]

Treaty banning nuclear weapons

Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the UN conference on banning nuclear weapons, after the vote to adopt the treaty

On 7 July 2017, the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty was endorsed by 122 countries at United Nations headquarters in New York after months of talks in the face of strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies.[10] Only the Netherlands, which took part in the discussion, despite having US nuclear weapons on its territory, voted against the treaty.

All of the countries that bear nuclear arms and many others that either come under their protection or host weapons on their soil boycotted the negotiations. The most vocal critic of the discussions, the United States, pointed to the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme as one reason to retain its nuclear capability.[11] The United Kingdom did not attend the talks despite government claims to support multilateral disarmament.

Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination, said:

“It’s been seven decades since the world knew the power of destruction of nuclear weapons and since day one there was a call to prohibit nuclear weapons. This is a very clear statement that the international community wants to move to a completely different security paradigm that does not include nuclear weapons.”

The 10-page treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will be open for signatures from any UN Member State on 20 September 2017 during the annual UN General Assembly. While countries that possess nuclear weapons are not expected to sign up any time soon, supporters of the treaty believe it marks an important step towards a nuclear-free world by banning the weapons under international law. Beatrice Fihn at ICAN in Geneva said:

“It’s a prohibition in line with other prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction. We banned biological weapons 45 years ago, we banned chemical weapons 25 years ago, and today we are banning nuclear weapons.” Within two years the treaty could have the 50-state ratifications that it needs to enter into international law, she said. Previous UN treaties have been effective even when key nations have failed to sign up to them. The US did not sign up to the landmines treaty, but has completely aligned its landmines policy to comply nonetheless. “These kinds of treaties have an impact that forces countries to change their behaviour. It is not going to happen fast, but it does affect them,” Fihn said. “We have seen on all other weapons that prohibition comes first, and then elimination. This is taking the first step towards elimination.”

Under the new treaty, signatory states must agree not to develop, test, manufacture or possess nuclear weapons, or threaten to use them, or allow any nuclear arms to be stationed on their territory.

Richard Moyes, managing director of Article 36, a UK organisation that works to prevent harm from nuclear and other weapons, said:

"The negotiations had made clear that a substantial number of states think that killing hundreds and thousands of people and poisoning their environment is morally wrong and that this should be reflected in law. The UK, along with other states that possess nuclear weapons, has chosen to boycott these talks, but the process has shown that any group of committed and concerned states can and should take collective responsibility to reject these horrific weapons.”

Instead of scrapping their nuclear stocks, the UK and other nuclear powers want to strengthen the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a pact that aims to prevent the spread of the weapons outside the original five nuclear powers: the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. It requires countries to hold back from nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for a commitment from the nuclear powers to move towards nuclear disarmament and to provide access to peaceful nuclear energy technology. The new treaty reflects a frustration among non-nuclear states that the NPT has not worked as hoped.[12]

Connection to nuclear power

A proper accounting of the risks of nuclear power reveals that its development was never economically justifiable, but was primarily intended as a method of deriving radioisotopes for use in nuclear weapons - explaining a lot of the lies and other hypocrisies which continue to surround the topic.

Alternative uses?

Many alternative uses have been proposed for nuclear weapons, including bizarre ones such as the disruption of hurricanes, expedite excavation, generate power, rearrange the solar system or even to attempt to plug the leaking deep water horizon oil spill. No uses have proved feasible apart from te mass extermination of living beings.[13]

Continued risk

Nuclear weapons continue to pose a real risk of human extinction.[14]  

Examples

     Page name     Description
Mini-nukeA nuclear device small enough to be carried in a backpack
Trident nuclear programmeEach Trident nuclear-powered submarine is armed with up to 8 missiles and 40 nuclear warheads
 

Related Document

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TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Labour Built the BombArticle10 July 2017Bill RamsayThe prompt for this short essay is not Labour's nuclear legacy: it is what took place in the UN General Assembly last Friday when the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty passed into international law.


References