Editorial

Beware the nuclear weapons, for the night is dark and full of terrors

Sunday, February 03, 2019

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At present, there are more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy all of mankind and make the planet permanently uninhabitable.

The countries which have nuclear weapons capable of mass destruction are United States, Russia (the successor state to the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, China, and Israel. Additionally, there are countries which have the capability to make nuclear weapons. These are India, Pakistan and North Korea. South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons after the end of apartheid.

The first country to develop this type of weaponry was the US followed by the then Soviet Union, and this was followed by the nuclear arms race which reached its zenith during the cold war between the East and the West.

The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide was estimated at between 3,750 and 9,220 in 2017. This was a reduction from 70,300 active weapons in 1986. Many of the weapons were not destroyed but decommissioned, and could thus be reactivated.

The reduction took place because of the negotiated arms reduction codified in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. To date, 191 states have adhered to the treaty but this number does not include India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

The escalation of nuclear arsenal was based on the rationale that they act as a deterrent to war, and whichever country had the biggest stockpile of nuclear arms and did the “first strike” would “win”.

It is not clear if anyone would survive to declare victory, nor would winning matter because the planet would be indefinitely uninhabitable. This ridiculous thinking persists, however and the nuclear powers continue to spend enormous sums to develop more sophisticated weapons systems. World military expenditure in 2017 was US$1.7 trillion.

The US has announced that it intends to suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and begin the process of withdrawing from the 1987 arms control agreement between itself and the now Russia.

The reason is the suspected non-adherence by Russia and to strengthen its ability to discourage the build-up by China. The problem is that this could set off an escalation of a nuclear arms race that had never really entirely stopped.

This has many deleterious effects, most important of which are the diversion of huge amounts of resources from peaceful purposes, and increasing the risk of a potentially catastrophic nuclear accident.

Increased expenditure on nuclear weapons could seriously retard global economic development and the realisation of the sustainable development goals in the wake of a slow and uneven recovery from the global economic crisis of 2008 — and in the grip of rapidly intensifying climate change.

A small share of the US$1.7 trillion spent on arms could make a substantial improvement to half of the world's population, more than three billion people who live on less than US$2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 a day. One billion children worldwide are living in poverty.

But perhaps we are merely just whistling in the dark.


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