Banning the bomb: the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On 6 and 9 August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The development, manufacture, testing, possession, deployment, and sharing of nuclear weapons continues today. Over 17,000 remain in the hands of nine countries. The threat of the use of these weapons still exists. The states possessing nuclear weapons have plans to “modernise” these weapons in the coming decades. The arms race is continuing.

This commitment to invest further in nuclear weapons comes at a time of global economic crisis. It is a classic, heartbreaking example of wasted financial and human resources. The money and scientific effort could be better put to use in creating jobs, building homes and schools, providing health care, developing renewable energy technologies, and so much more.

Instead, nuclear-armed states continue to pour vast resources into creating and maintaining these weapons that, if ever used again, will have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences. At conferences held in Norway and Mexico over the past two years, international relief agencies have said that they would not be able to adequately respond if a nuclear weapon were to detonate. And studies have shown the devastating effects on health, food production, development, the environment, and more.

Yet nuclear-armed states buy into the myth that nuclear weapons are useful. They put their faith in “nuclear deterrence” and see nuclear weapons as their guarantee of survival and independence.

But nuclear deterrence “is not a rational, objective, or exact science.” There are countless cases in which misperception, miscalculation, or mistakes almost resulted in the use of nuclear weapons. There have been accidents surrounding the handling, transfer, and deployment of nuclear weapons. The existence of nuclear weapons presents great societal risk.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of terror, of immense destruction, of indiscriminate effect. They must be banned and eliminated.

Working effectively together, states that truly want to achieve a nuclear weapons free world should put in place a global legal prohibition of nuclear weapons that would stigmatise the weapons, provide obligations for financial institutions to divest from companies involved in nuclear weapons production, and build the architecture for disarmament.

This is the call of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) of which WILPF is a member. The renewed focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons established by the conferences in Norway and Mexico and to be continued in Austria later this year has highlighted the urgency of states adopting a new legally-binding instrument.

69 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, it’s time to consider innovative ways to change the political and economic landscape that currently protects the possession of nuclear weapons from significant challenge.

It’s time to ban the bomb.