GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 561, 8 August 2021

Japan: Remembering Hiroshima bombing, "Little Boy" and 80,000 people, 76 years later
Avishka Ashok

What happened? 
On 6 August, Japan marked 76 years of the first atomic bombing on Hiroshima. On this occasion, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended the memorial conference and pledged to support states towards the aim of nuclear disarmament. The annual ceremony was also attended by the Mayor of Hiroshima who pushed for the ratification of the UN treaty which seeks to ban nuclear weapons. He said: "Nuclear weapons are the ultimate human violence. If civil society decides to live without them, the door to a nuclear-weapon-free world will open wide."

What is the background? 
First, the devastation caused by the "Little Boy." In an instant, the bomb immediately killed 80,000 people in Hiroshima and another 40,000 in Nagasaki. By the end of the year, over 1,40,000 lost their lives due to radiation-related complications. More than 30 per cent of Japan's population vanished due to the atomic bombings. Other than the massive human loss, the infrastructural loss devastated the city. Hiroshima was reduced to a flat plain with no hospitals to treat the living, no fire services to help with fires or administrative structures to rebuild the city. The long term effects of the bombing started showing within a decade when hospitals started recording a steep increase in tumors and different cancers in the living population. The Little Boy and the Fat Man completely altered the demography of Japan, creating a sick populace in the two cities and forever slowing the population growth of the country. 

Second, the continuous expansion of the nuclear arsenal, despite their devastating efforts. In spite of witnessing the destruction caused by the atomic bombs in 1945, the world has continued the race to build and store more powerful weapons of mass destruction. Countries take pride in announcing advanced missiles that are capable of travelling long distances with no pilot, launching from the seas or land and claiming multiple lives in one hit. Instead of reprimanding the use of nuclear weapons by the only capable country in 1945, we now have nine countries with nuclear capacities. 

Third, the failing disarmament narrative. During the cold war, the world witnessed a steep rise in the production of nuclear weapons. As of today, this figure has been brought down exponentially due to the arms control treaty between the US and Russia. However, the aim of "Global Zero" which aims to completely abolish the production and storage of nuclear weapons, is far from being achieved. At the moment, there are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons globally. This accounts for an 80 per cent drop in the total number of nuclear warheads; from 70,000 weapons in 1986 to 15,000 in 2021. However, in the 76 years since the use of the first atomic bomb, the world is nowhere close to complete disarmament. There is an incessant struggle amongst states like North Korea and Iran who expand their nuclear programmes while states like the US and Russia express no plans of complete eradication of these weapons. In recent years, the focus of the international community has also shifted from nuclear deterrence to currently pressing issues such as the pandemic and climate change. 

Fourth, the "realist" narrative supporting nuclear greed. Today, the states compete and fight for the right to produce nuclear weapons to securitize their national interests. States are constantly under the impression that they may be attacked by a rival state. These weapons are used as a security against foreign interventions and attacks. Hence, countries are willing to spend millions on nuclear programmes even when these funds can be used for more pressing issues that require immediate attention. 

What does it mean?
The increasingly destructive capacities of the defence arms and ammunition prove that the human race is completely immune to the suffering endured by humankind 76 years ago. The rise in the number of nuclear states in the past seven decades showcases the seriousness of the world towards the aim of nuclear disarmament.