Monday marks the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, an event that forced Japan to surrender in World War II. The world has changed much from that horrific day, but not enough to eliminate these weapons.
Much effort has been spent to eliminate nuclear weapons, but to no avail. Though there have been significant reductions in arsenals worldwide, it is now clear that complete removal of these weapons is a chimera. In many eyes, nuclear devices are a source of great evil and a source of instability in the world.
There is, however, another astonishing legacy of that episode: For 65 years now nuclear weapons have never been used in any war. In fact such is the abhorrence from their use that a former US secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, called their use “the great taboo”. That was in 1953. Today, there are many states that aspire to possess these devices, but there are none that dream of using them.
Could it be that the view associating nuclear weapons with evil is misplaced, even if it is understandable? It is so. If one looks at the Cold War years, Soviet and American animosity was always on the edge of turning into a “hot” confrontation, especially in Europe where they stood eyeball to eyeball with huge conventional armed forces. Yet the threshold was never crossed for each side understood that there was no way to prevent an escalation to the nuclear level. It was also understood that no one could win a nuclear war.
That legacy continues in today’s world. Much has been made of the differences in the European situation in the Cold War years and the one that prevails in nuclearized South Asia. The latter region is held to be a nuclear hot spot. But since 1974, when India announced its possession of these weapons and especially since 1998, when both India and Pakistan reiterated this possession, the two countries have never gone to conventional war with each other. There have been entanglements such as Kargil, but they’ve remained localized: Both countries know their limits. Perhaps the time has come to view nuclear weapons as weapons of peace.
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