As leaders from around the world gather at the United Nations in New York this month, for talks on revising the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), I recall my visit to the city of Hiroshima six years ago; a visit which had a profound impact on me. The elderly lady who owned the hotel in which I was staying had lost her husband just a few weeks earlier to leukaemia and she herself was still dealing with the devastating effects of radiation from the bomb 60 years on from what has thankfully been the first and only time nuclear weapons have been used in an attack. Today, the people of Hiroshima and indeed Japan have one clear message to project to the world, a message of peace in a world free from nuclear weapons so that this tragedy will never again be repeated.
The issue of nuclear weapons now more than ever has to be addressed head on by those who are leading us. Having listened to the three main political parties pitch for the public’s votes in the run up to the general election, I did not feel that any of them addressed this issue seriously enough in a way that can help lead to the “conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” as stated in the resolution (1887) adopted by the UN Security Council last September. The use of nuclear weapons should be treated in the same way as other horror shows of history, such as holocaust and slavery, are treated, that is as unacceptable and repellent traits of a common humanity we as global citizens share today.
Earlier this year, a group of retired generals wrote to The Times criticising Trident as “irrelevant”. It does seem unreasonable that it would entail costs of an estimated £100 billion over the next twenty years when the defence budget faces a £36 billion shortfall over the next 10 years according to a recent report by a cross-party group of senior MPs. Attempting to justify this unnecessary expense may well add insult to injury for some troops who have complained that they have not even received the right equipment to fight on the frontline in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Labour and the Conservatives do not grasp the point, as the senior army generals amongst others have pointed out, that the days of the Cold War are over and if the UK is to maintain a nuclear deterrent then new, cheaper solutions have to be found sooner rather than later.
It is no longer necessary to pump so much of the taxpayer’s money into weapons of mass destruction that we should never even think of using in the first place. It would also be hypocritical for the UK to call upon other countries to disarm if we were to continue to update and increase our own nuclear stockpile. It is the duty for states such as the UK to make concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament in order for other states, especially those who are reluctant to address the extent of their nuclear stockpile such as Israel, to be convinced of the argument that possessing nuclear weapons does not act as a deterrence.
Some may argue that it would be dangerous and ill judged to scrap our nuclear deterrent at a time when so called ‘rogue states’ such as Iran and North Korea appear to threaten international security. However, as highlighted by Obama, the real threat now is the potential of nuclear material getting in the hands of terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda. The world is constantly changing and Trident will not be overhauled for another fourteen years which raises the question of why waste so much money on a system that might not fit the security threats of the time. A system designed to deal with the threats of the 20th century is out of date to deal with the threats of the 21st century. Whether Trident would actually deter terrorist organisations, who are so willing to sacrifice their own lives, by threatening them with a nuclear attack is an issue that remains in doubt. Also, if the UK were to issue an attack, the question arises of who exactly they would attack given the fact that groups such as Al Qaeda are transnational networks belonging to no single state.
Many Japanese survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hibakusha, are present in New York to remind the leaders of the world’s nuclear states that there are still many victims around the world suffering and dying from the effects of nuclear testing and nuclear weapons today. We can only hope for all our sakes that at this critical juncture in nuclear discussions, their cry of “No more Hiroshimas, No more Nagasakis, No more Hibaksha!” will be heard through the political manoeuvring by those sitting around the UN negotiating table. They owe it to all the innocent children, women and men who have been to hell and back.