Nuclear Weapons, or How I Learned to Keep Worrying and Detest the Bomb

by Sean Wild

A practice common in schools across America during the 1950s was to perform what was known as “duck-and-cover” drills. For those not familiar with the practice, these drills required students to quickly crawl under their desks. The drills were done as practice for a protective measure in the event of a nuclear attack. At the time, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full swing. The United States had first built atomic bombs in 1945, and n 1949, the Soviet Union had successfully detonated its first atomic weapon.

Though these duck-and-cover drills seem a bit farcical now, the fear of an imminent nuclear attack was in the air and people felt the need to do something to prepare. Today, the Cold War has ended and those drills are in the past. However, the threat of a nuclear weapon being used remains. The need for disarmament is not an idealistic carryover from a bygone age, but an imperative for the welfare of the world.

Currently, nine countries possess nuclear weapons. Current U.S. policy puts the responsibility of deciding if or when to use nuclear weapons solely on the president. U.S. policy also states that the United States may use nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack. Presumably such a decision would not be taken lightly and would hopefully be used only as a last option. Still, with only a single finger on “the button,” the risks remain highly dependent on whose hand that finger is attached to.

Looking at the state of things, the immediate decommissioning of all nuclear weapons would be an unlikely first step in a project of total disarmament. Nevertheless, several policies could be put in place to reduce the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe.

Adopting a “no-first-use” policy could be the first step to taking the use of nuclear force off the table in most situations. This type of policy, as the name would imply, commits a country to never being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Treaties and more diplomatic solutions could be revisited and hashed out, always keeping in mind that it is vital both for all countries party to treaties and for the entire planet that any potential nuclear attack be avoided.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) first signed in 1968, committed several countries with nuclear weapons to not aid other countries in the acquisition or production of such weapons. Most countries that today possess nuclear weapons – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – have signed the NPT. As the treaty states: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly.”

However, three countries that possess nuclear weapons – Israel, India, and Pakistan – have declined to take part in the NPT. North Korea, which once signed the agreement, withdrew in 2003. Iran pursuing nuclear programs, despite signing the NPT, is also a concern.

In 2015, an agreement between Iran and several other nations was adopted. The treaty committed Iran to limiting its development of materials that could be used to make nuclear weapons. The deal was based on the promise of Iran to limit work that could potentially lead to the development of nuclear arms, including restrictions on creating and possessing enriched uranium, in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and EU-imposed economic sanctions. The United States pulled out of the deal in 2018, however, which gave Iran the opportunity to expand their nuclear-related activities. Negotiations have been in the works to strike a new deal, though they have been unable to come to a productive agreement as of yet. There have been other important international nuclear treaties, including the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), an agreement between the United States and Russia to limit both nations’ nuclear forces.

With much ambiguity about what the future holds, finding and taking steps to disarm the world of nuclear weapons remains necessary for the safety and well-being of all across the planet.

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