8 August 2009

Nuclear double standards

By Nicola Pratt

August 6 was the 64th anniversary of the explosion of the first nuclear bomb by the United States over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This was followed by another nuclear explosion over Nagasaki on 9 August. These are the only nuclear attacks ever conducted in history and the scale of destruction wrought is almost too terrifying to comprehend. In Hiroshima, the bomb laid waste to two thirds of the city and killed up to 180,000 people (out of a population of 350,000). In Nagasaki, almost one quarter of the city was destroyed and up to 100,000 people died. Approximately half of those killed, the vast majority of whom were civilians, perished on the days of the bombings - from the effects of the intense heat and fires, from flash burns, trauma, radiation burns and radiation sickness. Since 1945, hundreds have died from cancers attributed to exposure to nuclear radiation. Norwich CND, like many other peace groups around the world, marks the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings annually by calling for global nuclear disarmament to prevent another nuclear tragedy.

Given the horrors of nuclear warfare, why do some countries still possess nuclear weapons? Our own government has committed to replace the Trident nuclear arsenals, estimated to cost £76 billion. Other countries possessing nuclear weapons are the United States, Russia, China and France - all of whom are signatories to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This means that these countries are committed to negotiating in good faith to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the treaty was signed in 1970 and the Cold War ended in 1989, there is only limited progress towards this goal - notwithstanding last month's agreement between Washington and Moscow to reduce their nuclear weaponry by as much as a third. Until now, the Treaty has failed to halt proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond the 'big five'.

Contravening the NPT, the US has transferred between 150 and 240 nuclear weapons to Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. Meanwhile, Israel, India and Pakistan have not signed the Treaty, yet possess nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and has tested nuclear weapons on several occasions (the last time being less than three months ago). Iran, a signatory to the NPT, was deemed by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be failing to comply with the treaty in its development of nuclear energy for civilian use. Although the agency did not find any evidence that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, there remained "uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran's nuclear programme", according to Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director.

The debate over nuclear non-proliferation reveals the hypocrisies that exist in world affairs. Those who have led the imposition of sanctions on Iran, for its alleged potential to develop nuclear weapons, include the US - the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons - as well as Britain, who is trying to renew its nuclear capability, rather than reduce it in line with its NPT commitments. The anti-Iran chorus also includes Israel - a country that has not only failed to sign the NPT but has also refused to admit to possessing nuclear weapons, and which kidnapped and imprisoned for 18 years a former nuclear technical assistant (Mordechai Vanunu) for revealing the existence of a nuclear programme to the press. My aim is not to defend the Iranian government as a shining beacon of peace. Rather, I highlight the current double standards because they undermine possibilities for an agreement on global nuclear disarmament and provide new incentives for a nuclear arms race in the most volatile regions of the world.

Next May (2010), there will be a review of the NPT. To pressure our government to make serious steps towards nuclear disarmament, sign the petition at ipetitions.com.

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