The Nuclear Disarmament: It is a humanitarian imperative

As for Washington, it will likely take decades and billions of dollars not only to rebuild the city but clean it of radiation entirely.

by Anwar A Khan

Last year, it seemed a nuclear conflict between the US and North Korea was on the horizon. Now it is on the horizon between America and Iran.

President Trump’s presence in the Oval Office has increased worries of a potential nuclear war. In January last, a poll showed about 52 percent of Americans, many of them Democrats worried that the president would launch a nuclear attack without reason.

Who will protect whom? 
And the damage would be incalculable; all it takes is just one strike to conceivably kill hundreds of thousands of people within minutes and perhaps millions more in the following days, weeks, and years.

What’s more, that first strike could trigger a series of events, leading to a widespread famine caused by a rapidly cooling climate that could potentially end civilisation as we have learnt it from different sources.

Nations typically want weapons for two reasons: self-defense — why would anyone attack a country with nuclear weapons that could respond with the world’s most destructive bombs and global prestige?

Not every government can afford them because nukes take billions of dollars to build, maintain, and launch properly. The proliferation process is also risky, MIT nuclear expert VipinNarang has told, “Because seeking a nuke makes a country a potential target. A nuclear bomb-seeking country is typically vulnerable to attack.”

Today, only nine countries own the entirety of the roughly 14,500 nuclear weapons on Earth. That’s down from the peak of about 70,300 in 1986, according to an estimate by Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris of the Federation of American Scientists.

Two countries account for the rise and fall in the global nuclear stockpile: Russia and the United States. They currently possess 93 percent of all nuclear weapons, with Moscow holding 6,850 and Washington another 6,450 (which is smaller than the 40,000 that Russia, then known as the Soviet Union, had in the 1980s and the roughly 30,000 the US had in the mid-1960s through mid-70s).

During the Cold War, each side built up its arsenal in a bid to protect itself from the other. Having the ability to attack any major city or strategic military position with a massive bomb, the thinking went, would make the cost of war so high that no one would want to fight.

“But two developments in particular led to the precipitous drop, Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology”, has told. First, Russia and the US signed a slew of treaties from the 1970s onward to reduce and cap parts of their nuclear programmes. Second, both sides learnt to hit targets with extreme precision. That negated the need for so many bombs to obliterate a target.

The US and Russia, though, still maintain thousands of nuclear weapons while the other seven countries — the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have no more than a few hundred. Still, every country has more than enough weapons to cause suffering on a scale never seen in human history.

But Olga Oliker and AndreyBaklitskiy, experts on Russia’s nuclear strategy, wrote at War on the Rocks in February last that Moscow’s “military doctrine clearly states that nuclear weapons will be used only in response to an adversary using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction,” or if the country’s survival is in doubt. In other words, they say Russia would only use nukes in retaliation or to avoid certain extinction.
Washington, of course, would likely respond with its own nuclear strikes after Moscow dropped its bombs. At that point, they would be in a full-blown nuclear war with the potential to destroy each other and much of the world.

Cirincione, the head of the Ploughshares Fund, told that the risk of nuclear war is increasing because of one factor: Trump.

“He is the greatest nuclear risk in the world, more than any person, any group, or any nation,” he has said. “The policies he is pursuing are making most of our nuclear risks worse, and he is tearing down the global institutions that have reduced and restrained nuclear risks over the last few decades.”

Here’s what he means: The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released in last February, lowered the threshold for dropping a bomb on an enemy. Basically, the US has said that it would launch low-yield nuclear weapons — smaller, less deadly bombs in response to nonnuclear strikes, such as a major cyber-attack. That was in contrast with previous US administrations, which said they would respond with a nuke only in the event of the most egregious threats against the US, like the possible use of a biological weapon.

The document also calls for more, smaller weapons on submarines and other platforms to attack enemies. Many experts worry that having tinier nukes makes them more usable, thereby increasing the chance of a skirmish turning into a full-blown nuclear war. Think, for example, of the US-China trade war escalating to the point that Trump thinks his only option is to launch a smaller nuke, or how Trump could respond to Beijing after a devastating cyber-attack on US infrastructure.

Plus, increasing the arsenal in this way would partially undo decades of the US’s work to stop nuclear proliferation around the world.
Some experts, like Georgetown’s Kroenig, say having smaller tactical weapons is actually a good idea. Our current arsenal, which prioritizes older and bigger nukes, leads adversaries to think we would never use it. Having smaller bombs that America might use, then, makes the chance of a nuclear conflict less likely. “It gives us more options to threaten that limited response,” Kroenig has told. “We raise the bar with these lower-yield weapons,” he has further said.

But the Trump risk may have less to do with what kinds of bombs he has and more to do with his temperament. Take his tweet fromlast January 2 toward the end of his spat with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader:

Here’s what happens in a nuclear attack. The theory around whether someone might drop a nuclear bomb takes away from the most serious matter in these discussions: the human and physical toll. Simply put, a nuclear strike of any magnitude would unleash suffering on a scale not seen since World War II. And with the advances in nuclear technology since then, it’s possible the devastation of the next nuclear strike would be far, far worse.

It’s hard to picture what the effect of a modern-day nuclear attack would actually look like. But Wellerstein, the nuclear historian, created a website called Nukemap that allows users to “drop” a specific bomb — say, the roughly 140-kiloton explosive North Korea tested in September 2017 on any target.

So, I did just that, detonating that North Korean device on the Capitol building in the heart of Washington, DC and, well, see for yourself:

Roughly 220,000 people would die from this one attack alone, according to the Nukemap estimate, while another 450,000 would sustain injuries. By comparison, America’s two nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945 killed and injured a total of around 200,000 people, granted, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had smaller populations than the Washington metro area.

It’s very likely that North Korea wouldn’t launch just one bomb, but multiple at DC and likely some at New York City, the West Coast, and possibly US military bases in Guam and/or Hawaii.

But for simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the effects of this one horrible attack.

The centre is the fireball radius, that is, the mushroom cloud which would extend out about 0.25 square miles. Approximately a 1.2-square-mile area would face the heaviest dose of radiation. “Without medical treatment, there can be expected between 50% and 90% mortality from acute effects alone and dying takes between several hours and several weeks,” according to the website.

Radiation poisoning is a horrible way to die. Here are just some of the symptoms people sick with radiation get:Nausea and vomiting; spontaneous bleeding; diarrhea, sometimes bloody; and severely burnt skin that may peel off.

The shock wave does a lot of damage in 17-square-mile area, the bomb would flatten residential buildings, certainly killing people in or near them. Debris and fire would be everywhere.

People in the bigger in a 33.5-square-mile area, would receive third-degree burns. “There’s a bright flash of light,” Brian Toon, a scientist and expert on nuclear disasters at the University of Colorado Boulder, has told about when the bomb goes off. Those exposed to the light, which would stretch for miles, would get those burns if their skin were exposed. The light would also “easily ignite fires with flammable objects like leaves, twigs, paper, or your clothing,” he has added.

The victims may not feel much pain, however, because the burn will destroy pain nerves. Still, some will suffer major scarring or have the inability to use certain limbs, and others might require amputation, according to Wellerstein’s site.

The biggest air-blast zone: a 134-square-mile area. People can still die, or at least receive severe injuries, in that location. The blast would break windows, and those standing near the glass might be killed by shards, or at least shed blood from myriad cuts.

Those who survive the bombing and its effects will have to walk through burning rubble and pass lifeless, charred bodies to reach safety. Some of them will ultimately survive, but others will succumb to sustained injuries or radiation. The wind, meanwhile, will carry the irradiated debris and objects known as fallout because they drop from the sky far outside the blast zone and sicken countless others.

As for Washington, it will likely take decades and billions of dollars not only to rebuild the city but clean it of radiation entirely.

It’s worth reiterating that all of the above are estimates for one strike on one location. An actual nuclear war would have much wider and more devastating consequences. And if that war spiraled out of control, the effects after the conflict would be much worse than the attacks themselves and change the course of human history.

“Almost everybody on the planet would die.”

This is exactly how a nuclear war would kill you, us all. This is how the world ends not with a bang, but with a lot of really big bombs.The only safeguard against nuclear catastrophe is nuclear disarmament. It is a humanitarian imperative.

-The End –

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.


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