30 Jan GOING NUCLEAR
What Could Nuclear War Today
Really Mean For The World?
If you stop to think about it, it’s pretty incredible that we live in an era where a nuclear war could be started from a few ill-directed comments over a social media platform.
Over the last year or so, the world has watched as US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have repeatedly antagonised one another on Twitter in a way that, at best, can only be construed as major posturing, and at worst could have potentially disastrous consequences.
For many, some of the comments made between these two national leaders have become the punchlines of jokes, and the fact that we are not a generation that has had first hand experience of nuclear war means that we often dismiss the concept as far-reaching and not to be taken too seriously. After all, we have other, very real threats such as racism, sexism and terrorism already at our doors.
But it’s important to try understand the state of the world we live in, the potential futures that loom and how the people who are in the highest positions of power promote certain behaviours or threats during what is already a time of instability. So let’s get the first thing straight.
// The Threat Of Nuclear War Is Really Not A Joke. //
It is especially not some kind of flippant remark to be bandied about between political leaders on Twitter (of all fucking places) as a way to puff themselves up in a ‘mine is bigger than yours’ toddler-esque strop.
To understand how ridiculous these comments are, let’s re-familiarise ourselves with what nuclear war actually is, shall we?
A nuclear war is one in which nuclear weapons are deployed by one/both/all of the countries involved. And nuclear weapons are massively different from other kinds of weaponry in that they release way more energy from relatively small amounts of matter, and are therefore able to cause much more harm to both people and the surrounding environments. Because of this, nuclear weapons are often called ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’.
And that ‘Mass Destruction’ there really does mean what it says on the tin. It means the literal, inconceivable eradication of everything in its path, not to mention the long-terms effects to public health, even many years later.
Now, there are actually only nine countries in the world that have their own nuclear weapons, those being Russia, the US, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. Between those nine countries, there are approximately 15,000 weapons, but the number of weapons each country has differs massively. For example, Russia has around 7,000 nuclear weapons, whilst Israel is estimated to have about 80. The most important part of this though, is to understand how each country approaches the circumstances in which it could potentially use those weapons. Only two of them, China and India, have pledged a no-first-use policy, meaning that all the others could use nuclear force if they or their allies were attacked or invaded.
Historically, nuclear bombs have only ever been used twice in war (both times by the US when they bombed Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945) and the ethical question of using nuclear force to end a war has obviously been a major point of controversy ever since. And whilst both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thriving once again today, it’s important to remember that the detonation of nuclear weaponry was, and still would be, nothing less than genocide. Those bombs killed around 200,000 people, and the vast majority of those people were civilians.
// Nothing Less Than Genocide. //
The immediate effects of a nuclear bomb explosion are difficult for most people to imagine, but from history we know that a nuclear bomb site flattens the landscape it is dropped on (known as ground zero), and only kills about half of its total number of victims on the first day of the blast. Vaporisation (literally), firestorms or being crushed by falling buildings are the immediate ways people die. But what is even more horrific, is how over the following months, massive numbers of people succumb to burns and radiation sickness, and even years later, people continue to die from radiation related complications such as cancer.
Today, nuclear weapons are generally much more powerful than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the catastrophes they would create would be much greater in scale. Hypothetically, a serious nuclear war between two countries (i.e. if 100 bombs the size of the one that fell on Hiroshima were used) would not only result in uncountable deaths, but could even affect the global environment so much that we could eventually end up in what’s known as a Nuclear Winter. Global temperatures would drop as debris from the blasts blocked the sun and up to 2 billion (yes, BILLION) people could starve as a result of crops being unable to grow. And in case this sounds far fetched – bombs that are 3330 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb have already been made and tested, so it might not even take that many. (A bomb that sized used on London, for example, would kill around 5 million people – if you want to see what your the effects on your home-town would be for yourself, try out the Nukemap.)
This is why the entire rhetoric between Trump and Kim Jong Un has been so unbelievable considering what’s at stake. It’s these kinds of effects (leveled cities, mass deaths, radiation poisoning, starvation) that they bicker over and threaten one anothers nations with. And if you thought that these exchanges were dying down and nothing to worry about, the US just recently announced smaller, ‘more usable’ nuclear warheads to be made by the Trump administration to ‘deter’ North Korea, Russia and China.
// But How Can We Justify The Existence Of Nuclear Weapons At All? //
The world’s nuclear powers say that they have weapons of mass destruction to act as deterrents, preventing any other country from instigating wars. But nuclear deterrence only prevents nuclear wars, which wouldn’t be possible if those countries didn’t have nuclear warheads in the first place. Go figure. These countries go by the rule that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is preferable to being undefended. But the truth is that it is only those countries who can provoke such a fight. And there’s enough nuclear power held by them to completely destroy the world many times over.
This is why it’s so important to encourage dismantlement of nuclear weaponry. And it is a genuine option – South Africa is the proof.
It’s not that people aren’t trying – just the opposite, in fact. There have been many attempts to encourage countries to dismantle and stop seeking to build weapons of mass destruction, some having more successful impact than others. One of those well known is the NPT, which is a treaty signed by 189 nation states and seeks, through to 3 pillar plan, to stop proliferation, start dismantlement and to allow the peaceful use of nuclear energy. However, three of the nuclear powers (India, Pakistan and Israel) in the world have never signed and North Korea removed itself from the agreement in 1993.
Alternatively, the United Nations created an Office for Disarmament Affairs in 1998 stating that nuclear weaponry:
“... would exceed even the scope of war and cause indiscriminate suffering and destruction to mankind and civilization and, as such, is contrary to the rules of international law and to the laws of humanity”.
Yet how successful even this office will be in its mission still remains to be seen.
All we can do is advocate, wait and hope that the nuclear powers in the world realise and agree that there are much more diplomatic options to create peace in the future.
And Twitter feuds certainly aren’t one of them.