What about nuclear weapons?
Nukes are different. Why?
First Nukes have terrible destructive capacity.
A single bomb can flatten an entire city. Due to
that power, they forced a change in global war
strategy: instead of battlefield victories, total
enemy annihilation became a real possibility.
Second There is a lot about nuclear weapons that
people don’t know. For example, most people think
that nukes were only used twice. But actually, over
2000 nuclear explosions have taken place, most
of them on nuclear test sites. As a result, there are
huge areas that cannot sustain human life due
to radioactive pollution that will last for thousands
Third There are still about 23.000 of them around
Fourth Since the use of nukes is so inconceivable,
and the debate around the right to have them is so
complicated, a lot of politicians just tend to keep
quiet on the issue of nuclear disarmament.
However in the last few years, a renewed debate
has sprung up.
What are nuclear weapons?
The basic difference between a nuclear and a conventional weapon is, to put it shortly, the enormous destructive power of a nuclear blast (1000 or even 1.000.000 times as strong as the biggest conventional blast). On top of that comes the exposure to nuclear radiation, which can make large areas inhabitable for long times and cause radiation sickness to those exposed.
The energy that is released with the fusion or fission of atoms forms the destructive power. Nukes that work through fission are called atombombs, nukes that work through fusion hydrogenbombs.
With nukes 85% of the energy is released through shockwaves, a blinding flash of light and extreme heat. The rest of the energy is released through radiation. The destructive effect is thus threefold: explosion, heat (which causes firestorms) and radiation.
There is a distinction being made between strategic (long-range inter-continental) and tactical (short-range battlefield) nuclear weapons. The former are ment for pure destruction, the latter for a continental war (in Europe, according to Cold War-scenario' s).
The biggest nuclear weapon ever tested was the Russian ‘Tsar Bomb’, at 50 Megatons. If this bomb were detonated over the Eiffel Tower in Paris,
the flash would be visible in Berlin, window panes would shatter in London, and the 300 inhabitants of the rustic countryside village Fains-la-Folie
(100 km from Paris) would suffer from third degree burns. The smallest nuclear weapons deployed today carry a 0,3 kiloton explosion, enough to
wipe away Vatican City.
What is the problem with nuclear weapons?
At the top of the Cold War there were more than 70.000 nukes around. Despite reductions there are nowadays still some 23.000 stocked, of which most are in the possession of the USA and Russia.
The risks are enormous. First and foremost: accidents can never be ruled out completely. Having nukes is in itself a big risk, since the use of them has such catastrophic consequences.
Second, the number of countries that possess nukes is growing.
Third, with the spread of knowledge and the actual possession of nuclear weapons, the risk grows that they fall into the wrong hands, e.g. those of terrorists groups.
Above all, IKV Pax Christi finds it morally unacceptable to refer to deterrence with nuclear destruction as a means for a peaceful world.
What is hair-trigger alert?
Hair-trigger alert means: ready to use. Even today, thousands of nukes are on hair-trigger alert. This way, countries can respond within minutes if they are under attack, and fire their nuclear arms before those can be destroyed.
The problem with this is: those who bare the responsibility of the decision to fire away, might have to make such a decision in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette.
What are nuclear warheads and delivery systems?
A nuclear weapon consists of a warhead and a delivery system or delivery platform. The warhead is the explosive component.
A delivery system (for example: a ballistic missile) can contain one or more warheads.
Delivery platforms can be: aircraft capable of throwing of nukes, nuclear submarines, etcetera.
Which countries have nuclear weapons?
The USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North-Korea are all in the possession of nuclear weapons. Israel has never publicly admitted that it has nukes, but it is a public secret that it has.
Next to these states, there are several NATO-member states that have US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil - stored to be used in a European continental nuclear war. These states are: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.
Is it legal to use nuclear weapons?
International Humanitarian Law, or The Laws of War determines how to behave during wartime. For example, one must not kill enemy soldiers that have surrendered and laid their weapons down, and it’s illegal to kill defenceless people who did not take part in the fighting.
The effects of a nuclear bomb reach much further than soldiers, and they continue long after the initial explosion. When the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the blast instantly killed more than 90% of the Hiroshima medical community. The burst temperature, estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, was so hot that the air itself caught fire. Radiated particles contaminated large areas and many exposed people exposed died of radiation sickness, or developed forms of cancer later on. Nuclear weapons
cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians.
In May 2010, for the first time, signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty
expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the need for all States at
all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law”.
Linking Humanitarian Law to nuclear weapons strengthens opportunities to prevent future use of these weapons by outlawing them altogether.
Just as International Humanitarian Law led to the outlawing of biological and chemical weapons, it too can be a path to forever outlaw nuclear weapons.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the worlds highest authority on the interpretation of international law, said in 1996 that “the threat or use
of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules
of humanitarian law”.
Is it legal to have nuclear weapons?
According to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is not legal to build,
buy or steal nuclear weapons. However, for the five countries who tested nuclear weapons before 1967, a loophole exists. These five (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) are not forbidden to have them, but are legally obliged to negotiate nuclear disarmament. Every country in the world- except India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan - is part of the NPT.
In its very first resolution, the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 agreed to establish a commission to work on “the elimination
from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction”. This commission eventually became the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).The IAEA is responsible for helping countries develop peaceful uses of nuclear technology (including energy and medicine) while making sure that they do not use this information or material to make nuclear weapons. The NPT requires that countries without nuclear weapons sign a safeguards agreement with the IAEA that regulates how this development and monitoring is to take place. In the NPT, the nuclear powers pledged to negotiate nuclear disarmament. Today, the NPT has been in force for over 40 years, yet there remain over 23.000 nuclear weapons in the
world. Since 1997 proposals have been circulated in the UN General Assembly to create a treaty that would make nuclear weapons illegal
for EVERYONE. However, because of the political importance some countries attach to their nuclear weapons, negotiations on this proposal
have not yet begun.
The world requested, through the UN General Assembly, some clarification about the responsibility of the five Nuclear Weapons States to meet
their disarmament obligations. The International Court of Justice clarified that not only do the countries that have nuclear weapons need to negotiate
disarmament, they need to get a result from those negotiations that will lead to a nuclear weapons free world.
Aren' t they actually useful?
Didn’t Nuclear Weapons end the Second World War?
By the time the first nuclear weapon was tested, Germany had already surrendered. There are many doubts raised as to whether the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the reason that Japan surrendered, or if it was actually the Soviet declaration of war on Japan that was the cause.
Didn’t Nuclear Weapons Keep the Cold War cold?
The mutual buildup of nuclear weapons between the USSR and the US may have prevented the two from engaging in war with one another directly, however, proxy wars (generally on the territories of developing nations) continued. War did not end with the development of the bomb. The chance
that one of the proxy wars could have flared into a nuclear war was very close- several times.
Don’t we need them to prevent terrorists or rogue countries from using them?
The more nuclear weapons that exist, the more chances there are for them to be lost, stolen, or accidentally used. The only way to keep them out of the hands of the ‘bad guys’ is to get them out of everyone’s hands.
What do nuclear weapons cost?
The secrecy around nuclear weapons means that for most countries, no reliable estimates exist on annual expenditures on nuclear weapons. The US is one of the more transparent countries in this respect, we know they spend more than $35.000.000.000 (35 billion dollars) on nuclear arms each year.
Only a small part of the high cost of nuclear arms is the actual warhead. The entire process is costly. Development, testing, maintenance, security,
storage, training of personnel and disposal together make nuclear weapons expensive, especially considering their relatively limited relevance in
Estimates are that the US alone spent $5.480.000.000.000 (or 5,48 trillion dollars) on nuclear arms in the first 50 years of their existence. And expenditures for nuclear arms never stop, unless we get rid of them all- and even then it will cost money to keep the poisonous waste generated
by their disarmament out of the environment.
The US plans to spend another $4 billion just to extend the life of one type of warhead, the B61 bomb. The costs of nuclear weapons extend even further.
The same B61 bombs need to be dropped above their targets by fighter planes. In choosing replacement planes , all countries involved
in flying B61 bombs have to ask the question: Do they buy a new plane that can carry and drop nuclear weapons? If so, it means the choice is limited to basically one option, namely the chronically delayed and technologically challenged F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Making the F-35 capable of the nuclear task will add another $440 million to the already mindboggling development
All expenses are relative, of course. But for weapons that by design are contrary to the Laws of War, the financial burden is enormous.
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