The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago on 6 and 9 August—where over 170,000 people died—highlighted the dangers for mankind coming from the very existence of nuclear weapons. Drawing its inspiration from the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, Pugwash started as an association of scientists whose main aim was, and is, to warn about nuclear dangers.
Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear bomb has ever been used against a city. Nuclear tests on the earth’s surface or in the atmosphere have not been performed since 1963. The nuclear arms control system, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty and all the bilateral US-Russia arms control agreements, has both limited the number of States possessing nuclear weapons and brought down the total number of nuclear weapons from a high of about 70,000 bombs in the mid-1980s.
Still, we currently have 9 States possessing nuclear weapons (US, Russia, China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea). The total number of operational nuclear weapons is still in the range of 13,000-14,000. The treaty forbidding nuclear tests has not yet entered into force. And the possible use of nuclear weapons is contained in the strategies of the states possessing them. Only China and, for the moment, India, have a policy of nuclear no-first-use. In the other nuclear states, the possible use of nuclear weapons is even considered to compensate for a possible inferiority in conventional weapons. The bilateral (US-Russia) arms control system has some critical problems right now, as the last nuclear arms treaty in force is bound to expire in February 2021. New nuclear delivery systems (e.g. hypersonic missiles) are in the process of being deployed.
While the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons (NWFZ) has made some progress, the two most critical ones (a NWFZ in the Middle East and in North East Asia) are not moving forward. And in fact, the demise of the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) brought about by the US President has created an even more difficult environment in the Middle East. The UN-sponsored Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is slowly moving forward, but all Nuclear States and their allies will not be part of it.
Summing up, the nuclear danger is still present and, in recent times, the activities of those supporting the elimination of the nuclear danger have become more difficult. More than ever, we must listen to the voices and message of the Hibakusha—survivors of the first use of nuclear weapons—“Let Nagasaki be the last.” We have no alternative other than to promote, in all ways possible, an awareness of and motions against the possession and possible (including accidental) use of nuclear weapons.
Paolo Cotta Ramusino
Secretary-General of Pugwash