Exactly seventy years ago, on 6 August 1945, the US dropped the world’s first nuclear device on Hiroshima. Three days later it dropped the second one on Nagasaki. The total number of those who died either on the spot or later, as the result of radiation, was probably between 150,000 and 200,000. President Truman’s reasons for using the bomb have been in dispute ever since.
“Ways toward nuclear disarmament–PIR Center”
What has not been in dispute is that, ever since, the US has done everything it could to prevent other countries from obtaining the weapons it already had. Not that I blame it; any other Power in its position would have done exactly the same. The first country to which the policy was applied was Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1941-45 Stalin had been known as “Uncle Joe.” Now, within the space of a few weeks or months, he was turned into a monster. One which, in some ways, was even worse than Adolf Hitler. Stalin was an atheist. Stalin was a Communist. Stalin was hell-bent on dominating the world. In seeking to realize that objective, he recognized no moral laws whatever. It was, all of it, in vain. Four years after Hiroshima the Soviet Union did in fact test its first bomb. And what happened? Nothing. Stalin did not invade Europe, as had been feared. Let alone unleash a third world war.
Confronted by a fait accompli, Washington switched it attention to its own allies, Britain and France. One could not, of course, accuse them of being atheists, or Communists, or non-democratic. Let alone of presenting a danger to the US, or seeking to dominate the world, or whatever. Some more benign reasons had to be invented. Some more benign reasons were invented. Such as, for example, the claim that, once the British and the French possessed their own nuclear arsenals, the Soviets might think they could attack them without necessarily involving the US, thus weakening NATO. The consequences would be terrible. Again, their efforts availed the Americans nothing, Britain tested its first bomb in 1952, France in 1960. And what happened? Nothing.
Next it was the turn of China. Its leader, Mao Zedong, was even worse than Stalin. Let alone his successors who, as détente took hold, had turned into more or less “responsible” and “calculable” actors. Mao was a revolutionary. Mao was a dictator. Mao was a Communist. Mao was a mass murderer. Had he not supported North Korea? Had he not sworn to regain Taiwan? Had he not dared call the US a paper tiger? And did not Khrushchev say that he had said that he was prepared to sacrifice three hundred million lives so as to put an end to imperialism? How could one permit such a man to put his finger on the trigger? In October 1964, he did. And what happened? Nothing.
Unlike China, Israel was a tiny country of two and a half million tucked away in the Middle East. It was also democratic. By no stretch of the imagination did it present a danger to the US or any of its allies. And yet the US under Kennedy did what it could to prevent Jerusalem from going nuclear. So much so that, by some accounts, Prime Minister Ben Gurion resigned over this very issue. This time the rationale was that an Israeli bomb would immediately lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. With Egypt, as the largest Arab country, in the lead. In fact, that did not happen. As of 2015, Egypt still does not have the bomb.
In 1974 the Indians set off what they called a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE). No sooner had they done so than America’s ambassador to New Delhi, Daniel Moynihan, went to the foreign ministry. You have, he lectured them, done a terrible thing. Not because India might use the bomb, but because it would cause the “Moghuls” in Karachi to build a bomb of their own. By that logic, incidentally, the US should have avoided building the bomb out of fear that the Soviet Union would follow.
In the event, Moynihan was right. Ten years or so later, the “Moghuls” did in fact go nuclear. In 1998 both India and Pakistan tested their bombs. And what happened? Nothing.
And then it was the turn of North Korea. Everyone knew that the people in Pyongyang were as bad as anyone could be. They had set up a terrible dictatorship. They had developed a strange doctrine, known as Juche and roughly translatable as “we ourselves.” They starved their own people. They staged some dangerous incidents along the border between them and South Korea. They had the regime’s opponents torn to pieces by dogs (though this particular accusation later turned out to be a figment of someone’s imagination). In 2006, to the accompaniment of dire warnings, they tested their first bomb. And what happened? Nothing.
The logic behind the “international,” read mainly American, attempts to prevent proliferation is clear enough. Since 1945 no country has gone to war more often, and against as many opponents scattered all over the world, as the US has. Nor has any country more readily threatened to use its nuclear weapons. After all, it had far more of them than anyone else did. Conversely, each time another country obtains the bomb the number of those the US can attack without risking nuclear escalation goes down by one.
And then it was the turn of Iran. Iran is not a democracy (as if, judging by the fact that, in the past, quite some non-democratic countries acquired the bomb, it matters). Iran is not transparent (ditto). Iran supports terrorism (ditto). Should it develop the bomb, then that bomb may fall into the hand of terrorists. Etc., etc. Note that the rationales keep adapting themselves to circumstances. However, the objective remains always the same.
That is also why the details of the agreement with Iran, about which so much is being said and written, do not really matter. The controls may or may not be effective. They may or may not expire after ten years. Regardless, the Mullahs will continue their nuclear program so they can build the bomb if and when they need it. Partly that is because Iran is surrounded by nuclear countries on all sides. Partly, because of America’s habit of sending it troops to fight in or against other countries, with reason or without. One way or another, they will keep it in operation whether the rest of “the world,” agrees or not.
That is why, sooner or later, out of hundred and ninety or so countries on this earth there will be not nine nuclear ones but ten. And very little, if anything, will happen.