Douglas Roche at Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome

The Second Nuclear Age

When the first atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it could hardly have been imagined that sixty years later more than 30,000 nuclear weapons would be in existence. The Cold War is long over, but still half the world population lives under a government brandishing nuclear weapons. More than $12 trillion has so far been spent on these instruments of mass murder, which is a theft from the poorest people in the world. The present nuclear weapons crisis has, in fact, led to the opening of the Second Nuclear Age.

First, we must understand the dimensions of the crisis. The long-standing nuclear weapons states, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China, are making nuclear weapons permanent instruments of their military doctrines. India, Pakistan and Israel have joined the "nuclear club." North Korea has tried to get into it. Iran is suspected of trying to convert nuclear fuels for peaceful purposes into nuclear weapons. NATO is maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons on the soil of six European countries and the U.S. is preparing "reliable replacement" warheads with new military capabilities. Russia is also modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

During the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia said their nuclear weapons were only for deterrence purposes; now they are part of war-fighting strategies. The nuclear weapons states refuse to give up their nuclear arsenals, and feign surprise that other nations, seeing that nuclear weapons have become the currency of power in the modern world, are trying to acquire them. So are terrorists. No major city in the world is safe from the threat of a nuclear attack. The risk of accidents is multiplying daily. All these are the characteristics of the Second Nuclear Age.

Thinking that the nuclear weapons problem went away with the end of the Cold War, much of the public is oblivious to the new nuclear dangers. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to warn governments and the public, but few are listening. In the case of many politicians, they don't even know that they don't know about this greatest threat to human security the world has ever faced. The continued existence of so many nuclear weapons, most with a destructive power many times greater than the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is not understood.

Nuclear weapons are instruments of pure evil. A nuclear explosion, either by design or accident, would kill massive numbers of people, create international chaos, and cripple the world economy. Nuclear weapons are devoid of the slightest shred of moral legitimacy. Prominent jurists consider their use illegal in any possible circumstance. The nuclear weapons states are deliberately undermining the rule of law in maintaining them. It staggers the imagination to consider what the enormous sums spent on nuclear weapons could have done for education, health, and other requisites for the development of peoples everywhere.

But a historical momentum towards the elimination of nuclear weapons is occurring. We stand on the threshold of the construction of a viable plan for a nuclear weapons-free world resulting from the active cooperation of knowledgeable leaders of civil society working with those politicians and officials of like-minded governments who truly want to move forward.

The day will arrive when nuclear weapons abolition takes effect or the world will be devastated by a nuclear attack. One or the other with happen. No person, informed on the gravity of the situation, can deny it.

Many groups are working on the nuclear disarmament agenda. One of these is the Middle Powers Initiative. See the links list for a full list of relevant organizations. My book Beyond Hiroshima provides an overview of the nuclear weapons situation. The writings section of this website provides ongoing analyses.