Friday, August 12, 2005

60 Years Ago..

The Beginning of The End?

60 years have elapsed since the first nuclear bomb detonated in Japan. The heartbeats of 250000 Japanese stopped consequently, so did WWII. A popular historic interpretation is that both 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man' not only stopped the only determined member remained of the Axis Powers to continue fighting, but also ended the WWII. This interpretation is of course valid since then there is no more resistance from any Axis Power member state.

However, that interpretation does not justify that nuclear weapons ensured worldwide peace. An examination into history reveals a nuclear arm race in the midst of WWII among the Americans, Germans, Japanese and Russians. The nuclear arm race continued after WWII. In fact, more countries joined the nuclear club at the end of WWII. The British exchanged their chemical weapon technology for American nuclear weapons technology. In the name of the Cold War and to strengthen Western Europe's position against Communist expansion in Eastern Europe, the American government armed their NATO partners France and Germany with nuclear weapons.

The growth of the nuclear club was built on the basis of nuclear deterrence, ie. if a country possesses nuclear weapons, the country would be less likely to be invaded or attacked. More and more countries want nuclear weapons so that they will be less likely to be invaded. However, if the number of nuclear weapon states increase beyond a critical point, the probability that any invading armed force originated from a nuclear weapon state becomes significant. The nuclear deterrence effect becomes obsolete.

Unlike 60years ago, it is so much easier to assemble a nuclear weapon now. Back then, government must recruit top-notch scientists to research and design nuclear weapon from scratch. It is both capital- and intellectual- intensive. Today, all that governments need is a lot of highly enriched uranium (HEU), and some well-trained engineers to build their own A-bombs. The technological hurdle now ceased to exist. The South Africans were able to create their own uranium enrichment process in less than 5years with simple engineering: the Becker Nozzle Process. This ease allowed even some developing countries to attain nuclear weapon state status.

A-bombs back then required at least 6kg of weapon-grade HEU. Today, we can achieve much greater devastating effect with less fissile material: 4kg of Plutonium-239 to flatten Hiroshima 1.5times over. Plutonium is not only the most efficient nuclear fuel today, but also the most readily-available weapon-grade fissile material. Fast Breeder Nuclear reactors produce weapon-grade plutonium and electricity simultaneously. The plutonium can either be used to fuel reactor or be assembled into a nuclear warhead.

Incidentally, Japan has the highest stockpile of Plutonium in the world. After-all, the Japaneses have been running the world's longest and most successful line of Fast Breeder Reactors to generate electricity for domestic/industrial use. Isn't it worrying that Japan after-all might have developed their own nuclear ICBMs? They have the technology all this while. Mitsubishi has been building unmanned rockets to send Japanese satellites into space. Nuclear science & engineering has always been an integral part of Japanese higher education since the 1960s. Although Japan has been actively promoting nuclear non-proliferation, we must be prudent to take note that the state is not a moral actor. Moreover, Japan's diplomatic relationship with her two nuclear weapon state neighbours (China and North Korea) are far from friendly.

I have attached a chart below that reflects the varying degree of attaining nuclear weapon technology in various countries today. This is taken from Section VI - Nuclear Weapons Technology, NATO Handbook 1998. With so many countries with nuclear weapons today, are we at peace or living through a tenseful period?

Click to Enlarge

Although America has the largest nuclear weapon stockpile in the world, her effort as the world nuclear police has failed. It goes to show the breakdown of the nuclear deterrent effect. The nuclear club today includes developing countries such as China, Pakistan, India and North Korea. Many tensions still exist between various member states of the Nuclear Club today. 60yr ago, the nuclear club consisted of member states with common vested interest. Today, the nuclear club consists of member states with conflicting interest. As the number of nuclear weapon states increase, the probability of a nuclear war becomes bigger.

Witnessing your rival country to equip itself with nuclear weapons provides greater motivation and stirs up nationalistic pride to at least level up on military capabilities. Was this not the case between Pakistan and India? Today, both countries are still waging covert operations against each other, at the expense of the people of Kashmir. In the end, all these activities will develop into a nuclear arm race. Was it not an arm race that started WWI?

In fact, the total destruction associated with nuclear weaponry makes other areas of weaponry more attractive. It also increases the state's threshold to consider what is not total annihilation. Has not non-nuclear warfare become progressively gory in recent times? Does the employment of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and the 2yr-bombing of Chechnya with Chemical Nerve Agents ring a bell? Ebola Outbreaks in Africa are not natural epidemics too.

To worsen things, today's nuclear proliferation is akin to having a bunch of people own guns, and a small handful not having guns. Those without the guns feel left out and want the guns for protection. The people with the guns are afraid that if those without it get them, they'll use the guns on them. Insecurity and distrust are the underlying themes in such international relations.

Firstly, distrust fuels insecurity. Secondly, insecurity breaks down the deterrent effect. Insecurity facilitates the spread of nuclear weapons world-wide and justifies the state's possession of nuclear weapons. The end of the Cold War not only created a multi-fragmented distribution of world power, but also catalysed the spread of nuclear weapon technology. Consequently, international politics is less predictable now. This futhur fuels the insecurity and warrant the need to build a bigger nuclear stockpile to compete for the major centre of world power. Furthermore, insecurity grows with age. That is why war (nuclear or non-nuclear) is therefore more likely today than it was 60years ago.

In conclusion, nuclear deterrence is an obsolete concept now. It saved our parents and grandparents, but it will not save us. The last 15years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall has seen more wars than ever. Does it not make you wonder if the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, Japan, is indeed the beginning of the end?

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