Nearly 70 years ago, on 6 August 1945, the US dropped “Little Boy”, the first nuclear weapon used in warfare, on Hiroshima.
“Two thirds of the buildings in the city were destroyed and perhaps 80,000 civilians were killed”, observes Eric Schlosser, in Gods of Metal, a frightening yet moving account of how three Catholic pacifists, including an 82 year-old nun, broke into Y12, a top security nuclear weapons base in Tennessee, known as the Fort Knox of Uranium, where material used in the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was processed.
“The amount of weapons-grade uranium needed to build a terrorist bomb with a similar explosive force”, Schlosser adds in his extremely timely short book, “could fit inside a small gym bag”.
Though there are treaties banning biological and chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and landmines, there is no such ban on nuclear weapons, even though their use would breach international agreements, not least the Geneva Conventions.
Tony Blair said of Trident in his autobiography, A Journey: “The expense is huge and the utility … non-existent in terms of military use”.
In the end he thought giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”. (Of the Labour leadership candidates, only Jeremy Corbyn opposes Trident.)
Sceptics describe nuclear weapons as “power tools”. Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, says strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. “It would seem”, he said recently, “the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power alongside the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is misguided and flies in the face of public opinion; we have more to offer than nuclear bombs”.
This year’s non-profileration treaty (NPT) review conference held under UN auspices in New York, took a step backwards on the road to nuclear disarmament, with the five “official” nuclear powers – the UK, US, Russia, China, and France – insisting on even vaguer language, and more caveats, than they have in the past.
But the non-nuclear powers, the vast majority, are fighting back.
159 countries signed a statement at the end of the New York conference. “All efforts must be exerted to eliminate the threat of these weapons of mass destruction”, they said. “The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.”