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In nuclear politics, one size doesn’t fit all via engadget

Iran is not North Korea.

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The first strike on Hiroshima, Japan, killed 80,000 people and injured 70,000. The bomb was a uranium-based gun-type model and it scorched the earth bare. A second strike followed three days later on the city of Nagasaki, killing 40,000 people and injuring 60,000. In both attacks, most of the victims were civilians.

Truman ordered the first strike. It’s unclear if he asked for the second one or if military leaders took the initiative themselves — but it is obvious that Truman stopped a third strike in its tracks. When the president received a memo with plans for a third nuclear attack in Japan, he responded immediately with a note scrawled directly on that message, reading, “It is not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President.”

There hasn’t been another hostile nuclear strike. Today, there are an estimated 15,000 atomic warheads in the world, with more than 90 percent of those owned by the US and Russia. Nine countries are known to have nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, France, Israel, China and North Korea. International treaties and agreements over the decades have attempted to curtail the growth of existing nuclear stockpiles and prevent new programs from going live.

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And then, in May 2018, the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump disparaged the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during his 2016 campaign and beyond, calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Pulling out of the deal shook the fragile atomic peace that had just started to settle over Iran and its neighbors, opening the door once again for an arms race in the Middle East and further straining relations between Iran and Israel, the latter of which has an estimated arsenal of 80 nukes.

Iran vowed to honor the deal, as did the remaining signatories.

This week, Trump and Rouhani volleyed a series of angry messages at each other. Over the weekend, Rouhani warned the US that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” and Trump responded in an all-caps tweet threatening that Iran would “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”

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This is precisely how nuclear weapons are used in contemporary politics. They are non-lethal tools of negotiation, forcing world leaders to pay attention to any country that claims to be ramping up its arsenal. Kim knows that brandishing his nuclear capabilities is the quickest way to be taken seriously if he wants access to global trade and economic channels, if he wants a seat at the international table, or if he wants sanctions against his country to be lifted. Remember — no one actually wants to use nuclear weapons. Not even Kim Jong-un.

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The most dangerous nuclear theater, according to most experts, lies between India and Pakistan. “The people I’ve talked to who are in the nuclear business all say that that’s the most frightening situation in the world today, just because there’s such an intense animosity between the two countries and constant probes back and forth by government-supported terrorist groups on both sides. It’s just extremely volatile,” Rhodes told Engadget in 2017.

India has an estimated 135 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has 145, though neither country can launch a bomb on a whim — the warheads are disassembled and stored in separate locations. The US, meanwhile, has 6,550 nuclear bombs, and it’s capable of launching one in as few as five minutes, based on a single order from the president.

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