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Editorial of the Day: The lessons of Hiroshima must not drift away (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing the historical event that occurred on the morning of August 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay, a United States B-29 bomber, dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. The bomb, known as “Little Boy,” was a 15-kiloton uranium bomb that exploded approximately 600 meters above the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. The bombing of Hiroshima was a pivotal moment in history as it marked the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare. The devastation caused by the bomb and its impact on human lives changed the world’s perception of weapons and warfare, leading to a reevaluation of nuclear deterrence and the development of nuclear weapons. Overall, the article is discussing the historical significance of the Hiroshima bombing and its relevance in the context of contemporary global security concerns regarding nuclear weapons and their potential use in modern conflicts.

Decoding the Editorial

The article is discussing the historical event of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II.  It also mentions events following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, suggesting that these recent geopolitical events have challenged the concepts of nuclear deterrence and the “nuclear taboo.”

  • The “nuclear taboo” refers to the normative belief among nations that the use of nuclear weapons is morally and ethically unacceptable except under the most extreme circumstances.

The concept of deterrence:

  • Nuclear Deterrence:
    • The concept of nuclear deterrence refers to the idea that possessing nuclear weapons can prevent adversaries from attacking due to the fear of retaliation.
    • Nations with nuclear capabilities use these weapons as a means to deter potential aggressors from taking hostile actions.
  • Nuclear Taboo:
    • Over the years, a nuclear taboo has developed, which is a normative belief that nuclear weapons should not be used under almost any circumstances due to their extreme destructive power and far-reaching consequences.
    • This taboo is not based on legal frameworks but rather on moral considerations, proportionality, and responsibility.
  • Different Treatment of Nuclear Weapons:
    • Nuclear weapons are considered distinct from conventional weapons due to their unique characteristics.
    • They are often referred to as the “absolute weapon” because of their unprecedented destructive capabilities.
    • The special status of nuclear weapons is grounded in the knowledge gained from the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which demonstrated the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons and their long-lasting effects on both combatants and non-combatants.
  • Continually Reinforced Taboo:
    • The nuclear taboo has been continually reinforced over the years, leading to a blanket prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons.
    • Despite the development of more powerful nuclear weapons, the taboo remains strong, based on the understanding of the catastrophic consequences that these weapons can bring.
  • Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The article mentions that there are people in Japan still living with the consequences of the atomic bombings of August 1945. This highlights the enduring impact of nuclear weapons on affected communities and the environment, contributing to the strengthening of the nuclear taboo.

The article also highlights the tension and risks associated with nuclear threats, the testing of the nuclear taboo, and the potential implications of discussing and using tactical nuclear weapons in modern conflicts.

  • Russian Nuclear Threats:
    • Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have issued veiled and direct nuclear threats.
    • They have reminded the world of Russia’s nuclear weapons status, placed nuclear forces on combat duty, and declared readiness to use all available weapon systems, including nuclear weapons.
    • These actions have raised concerns about the credibility and implications of these threats.
  • Testing the Nuclear Taboo:
    • The events in September and October 2022, following Russia’s nuclear threats and battlefield reversals, are seen as a test of the nuclear taboo.
    • The nuclear taboo refers to the strong norm against using nuclear weapons due to their catastrophic consequences.
    • The raising of the specter of nuclear Armageddon in Europe challenges the long-standing taboo against nuclear use.
  • Potential Use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons:
    • Speculation arose about whether Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons in response to battlefield setbacks.
      • Tactical nuclear weapons differ from strategic weapons in terms of delivery distance and yield.
      • However, the lack of consensus on what constitutes a tactical nuclear weapon and discussions about the acceptability of using such weapons risk undermining the nuclear taboo.
  • Historical Context:
    • The article highlights the significance of the historical context, mentioning the declarations made by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev about the unacceptability of nuclear war.
    • The reaffirmation of this pledge by Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden in June 2021 adds to the complexity of the current situation where Russia is making nuclear threats.
  • Remembering the Human Cost:
    • The article emphasizes the human cost of nuclear weapons, particularly mentioning the tragedy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which resulted in immediate deaths and long-term consequences for survivors (hibakusha).
    • It argues against downplaying the destructive power of nuclear weapons by referring to them as mere tactical weapons.

Importance of measured responses:

  • Official Responses to Nuclear Threats: The official responses from NATO and other nuclear weapons states to Vladimir Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling and subsequent speculation were cautious and measured. The United States, in particular, played a significant role in responding to the situation.
  • Calibrated Conventional Response: The U.S. made it clear that any nuclear use by Russia or any other aggressor would be met with a strong and commensurate response. However, the response was emphasized to be a calibrated, conventional one, rather than a nuclear retaliation.
  • Nuclear Preparedness and Speculation: The U.S. did not change its nuclear preparedness during the crisis, which helped to prevent further escalation and fueling of nuclear speculation in Europe.
  • International Consensus Against Nuclear Use: Even China’s President, Xi Jinping, called on the international community to oppose the use of nuclear weapons or threats of their use, indicating a broader consensus against the use of nuclear weapons.
  • Potential Nuclear Crisis with Belarus: The article mentions the concern about Russia’s potential movement of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which could create another nuclear crisis given the existing security arrangements between Belarus and Russia.
  • Historical Context: The article refers to the Cold War era, where a large number of nuclear weapons were present globally, and the world was at the brink of nuclear conflict. Avoiding nuclear exchange during that period was partly attributed to the lessons of Hiroshima and partly to sheer luck, as there were numerous near misses during the Cold War.
  • Nuclear Weapons as an Insurance Policy: The article suggests that relying on nuclear weapons as an insurance policy against conflicts is not a reliable approach, considering the risks and uncertainties associated with their use.

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