Seventy years ago, U.S. warplanes dropped the only two atomic bombs ever to be used by one nation against another on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 200,000 people died from the initial blast, and the survivors faced devastating injuries and experiences.
Nuclear testing continued in the succeeding decades with little regard for the effects on the environment or on people. The nuclear arms race overshadowed much of the 1950s and 1960s, with the knowledge that humans had created the means to wipe out life on Earth multiple times.
Efforts to curb the arms race and put limits on weapons arsenals has had some effect since the 1970s, with substantial reductions in the number of warheads and an agreement that no more nations should acquire nuclear arms (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Progress also was made in halting the spread of nuclear arms with the deal reached recently between Iran and the five nuclear nations of the world. This shows that the system can work.
It is now necessary to put further pressure on other known nuclear nations: India and Pakistan, which have tested nuclear weapons; Israel, a nation that does not admit to having nuclear weapons; and North Korea, which has withdrawn from the international treaties.
For real results, however, we cannot be satisfied with preventing the spread of nuclear arms and inspecting nuclear facilities. What we need is real disarmament, and that means that the nuclear nations need to systematically reduce their stockpiles.
The United States and Russia each has about 7,200 to 7,500 nuclear warheads, of which each has about 1,600 that are deployed. China, the United Kingdom and France have between 200 and 300 warheads each. Each warhead can cause a catastrophe.
Instead of continuing to dismantle these weapons, the United States and Russia are maintaining their arsenals, with the United States spending more on nuclear arms than all other countries combined. The development is going the wrong direction, and needs to get back on the track previously agreed upon.
The United States should also follow the examples of Russia, France and the United Kingdom and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which also has been signed and ratified by more than 160 non-nuclear states. In addition, until there are no more nuclear weapons in the world, the nuclear nations should impose on themselves a limitation by agreeing never to be the first to use a nuclear weapon.
What can we in Wichita do about the nuclear threat? One thing is for our city to join Mayors for Peace. The mayor of Hiroshima started this organization to help communities across the globe join together in demanding a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Rather than invest so much in upgrading these arsenals, we should make the kinds of investments that improve our quality of life instead of threatening us with extinction.
Rannfrid Thelle is a board member of the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas. The center, 1407 N. Topeka, will hold an event at 3 p.m. Sunday on working to abolish nuclear weapons.