Nagasaki was destroyed on 9 August 1945. It was three days after the Little Boy bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Made of uranium and nicknamed Little Boy, it killed at least 80,000 people with its immediate effects of blast, fire and radioactivity. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was named Fatman, was made of plutonium and killed some 40,000 people immediately.
Many analysts and commentators believe that, today, the risk of nuclear war is greater than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War. Quantifying and comparing risk is a complex business and comparisons are hard to make between different eras involving different protagonists. But nobody can deny that as long as nuclear weapons are used, there is a risk that one or more will again be used. And today’s toxic international politics make clear that the risk is significant.
In January this year, however, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, all nuclear weapon states – jointly agreed that nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. The statement deliberately reflected what Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, leaders of the USSR and USA, said in 1985.
Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, and Hiroshima three days earlier remain compelling reminders of why they were so right.
On 6 August 1945, a US Air Force bomber dropped a bomb known as “LIttle Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and destroyed it. This week, states party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) started a 4-week meeting in New York to review the Treaty, 52 years after it entered into force. The NPT is both an arms control and a disarmament treaty. Today, arms control is weak, disarmament seems far off, war rages in Ukraine and crisis builds over Taiwan. It is time to remember just how destructive Little Boy was. Retrospectively, it is clear the first nuclear weapon used in war was well-named for what happened to Hiroshima is the least of what we can expect if a nuclear war were to start today.
Western commentators on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war are frequently using the term, ‘quagmire’ – a bog, swamp or morass, from which, once you have entered, it is between hard and impossible to get out, as every move you make to free yourself sucks you deeper in. The term was widely used in the 1960s about the USA’s war in Vietnam.
As Lawrence Freedman has pointed out in one of his commentaries on the war, the term has a closely related partner – escalation, which might seem to a state stuck in a quagmire like the only way out. Both terms have a history and have considerable currency when analysing the problems and risks big states face in wars with smaller states.
But there is another metaphor from the time of the Vietnam War and all those arguments and debates, which I find even richer – the six-sided box. By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has taken his country into a box from which it is hard to see the way out. And that is bad news for everyone.
Well, yes, of course it is. All that is needed to start the process is that Russia, which started the war with its invasion, decides not to continue and pulls back.
That’s all that’s needed to start a peace process. But much more will be needed to sustain it and generate a real peace in Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine. Much more and many years and the process will always be fragile.
I had the pleasure (or perhaps the pressure) of being questioned about this by Alexander Wolf as part of the 17 Academy project (titled after the 17th UN Sustainable Development Goal on partnerships to change the world) of the AusserGewöhnlich Foundation in Berlin.
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On 3 January, the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, the P5) jointly stated that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. So say we all, I hope. But what does it mean for the P5 to say this, and to say it now?
“What is the state of the world?” my colleague asks as we enter 2022. I’m still not sure whether to count my answer as optimistic or pessimistic.
While the years from 2015 to 2019 were marked by a distinct worsening in world security – which I traced each year in the Introduction to the annual SIPRI Yearbook – it was different in 2020. That was the year when things didn’t get worse.
All right – now, how to characterise 2021? That was the year when things didn’t get better.
I can hardly express how honoured I am and how grateful to receive the Jeju 4.3 Peace Prize for 2021. It is a moment I will always treasure.
My previous post was about the massacre, torture and repression hiding under the headline, Jeju 4.3 incident. This post is a heavily edited version of the speech I gave when accepting the award.
In the history of colonialism and war, there are many atrocities, many of which stay hidden for decades and more. One such is known as the Jeju 4:3 incident, on the island of that name off the south coast of South Korea, in the years just before the Korean War. A sub-tropical island, a tourist magnet within Korea, the honeymoon island for prosperous Koreans before foreign travel became more popular, and again now during the Covid-19 pandemic. I know about it only because the Jeju Peace Foundation 4:3 has done me the extraordinary honour of awarding me the 2021 Jeju 4:3 Peace Prize. In this post, I summarise the Jeju 4:3 incident; the next one will contain my remarks upon receiving the award.
Histories of 2020 will start with the Covid-19 pandemic and there will probably be a lot about the US presidential election. Both the pandemic and the election have big implications for peace and security in 2021 and further ahead. Despite Covid, on the security horizon, 2020 was different from the three preceding years: at last, things didn’t get worse. It doesn’t sound like much but given how badly global security had deteriorated, it was an important, refreshing and much needed change.
Unfortunately, things didn’t get better either. But read on.
The Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development is co-convened annually by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which I have the honour to lead, and Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year ‘s Forum was held in early May. Like the 2020 edition, it was online. The theme was Promoting Peace in the Age of Compound Risk.
The Forum was big. This post offers some summary reflections about what was discussed and what those discussions tell us about the way ahead.