Nagasaki: the 77th anniversary

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.

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Hiroshima: the 77th anniversay

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.

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Nuclear war is unwinnable and must never be fought

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?

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The arms control agendas of 2021: some reflections

The extension of the US-Russian New START agreement on strategic nuclear weapons was achieved through the exchange of two sets of diplomatic notes between the respective governments, on 26 January and 3 February. The process was super-straightforward. Both President Putin of Russia and Joe Biden while US President-elect made clear they would each favour extension. The day after inauguration President Biden officially confirmed the position. A few days later, it was done. This was the lowest of low-hanging fruit. Good to have gotten it out of the way (and stupid that the previous administration let it go down to the wire) but now the real work starts.

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Extending New START

So Joe Biden, as anticipated, has moved quickly to arrange with Russia the extension of the New START bilateral nuclear arms control agreement. Signed in 2010, taking effect in 2011, and due to expire on 5 February this year, the treaty permits extension for up to five years by mutual consent.

The good people at Deutsche Welle asked me the two key questions – “Is this good news?” “Why”? And let me answer them on their 8 o’clock bulletin yesterday evening.

For a more extended discussion, Jan Eliasson and I put out our thoughts earlier this week. In brief, as I argued in my previous post, in a tough period with a complex set of issues, the approach on arms control of the new US President is welcome. He faces some demanding tasks. And the first signs are positive.

Arms control in 2021

There are so many crucial items on the global agenda that one struggles to keep up (though I do wonder whether there really are more now than there used to be or does it just feel that way?). Covid-19 and its economic consequences, the likely increase in extreme poverty and hunger, climate change and the rest of the compound environmental crisis, the attack on democracy in the world’s richest and most powerfully armed state, rising inequality, toxic geopolitics, intractable armed conflicts. And more. This does not seem to be a happy age that we are living through.

In this (rather lengthy) post, I focus on prospects for arms control in 2021. The big challenge is how to make progress against such an unpromising backdrop.

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SIPRI Yearbook 2019: Nuclear weapons and other key trends

The SIPRI Yearbook 2019 is now available on line. It registers key data in the world of peace and security in 2018 and establishes some of the basic indicators that let us track and assess the trends. It is not a comfortable picture.

You can get a quick take on it from my shorthand overview below and/or from the latest short film in our Peace Points series.

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The US withdrawal from the Iran deal: one year on

On 8 May last year, US President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sets limits on Iran’s nuclear programme to ensure that it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Despite the US withdrawal, the JCPOA remains in force. Today, however, Iranian state TV reported that, while remaining in the JCPOA, Iran is planning to resume some nuclear activities that were ceased under the agreement. Continue reading

Arms control: scanning the landscape

Even before President Trump announced the USA would withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 (see my last blog post on this), the arms control landscape did not present a happy picture. Experts from SIPRI and from the Russian Institute, IMEMO, met in October and discussed the problem. The occasion marked the 25th anniversary of the SIPRI Yearbook being published in Russian, thanks to translation effected through IMEMO, together with a Russian supplement produced by IMEMO. We captured some of the key themes in this short film in SIPRI’s Spotlight series.