On August 6 and 9, the world marks the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. The Hiroshima bomb killed 70,000 people and injured 140,000. The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki killed 42,000 and injured 40,000. Deadly radiation from these atom bombs killed thousands more.
During the Cold War, the many false alerts and accidents involving nuclear weapons showed how technical malfunction, human failure, a misinterpreted incident or unauthorized action could easily have triggered a nuclear disaster. U.S. General Lee Butler stated in 1999 that we survived the Cold War without such a disaster through some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention.
Today, there are still over 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence, some 1,800 kept on high alert, ready to be launched in minutes. The number of nuclear armed countries has grown from five to nine, and all of them are modernizing their nuclear weapons. William Perry, former U.S. secretary of defence, stated recently that the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than during the Cold War.
A new humanitarian movement of countries deeply concerned about the catastrophic effects of the use of nuclear weapons is growing. The stickler is NATO, which maintains in its Strategic Concept that nuclear weapons are the “supreme guarantee” of security.
Recently, five former Canadian Ambassadors for Disarmament called attention to the United Nations process now underway in Geneva to lay the groundwork for a new international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
They encouraged Canada to extend this diplomatic work by hosting a high-level meeting of countries that want negotiations to start immediately on an international treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, as chemical and biological weapons are under existing treaties.
By taking up this leadership role, the Canadian government could make a significant contribution to the security of Canada and the world.