75 Years Since the Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – We Remember

August 6th and 9th, 2020 marked 75 years since atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people.

The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons* (CNANW) hosted a virtual event on August 6th from 2:00 to 3:30 Eastern to honour the victims of this unspeakable act, and to consider new action to help rid the world of nuclear weapons. Which can be viewed above.

Continue reading “75 Years Since the Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – We Remember”

How Many Intensive Care Beds Will A Nuclear Weapon Explosion Require?

Tom Sauer and Ramesh Thakur

A novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China late last year, hopping in one way or another from other animals to humans. Initially the rest of the world thought this outbreak was a local problem and then was shocked at the brutality of the lockdown that the Chinese authorities clamped on Wuhan to quarantine the infection cluster. Despite China’s efforts at containment, soon the virus rode the highways and byways of globalisation to quickly circle the world. Other countries realised their hospital systems could be overwhelmed unless they drastically slowed the surge of new infections. No country had the number of beds in its intensive care units (ICUs) to manage patient loads under worst-case scenarios of letting this new coronavirus spread through the community to acquire herd immunity.

To those of us whose primary professional interest lies in nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose, the coronavirus pandemic is a striking validation of the Humanitarian Initiative, which took off 10 years ago with three core propositions: First, no country individually has the capacity to cope with the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war, and the international system doesn’t have it collectively, either. Second, it is therefore in the interests of all humanity that nuclear weapons never be used again, under any circumstances. And finally: The only guarantee of non-use is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. These precepts were the powerful impetus behind the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty that 122 states at the United Nations adopted in July 2017.

The pandemic speaks to the truth of the first proposition about the power of the bomb. The near-universal response to the panic created by COVID-19 leads us to the conclusion that the number of ICU beds needed to deal with a disaster should become a new norm, and a new way to judge when radical action is needed to respond to a global threat. So what other types of global catastrophes could call for more hospital infrastructure and personnel than is now available? The bomb is one obvious answer. Are the number of ICU beds sufficient to respond to a disaster caused by the explosion of one nuclear weapon or, in a war, many? No, they are not sufficient. Not even close.

A serious threat assessment consists of estimating the size of a threat and its probability. For the nuclear threat, estimating the size is rather straightforward; the probability is more difficult. A nuclear cataclysm is low probability in the short term, almost certain in the long run, and high impact whenever it happens. Let’s put it another way: For nuclear peace to hold, deterrence and fail-safe mechanisms must work every single time. For nuclear catastrophe to occur, either deterrence or fail safe mechanisms need to break down only once. This is not a comforting equation. Moreover, deterrence stability depends on rational decision-makers being always in office in every single nuclear-armed country. The leaders of the nine countries with the bomb today—China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Paki- stan, Russia, the UK, and the United States—do not universally reassure on this score.

So let’s take the number of available intensive care beds as the new measure and apply it to potential nuclear catastrophes. With the help of Stephens Institute of Technology researcher Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap, we can model the approximate results of a hit on a target city by a nuclear warhead of choice. The largest bomb tested by Pakistan—which has a yield equal to 45 kilotons of TNT—would kill 358,350 people and injure 1.28 million, if used in an airburst over Delhi. But there would almost certainly be many more injuries; almost four million people live within the 7 kilometre radius in which the detonation would break glass windows and create other “light” blast effects—which actually are not light and would cause major injuries. If Russia launched one of its nuclear-armed, 800-kiloton Topol missiles against NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 536,180 people would die and 572,830 would be injured. If a 5,000-kiloton Chinese Deng Fong-5 missile reaches Brussels, 839,550 will die and another 876,260 people will be seriously injured. Belgium’s 1,900 ICU beds (minus those of Brussels and surroundings, which would of course be instantly destroyed or rendered unusable) could not begin to cope with a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude. And what if more than one nuclear warhead explodes? What about a nuclear war that produces dozens or hundreds of nuclear explosions?

No society is prepared for such a man-made disaster. Worse, no society can ever be prepared for such a scenario. Nevertheless, many nations (including our home countries of Belgium and Australia) base their defense policies on the threat that the United States will use nuclear weapons in their defense, if necessary.

We cannot predict when and with what ferocity the next global pandemic will hit. But we can be certain that Covid-19 will not be the last pandemic disease to afflict humanity, and we should be making preparations to forestall such a disaster. We also cannot predict when and where nuclear weapons will be used again, and by whom. But we can be grimly confident that a nuclear warhead will be detonated someday, somewhere, if not by choice and design, then inadvertently, through accidental launch, rogue launch, or system failure.

Nuclear deterrence has proven itself to be anything but foolproof. Syria and Egypt attacked Israel in 1973, even though the Jewish state possessed nuclear weapons; in 1991, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein also disregarded Israel’s nuclear arsenal, firing Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. Argentina attacked the nuclear-armed UK in the Falkland Islands war. India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, fought the Kargil war in 1999 (more than 1,000 people died) and had a dog-fight in February last year. We would not call these conflicts—any one of which might have resulted in the use of nuclear weapons—expressions of security or stability. A policy based on hope and luck (as US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara described the conduct of the Cuban Missile Crisis) cannot be the basis of a serious defense policy.

What is the probability of a nuclear war or simply the explosion of a single nuclear weapon? Certainly it is more than zero. And the probability seems to be rising rather than falling. If US President Donald Trump does not extend New START by the end of this year, for the first time in 50 years the world will end up without any bilateral arms control treaty that includes verification. The nuclear-armed countries have not negotiated one new arms control treaty since 2010. North Korea now has nuclear weapons, and Iran may be the next in line.

The world is facing a clear threat of an “outbreak” of nuclear weapons proliferation.

As of now, there are no treatments or preventive measures that work against the new coronavirus circling the world. But a “vaccine” against nuclear weapons use already exists— the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, often known simply as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. Unfortunately, despite their legal obligations under Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the five nuclear weapon states and their allies, and also the four nuclear armed states outside the NPT, are refusing to take the prophylactic medication the ban treaty prescribes. The nuclear weapon “haves” refuse to give up their nuclear privileges, even though they promised to do so under the NPT. The US alone will spend $50 billion this year on the maintenance and modernisation of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.

Doctors know better. They know that they won’t be of any help in a nuclear war. That is why the World Medical Association stands behind the Nuclear Ban Treaty since 2018. The same for the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Council of Nurses, and International Red Cross.

The world has experienced epidemics and pandemics before. It suffered but endured. The coronavirus pandemic too shall pass, and life will go on. But the world is unlikely to return to the pre-pandemic state of affairs. Countries will rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity for critical medical supplies and equipment and create institutional structures to manage a surge in ICU capacity for future epidemiological crises. They will rebuild some vital border protections. And they will build functional redundancy into global supply chains to reduce exposure to single points of critical supply.

But such measures will not work as preparations against a nuclear war; no infrastructure, no matter how sophisticated or extensive, could cope with the horrible injury toll. Using ICU beds as a new norm informs us that no after-the-fact response to a nuclear bomb explosion can work. So prevention in the form of the Ban Treaty vaccine must be universally administered. In the post-pandemic world, therefore, eliminating nuclear weapons must be a top priority of the utmost urgency.

  The Authors      

Tom Sauer is an Associate Professor in international politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen in Belgium. Sauer is a former fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He received the 2019 Rotary International Alumni Global Service Award.

Ramesh Thakur is Emeritus Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University; Senior Research Fellow with the Toda Peace Institute; and a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General.

  Toda Peace Institute    

The Toda Peace Institute is an independent, nonpartisan institute committed to advancing a more just and peaceful world through policy-oriented peace research and practice. The Institute commissions evidence-based research, convenes multi-track and multi-disciplinary problem-solving workshops and seminars, and promotes dialogue across ethnic, cultural, religious and political divides. It catalyses practical, policy-oriented conversations between theoretical experts, practitioners, policymakers and civil society leaders in order to discern innovative and creative solutions to the major problems confronting the world in the twenty-first century (see www.toda.org for more information).

Notes: 1. This article was first published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2010 https://thebulletin.org/2020/04/how-many-intensive-care-beds-will-a-nuclear-weapon-explosion-require/

Contact Us

Toda Peace Institute
Samon Eleven Bldg. 5th Floor
3-1 Samon-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0017, Japan Email: contact@toda.org

Building security without nuclear weapons

Strong arguments are being made to rid the world of the risk posed by reliance on nuclear deterrence. We should adopt a mutual security policy based on sustainable common security principles.

The Palme Commission in 1989 proposed the concept of Common Security: “All states, even the most powerful, are dependent in the end upon the good sense and restraint of other nations.  Even ideological and political opponents have a shared interest in survival.  In the long run, no nation can base its security on the insecurity of others.  True security requires a cooperative effort, a partnership in the struggle against war.”

What are some “tools” of common security?

  • local-global democracy
  • human rights
  • social justice
  • economic development
  • environmental security
  • peaceful measures
  • “non-offensive” defence (NOD)

What are “Confidence and Security Building Measures” (CSBM)?

States wanting to improve their security can develop techniques of gradually developing confidence between themselves and states they perceive as threats.  During the Cold War,  the NATO and Warsaw Pact states agreed through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to participate in:

  • Annual mutual exchanges of military information
  • Consultation and cooperation re: unusual military activities
  • Cooperation re: hazardous incidents
  • Voluntary hosting of visits to dispel concerns about military activities
  • Visits to bases, academies, language facilities, conferences, sporting, cultural events
  • Joint military exercises and training
  • Mutual provision of experts
  • Prior notification of certain military activities
  • Observation of certain military activities
  • Sharing annual calendars of military activities
  • Communications (CSCE Communications Network)
  • Annual Implementation Assessment Meeting

Are there other security building processes?

  • Creation of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones (NWFZs)  See the Opanal website and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs website on NWFZs
  • Use of Preventive Diplomacy to avert violent conflicts
  • Reference of inter-state disputes to the International Court of Justice
  • Maintain peace in pre- or post-conflict regions through use of UN peacekeepers
  • The International Criminal Court enables prosecution of international criminals in cases of war crimes where their own country does not act, or where national prosecution is not believed to be fair and credible.
  • Intrusive inspection measures such as “Open Skies”: The “Open Skies” Treaty of 1992 allows states parties to conduct observation flights over each other’s territories and provides warning of surprise attack, reduces misperceptions and thereby promotes mutual confidence.
  • Conversion of industry and transfer of priorities; creation of new jobs in public infrastructure, climate sustainability sectors

Scholars, Studies and Reports proposing alternative security options:

CNWC Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau: “Make nuclear arms control and disarmament a national priority”

Dear Prime Minister:
Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, supported by more than 1,000 recipients of the Order of Canada, write once again to urge you and your Government to make nuclear arms control and disarmament a national priority. In this letter, we make specific suggestions, notably that Canada work diligently toward achieving an international consensus to save the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at its Review Conference in 2020….. [continue reading: CNWC Letter to Prime Minister.Jan22-2020]

Project Save the World

Project Save the World is sponsored by Peace Magazine. PStW posts a new hour-long video discussion every Monday at 8:00 pm EDT on Peace Magazine’s Facebook page, YouTube, and at their website, http://tosavetheworld.ca. You can endorse the Platform for Survival, 25 public policy proposals to reduce the risk of six threats to humankind. Each soundtrack is available as an audio podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and other sites, as well as on their website.  PStW has 82 talk shows, as of October 2019:  PDF list of shows with links

Below you can find the episodes that relate to Nuclear Weapons and disarmament.  Please follow the above links to see what content is available.

Continue reading “Project Save the World”

Peggy Mason: Canada — From nuclear disarmament stalwart to nuclear weapons apologist

“To understand the extent of Canada’s retreat from staunch defender of meaningful steps towards increased nuclear restraint and eventual disarmament to the shocking role of U.S. nuclear weapons apologist, it is necessary to review the position of Canada in the context of the NPT and NATO.” (Peggy Mason is President of the Rideau Institute.)

Download pdf here: From nuclear disarmament stalwart to nuclear weapons apologist

Oped in Hill Times by Earl Turcotte: U.S. joint chiefs release alarming nuclear operations document

Opinion: Earl Turcotte,
Chair, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

On June 19th, The Guardian and a host of other media reported that on June 11th the U.S. Joint Chiefs released a document simply entitled “Nuclear Operations”… Continued

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Lettre ouverte au Premier ministre Justin Trudeau

PDF  En & Fr

Le désarmement nucléaire: une forte position canadienne requise

Lettre ouverte au Premier ministre Justin Trudeau
cc. Membres du Parlement et sénateurs

le 15 mai 2019

Cher Premier Ministre,

Le risque grandissant de catastrophe nucléaire nécessite une urgente action de prévention. Car considérons les développements récents :

  • détérioration marquée des relations Est/Ouest, en particulier entre la Russie et l’OTAN;
  • retrait américain de l’entente nucléaire avec l’Iran;
  • retrait imminent des États-Unis et de la Russie du Traité des Armes Nucléaires à portée Intermédiaire (INF);
  • possibilité réduite d’arriver en 2021 au renouvellement du New START;
  • tension accrue entre deux pays nucléarisés, l’Inde et le Pakistan;
  • possible résurgence du programme nucléaire de la Corée du Nord;
  • risque grandissant de voir l’Arabie saoudite et/ou d’autres états s’armer de bombes nucléaires;
  • développement de bombes nucléaires tactiques et de systèmes de missiles hypersoniques;
  • vulnérabilité grandissante face à des cyber-attaques;
  • risque de voir des bombes nucléaires ou du matériel radioactif tomber entre les mains d’acteurs non-étatiques.

Ceci survient dans le contexte d’une nouvelle course à l’armement nucléaire, précipitée en grande partie par l’allocation américaine de $1.5 mille milliards pour ‘moderniser’ son arsenal nucléaire dans les prochains trente ans.

Le Bulletin des Savants Atomiques vient de régler son horloge de la fin du monde à minuit moins deux minutes, l’échéance la plus rapprochée depuis le pire moment de la Guerre Froide. L’humanité fait face à une réelle possibilité qu’à chaque moment, une folie humaine, un mauvais calcul ou un accident nucléaire puisse mettre fin à la vie sur terre ou même à la planète elle-même.

Le Canada est en position d’aider à empêcher cela.

Comme vous le savez, au début des années 80, votre père s’était personnellement engagé dans une campagne internationale de « suffocation » des armes nucléaires; et au cours des années récentes, nos parlementaires de toutes allégeances ont fortement appuyé ce genre d’actions. En 2010, une motion a reçu l’appui unanime de tous les membres du Parlement canadien (Sénat et Chambre des Communes):

« incitant le gouvernement du Canada à participer aux négociations en vue d’une Convention sur la sécurité  nucléaire…  et  à  mettre  en  œuvre  une  importante initiative diplomatique canadienne à l’échelle mondiale en prévention de  la  prolifération nucléaire et en accroissement du taux de désarmement nucléaire. »

Le 18 juin 2018, le Comité permanent de la Défense nationale de la Chambre des Communes a fait la recommandation suivante, appuyée par tous les partis:

« Que le Gouvernement du Canada exerce un rôle de leadership à l’intérieur de l’OTAN pour commencer le travail nécessaire à réussir la volonté de l’OTAN de créer les conditions pour un monde libre d’armes nucléaires…

 Et pourtant le Canada a travaillé en marge des problématiques et a boycotté les négociations qui ont mené au Traité de Prohibition des Armes Nucléaires (TPNW), une percée historique appuyée à l’Assemblée Générale de l’ONU du 7 juillet 2017 par cent vingt-deux autres nations.

Membre du G7, du G20 et de l’OTAN, ainsi qu’allié constant des Nations-Unies, le Canada pourrait faire bien davantage.

Le monde a désespérément besoin d’un ‘champion’ en désarmement nucléaire – un leader national qui, jouissant d’une position privilégiée, lui permettra de jouer un rôle déterminant auprès du Secrétaire général des Nations-Unies – pour inciter fortement les pays dotés d’armes nucléaires de renverser l’actuelle course à l’armement nucléaire en renouvelant et en raffermissant leur adhésion aux traités INF et new START, en signant et en ratifiant le Traité de Prohibition des Armes Nucléaires, ou en négociant une nouvelle et complémentaire Convention de Sécurité Nucléaire en état d’accomplir le but ultime – une dénucléarisation mondiale.

Nous croyons que vous pourriez être cette personne, monsieur le Premier Ministre.

Car nous avons espoir que vous seriez en mesure de mener la cause du désarmement nucléaire mondial, comme vous aviez bien entrepris en 2015 celle de la lutte au changement climatique -, l’autre grande menace à notre existence.

Le temps presse et les enjeux sont immenses.

Veuillez agréer cette expression de nos sentiments sincères,

Earl Turcotte, Président, Réseau canadien pour l’abolition de l’arme nucléaire (CNANW)

co-signataires :

Hon. Douglas Roche OC, Président fondateur du Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires

Beverley J. Tollefson Delong, ex-Présidente, Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires

Paul Meyer, Président, Les Conférences Pugwash Canada

Normand Beaudet, Fondateur, Centre de Ressources sur la Non-Violence

Roy Culpepper, Président, Groupe des 78

André Michel, Président-national, Les Artistes pour la Paix Jonathan Down, Co-Président, Médecins pour la Survie Mondiale Pascale Frémond, Présidente, Religions pour la Paix

Peggy Mason, Présidente, Institut Rideau

Rob Acheson, Président, Comité sur les armes nucléaires, Science pour la Paix

Kathryn White, Présidente et Directrice Générale, Association canadienne pour les Nations Unies

Fergus Watt, Directeur exécutif, Mouvement fédéraliste mondial – Canada

Murray Thomson 1922-2019

Tribute by Ernie Regehr:  linked here

 Murray Thomson was our friend, colleague, and mentor. He had the good fortune to lead a very long, productive, and exemplary life, and some of us had the very good fortune of sharing elements of it with him. The following brief tribute acknowledges his central role in launching the initiative we know as Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and celebrates his life of activism and optimism in the face of the challenges that he felt so deeply. The way in which we truly honor him is to continue to pursue the kind of world that he imagined and never stopped pursuing. Continue reading…