para la versión española
Ten Myths About Nuclear Weapons
by David Krieger and Angela McCracken*, July
Nuclear weapons were needed to defeat Japan in World War II.
It is widely believed, particularly in the United
States, that the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese cities
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to defeat Japan in World
War II. This is not, however, the opinion of the leading US military
figures in the war, including General Dwight Eisenhower, General
Omar Bradley, General Hap Arnold and Admiral William Leahy. General
Eisenhower, for example, who was the Supreme Allied Commander
Europe during World War II and later US president, wrote, “I
had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced
[to Secretary of War Stimson] my grave misgivings, first on the
basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping
the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought
that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use
of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory
as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan
was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a
minimum loss of ‘face’….” Not only was
the use of nuclear force unnecessary, its destructive force was
excessive, resulting in 220,000 deaths by the end of 1945.
Nuclear weapons prevented a war between the United States and
the Soviet Union.
Many people believe that the nuclear standoff during
the Cold War prevented the two superpowers from going to war with
each other, for fear of mutually assured destruction. While it
is true that the superpowers did not engage in nuclear warfare
during the Cold War, there were many confrontations between them
that came uncomfortably close to nuclear war, the most prominent
being the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. There were also many deadly
conflicts and “proxy” wars carried out by the superpowers
in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Vietnam War, which took
several million Vietnamese lives and the lives of more than 58,000
Americans, is a prominent example. These wars made the supposed
nuclear peace very bloody and deadly. Lurking in the background
was the constant danger of a nuclear exchange. The Cold War was
an exceedingly dangerous time with a massive nuclear arms race,
and the human race was extremely fortunate to have survived it
without suffering a nuclear war.
Nuclear threats have gone away since the end of the Cold War.
In light of the Cold War’s end, many people
believed that nuclear threats had gone away. While the nature
of nuclear threats has changed since the end of the Cold War,
these threats are far from having disappeared or even significantly
diminished. During the Cold War, the greatest threat was that
of a massive nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviet
Union. In the aftermath of the Cold War, a variety of new nuclear
threats have emerged. Among these are the following dangers:
- Increased possibilities of nuclear weapons
falling into the hands of terrorists who would not hesitate
to use them;
- Nuclear war between India and Pakistan;
- Policies of the US government to make nuclear
weapons smaller and more usable;
- Use of nuclear weapons by accident, particularly
by Russia, which has a substantially weakened early warning
- Spread of nuclear weapons to other states,
such as North Korea, that may perceive them to be an “equalizer”
against a more powerful state.
The United States needs nuclear weapons for its national security.
There is a widespread belief in the United States
that nuclear weapons are necessary for the US to defend against
aggressor states. US national security, however, would be far
improved if the US took a leadership role in seeking to eliminate
nuclear weapons throughout the world. Nuclear weapons are the
only weapons that could actually destroy the United States, and
their existence and proliferation threaten US security. Continued
high-alert deployment of nuclear weapons and research on smaller
and more usable nuclear weapons by the US, combined with a more
aggressive foreign policy, makes many weaker nations feel threatened.
Weaker states may think of nuclear weapons as an equalizer, giving
them the ability to effectively neutralize the forces of a threatening
nuclear weapons state. Thus, as in the case of North Korea, the
US threat may be instigating nuclear weapons proliferation. Continued
reliance on nuclear weapons by the United States is setting the
wrong example for the world, and is further endangering the country
rather than protecting it. The United States has strong conventional
military forces and would be far more secure in a world in which
no country had nuclear arms.
Nuclear weapons make a country safer.
It is a common belief that nuclear weapons protect
a country by deterring potential aggressors from attacking. By
threatening massive retaliation, the argument goes, nuclear weapons
prevent an attacker from starting a war. To the contrary, nuclear
weapons are actually undermining the safety of the countries that
possess them by providing a false sense of security. While deterrence
can provide some psychological sense of security, there are no
guarantees that the threat of retaliation will succeed in preventing
an attack. There are many ways in which deterrence could fail,
including misunderstandings, faulty communications, irrational
leaders, miscalculations and accidents. In addition, the possession
of nuclear weapons enhances the risks of terrorism, proliferation
and ultimately nuclear annihilation.
No leader would be crazy enough to actually use nuclear weapons.
Many people believe that the threat of using nuclear
weapons can go on indefinitely as a means of deterring attacks
because no leader would be crazy enough to actually use them.
Unfortunately, nuclear weapons have been used, and it is likely
that most, if not all, leaders possessing these weapons would,
under certain conditions, actually use them. US leaders, considered
by many to be highly rational, are the only ones who have ever
actually used nuclear weapons in war, against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Outside of these two bombings, the leaders of nuclear weapons
states have repeatedly come close to using nuclear weapons. Nuclear
deterrence is based upon a believable threat of nuclear retaliation,
and the threat of nuclear weapons use has been constant during
the post World War II period. US policy currently calls for the
use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack with chemical
or biological weapons against the US, its troops or allies. One
of the premises of the US argument for preventive war is that
other leaders would be willing to attack the United States with
nuclear weapons. Threats of nuclear attack by India and Pakistan
provide still another example of nuclear brinksmanship that could
turn into a nuclear war. Globally and historically, leaders have
done their best to prove that they would use nuclear weapons.
Assuming that they would not do so is unwise.
Nuclear weapons are a cost-effective method of national defense.
Some have argued that nuclear weapons, with their
high yield of explosive power, offer the benefit of an effective
defense for minimum investment. This is one reason behind ongoing
research into lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which would
be perceived as more usable. The cost of research, development, testing, deployment and maintenance of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, however, exceeds $7.5 trillion (in 2005 dollars) for the US alone.
With advances in nuclear technology and power, the costs and consequences
of a nuclear war would be immeasurable.
Nuclear weapons are well protected and there is little chance
that terrorists could get their hands on one.
Many people believe that nuclear weapons are well
protected and that the likelihood of terrorists obtaining these
weapons is low. In the aftermath of the Cold War, however, the
ability of the Russians to protect their nuclear forces has declined
precipitously. In addition, a coup in a country with nuclear weapons,
such as Pakistan, could lead to a government coming to power that
was willing to provide nuclear weapons to terrorists. In general,
the more nuclear weapons there are in the world and the more nuclear
weapons proliferate to additional countries, the greater the possibility
that nuclear weapons will end up in the hands of terrorists. The
best remedy for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists
is to drastically reduce their numbers and institute strict international
inspections and controls on all nuclear weapons and weapons-grade
nuclear materials in all countries, until these weapons and the
materials for making them can be eliminated.
The United States is working to fulfill its nuclear disarmament
Most US citizens believe that the United States
is working to fulfill its nuclear disarmament obligations. In
fact, the United States has failed to fulfill its obligations
under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, requiring
good faith efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament, for more than
30 years. The United States has failed to ratify the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty and has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) between the US and Russia, which entered into force in 2003, will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads on each side to between 1,700 and 2,200 by the year 2012. SORT, however, has no provisions for verification or systematic reductions and it fails to adhere to the principle of irreversibility agreed to at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The
treaty seeks maximum flexibility for rearmament rather than irreversible
reductions in nuclear arms. Nuclear weapons taken off active deployment
will be put in storage where they will actually become more vulnerable
in both the US and Russia to theft by terrorists. In the year
2012, the treaty will end, unless extended.
Nuclear weapons are needed to combat threats from terrorists and
It has been argued that nuclear weapons are needed
to protect against terrorists and “rogue states.”
Yet nuclear weapons, whether used for deterrence or as offensive
weaponry, are not effective for this purpose. The threat of nuclear
force cannot act as a deterrent against terrorists because they
do not have a territory to retaliate against. Thus, terrorists
would not be prevented from attacking a country for fear of nuclear
retaliation. Nuclear weapons also cannot be relied on as a deterrent
against “rogue states” because their responses to
a nuclear threat may be irrational and deterrence relies on rationality.
If the leaders of a rogue state do not use the same calculus regarding
their losses from retaliation, deterrence can easily fail. As
offensive weaponry, nuclear force only promises tremendous destruction
to troops, civilians and the environment. It might work to annihilate
a rogue state, but the amount of force entailed in using nuclear
weaponry is indiscriminate, disproportionate and highly immoral.
It would not be useful against terrorists because strategists
could not be certain of locating an appropriate target for retaliation.
* David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). Angela
McCracken was the 2003 Ruth Floyd Intern in Human Rights and
International Law at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
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- You are correct in each point you make about
nuclear weapons---I'm an "Atomic Veteran"--(Johnston/Christmas
Island Danger zones-South Pacific-1962). My ship participated
in twelve "tests" --Both atmospheric and surface drops
from a B-52. We were of course guinea pigs.We have seen these
weapons detonate up close and personal---If Bush witnessed just
one "shot" he would not be talking so blythfully about
"weapons of mass destruction".He and Don (Bunker-Buster)
Rumsfeld would be looking for a hole to hide in. These weapons
are awful,and good for nothing but total destruction---It would
be better if they had never been conceived and built by man.
I enjoy your columns.
-- Dennis, Alabama, USA
- What about the myth that nuclear weapons and
nuclear energy are not connected? I think that this has to be
emphasized over and over again.
-- Grace, Patagonia
- There is much wisdom in this brief article,
yet this Administration persists in its threats to use nuclear
weapons even against non-nuclear states. Moreover, the pre-emptive
war doctrine adopted by the Administration removes all restraint,
moral or otherwise, in configuring the current force structure
around actual use of nuclear weapons. We can expect deployment
of a variety of specific purpose nuclear weapons to gain added
appeal as financial and other material constraints drag on efforts
to expand our conventional forces. In its gambit to impose a
Pax Americana on the world, the Administration has decided the
risk of nuclear war is worth the prize; and moreover, with our
ascension into near earth space dominance, it is assumed nuclear
war is not just survivable, but manageable. We must conclude
that this Administration is a planning a nuclear war, or a series
of nuclear wars to gain submission to its goals, to bring Europe,
Russia and China to their knees.
- I thought these arguments were interesting.
I have three suggestions which could be added:
- 1) The argument that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
were mainly used to keep the USSR out of Japan and to warn
it not to confront US power. This has recently been reiterated
by Joseph Rotblatt, who worked on the Manhattan project.
- 2) That the Manhattan project, Hiroshima and Nagasaki
were joint US/UK operations. I understand this has been
researched by Margaret Gowing - I read this in her obituary
in 1998 - though I have not seen it stated elsewhere. I
think it is important for the anti-war movment in Britain
to recognise our country's responsibility.
- 3) Israel's large nuclear arsenal should be mentioned,
espaically as their poltiticians are very prone to launching
"irrational" and pre-emptive military operations.