Continuing the Obama administration's proud tradition of flouting foreign policy orthodoxy, John Kerry on April 11 became the first sitting US Secretary of State to visit Japan's national memorial for the victims of Hiroshima's nuclear holocaust. In the pursuant presser, a clearly shaken Kerry spoke of the "gut-wrenching display" which "tugs at all of your sensibilities as a human being." He was in Japan participating in the G7 foreign ministers meeting preceding the leaders summit in May. The attending delegates also drew up a historic Hiroshima Declaration urging all states to "sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty without delay and conditions." Capital idea, Mr Kerry. How about we start with Washington?
So, what has Washington done to downsize its ginormous nuclear stockpile during the Obama years? Not a thing.
Kerry's boss, President Barack Obama, keeps warning us that nuclear weapons are evil incarnate. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand why. Nukes can instantly obliterate cities, if not countries, and toxify arable land for generations. Back in April 2009, Obama, still giddy over his historic election victory, went to Prague and called for a "a world without nuclear weapons" to international kudos. The suitably impressed Norwegian Nobel Committee posthaste awarded him the that year's peace prize. Last year, they called it a "mistake."
So, what has Washington done to downsize its ginormous nuclear stockpile during the Obama years? Not a thing. Oh, but it has been gunning for everyone else's in the name of global security: North Korea cannot have nukes because Kim Jong-Un is a deranged megalomaniac. Ditto Iran, a dangerous theocracy. Pakistan should shelve plans to develop tactical nuclear devices, or pocket nukes, because radicals have ostensibly infiltrated its military command. It is okay for Israel to have them, though, since Washington needs the Rothschilds to keep Wall Street afloat. The P5 can keep them as well, albeit begrudgingly in Russia and China's case, since they helped win Word War II (WWII).
Preaching major power privilege is exactly why nuclear nonproliferation is a lame duck. In many ways, we have not yet clambered out of the Cold War when atomic weapons were symbolic of superior civilizations that had harnessed a destructive power equals to the heavens. Indeed, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) created in 1975 to tighten protocols on the trade of fissile materials was the West's Zeusian reaction to India stringing together an A-bomb from contraband parts. Washington, after all, did not need another Prometheus spreading godly technology to the plebs.
Only twice in human history has the A-bomb wrought incalculable devastation, both times in Japan in August 1945 and both times courtesy of the US.
There is, however, a serious problem with this holier-than-thou attitude. Only twice in human history has the A-bomb wrought incalculable devastation, both times in Japan in August 1945 and both times courtesy of the US. Washington, incidentally, has never apologized to Japan for its 200,000 dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war, Gen. Douglas McArthur simply asked the Japanese to move along. At gunpoint. Such is the innate distrust wired into US-Japan relations after WWII that even today 50,000 American soldiers man 109 bases on the island. What is their mission? To guard against a Chinese invasion?
US military presence in Germany and South Korea still makes some sense. NATO accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of playing Czar in Ukraine and fears his territorial ambitions will only inflate. If Russia and NATO ever clash openly, Germany will be the offensive springboard for American troops. Far eastwards, along the 38th parallel flashpoint that once divided the Korean peninsula, US forces are an important deterrent against a communist regime in the North prone to coupling its ultranationalistic hubris with lobbed missiles.
Obama, ironically, came to office pledging to end overseas wars. He leaves next year having started a few of his own.
Getting back to the Hiroshima Declaration, why this obsession with nuclear weapons at the expense of conventional ones? Why not cut a global deal to scale back military spending altogether as with climate change? Let us revisit history. Everyone fixates on the two atomic explosions in 1945 as the pinnacle of human suffering. True, but these followed the equally catastrophic firebombing of Tokyo a few months earlier on March 10. Towering flames sparked by napalm-laced explosives from US warplanes consumed 100,000 civilians that one night. Moreover, Tokyo's death toll exceeded the one reported for the Nagasaki A-bomb.
Now let us fast-forward to the post 9-11 world. The Physicians for Social Responsibility, a public health group and recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, estimates in a recent landmark study that 1.3 million people, overwhelmingly Muslim, have perished as a direct consequence of the US-led global war on terror. This figure, by the way, is a conservative guess and the real total could be 2 million or more. How many of these did nukes account for? Zero. Does Kerry's heart not sink when he reads stats like these? Or does moral exceptionalism sanitize all such loss of life as the necessary price to pay for freedom? Obama, ironically, came to office pledging to end overseas wars. He leaves next year having started a few of his own.
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