Footnote: Nuclear weapons are not things of the past
As a footnote, this is why all that talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not just a history lesson.
According to the Arms Control Association, as of July 2015:
- The United States has 1,597 strategic nuclear warheads deployed plus another 2,800 in reserve along with a tactical (short-range) nuclear arsenal of about 500 warheads.
- Russia has 1,582 strategic warheads deployed and several thousand non-deployed strategic warheads. It also has approximately 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads.
- France has 290 deployed warheads.
- China has about 250 total warheads.
- United Kingdom has about 120 strategic warheads, of which 40 are deployed at sea at any given time. The total stockpile is up to 225 weapons.
- India has 90-110 nuclear warheads.
- Israel has somewhere between 80 and 100 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.
- Pakistan holds between 100 and 120 nuclear warheads.
- North Korea is estimated to have 6-8 plutonium-based warheads.
Nuclear weapons are very real, continue to be very real, and the threat continues to be very real. We have been comforted some over the past years by the fact that the arsenals of the two biggest nuclear powers - the US and Russia - have been significantly reduced as the result of negotiations. But what we don't hear is how the present-day weapons are more efficient, more accurate, in every way "better" than those in those old massive arsenals of a few decades ago, how today's weapons, those designed and built since the 1980s, are, as one person put it, "more for use than deterrence."
What's more, the threat is not only that of a deliberate attack. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists from April reports that "Erroneous or ambiguous warnings from U.S. or Russian early warning sensors of an incoming nuclear attack are relatively common" and there have been literally dozens of what the group calls "near misses" over the years.
Despite that, about half of US nuclear forces remain always on hair-trigger alert, capable of being launched within minutes of the decision to do so, the same high alert status they have been on since the height of the cold war.
And with the US having just sabotaged a conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to shield Israel from a call for a nuclear-weapons free zone in the Middle East, I will say that no, the issue of nuclear weapons is not passe, not something in the past, not something we can ignore, not something we can pretend is limited to our fantasies and paranoia about "the Iranian bomb."
Nuclear weapons are very real, continue to be very real, and the threat they present continues to be very real. And the anniversaries of the only times they have been used in warfare is a good time to be reminded of that.
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