A World of Nuclear Bombs

July 10, 2006

North Korea and Iran are playing war games. Because they are rogue nations, we trust the world will eventually know how to react, and in that we find some comfort. But yesterday, India, an American ally in the war on terror stepped up to bat and fired off its own long-range missle. This time it plunged into the sea. Scientists say next time it could reach as far as China, a long-time foe of India and friend to her neighboring rival, Pakistan.

We have every reason to be deeply concerned about the course of world events.

How quickly we forget.

In August of 1945, President Truman ordered two bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world was scared into peace. Long-time enemies quickly agreed to establish a global peace-keeping body. They went as far as ratifying an impressive list of human rights based on common values. The Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became sure reference points.

Twenty-three years later, still depending on short-term political memory of the horrors of World War II, 188 sovereign states began the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). They agreed to confer the exclusive legal right to possess nuclear arms to the five members of the United Nations Security Council: United Kingdom, Soviet Union (now Russia), The United States of America, France, and the People’s Republic of China.

Nobody at the time suggested the agreement was fair. It was a choice for mutual survival in a high-stakes tug-of-war.

That was July of 1968. Today’s rumblings lead to believe our short-term historic memory is running out.

We have already forgotten Article VI of the same treaty. It makes reference to the obligation of nuclear weapons states to completely disarm.

The states undertake to negotiate toward general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. (Article VI, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)

While we rarely hear mention of this article, it is the life-blood of the Treaty. It states in no uncertain terms the world would be better off if nuclear weapons were wiped off the face of the earth.

It may be hard to believe America agreed to negotiate toward complete disarmament. We remember the benefits for deterrence when ultimate power was invested in the hands of a statesman like Ronald Reagan. But in 1968, and then again in 1995, we signed and then ratified, respectively, plans to rid the world of nuclear weapons, even our own. All this while we stood firmly as the only world super power.

The ideal is rooted in the reality of a tarnished humanity. We knew some day, someone would mess up.

It may be better for five countries to have nuclear rights than to have no control mechanisms at all, but as Article VI implies, as long as nuclear weaponry is acceptable for some, non-proliferation is a pipedream. India, Pakistan, and Israel — extra nuclear weapon states — are all the proof we need. Iran appears to be next in line.

We are moving toward a world where nuclear weapons will be in the hands of every leader of every sovereign state. In that moment, there will be no comfort in thinking the world will know how to react.

As global events heat up and we experience more threats from more sides, we cannot afford to depend on short-term memory. It is a time for the sons and daughters of of the Greatest Generation, to remind their own children of the horrors of war, and in particular what nuclear energy looks like when it comes in the form of a bomb.

It is time to hold the United Nations to its grave responsibility, to live up to its high calling. To do this, it need only recall why its charter and the universal declaration of human righs were so quickly approved. It was a matter of future survival, and that future is today.

How quickly we forget.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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