NEW YORK – The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 marked an end and a beginning. The close of the Second World War ushered in a Cold War, with a precarious peace based on the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Today the world is at another turning point. The assumption that nuclear weapons are indispensable to keeping the peace is crumbling. Disarmament is back on the global agenda – and not a moment too soon. A groundswell of new international initiatives will soon emerge to move this agenda forward.
The Cold War’s end, twenty years ago this autumn, was supposed to provide a peace dividend. Instead, we find ourselves still facing serious nuclear threats. Some stem from the persistence of more than 20,000 nuclear weapons and the contagious doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Others relate to nuclear tests—more than a dozen in the post-Cold War era, aggravated by the constant testing of long-range missiles. Still others arise from concerns that more countries or even terrorists might be seeking the bomb.
For decades, we believed that the terrible effects of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to prevent their use. The superpowers were likened to a pair of scorpions in a bottle, each knowing a first strike would be suicidal. Today’s expanding nest of scorpions, however, means that no one is safe. The Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States—holders of the largest nuclear arsenals—recognize this. They have endorsed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, most recently at their Moscow summit, and are seeking new reductions.