76 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki

76 years after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, contemporary witnesses are becoming a rarity, and with them, part of the culture of remembrance will be lost. When it comes to nuclear disarmament, we need to be aware of why we remember.
Luftbild der zerstörten japanischen Industriestadt Hiroshima nach dem Abwurf der Atombombe. © picture-alliance / dpa | AFP

In August 1945, at an interval of three days, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were razed to the ground. The atomic bombs "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" injured and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, destroyed the cities and surrounding areas by explosion and blast wave, fire, radiation and deadly radioactive fallout. Long-term consequences continue to strain population and nature to date. Three generations on, concerns about the devastating impact of an atomic attack sliding into obscurity are far from unfounded. Especially in light of current security political developments. Why do we remember?

Advancing nuclear disarmament

Given its devastating effects, nuclear weapons have never again been used as a means of war. Yet they are still considered to have great influence on hegemonic aspirations, and nuclear deterrence remains an integral part of the security strategies of the United States, NATO (correspondingly, the EU and Germany), Russia, and China. Likewise, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea rely on the deterrent potential of nuclear weapons. Underlying interests are manifold (with classical power assurance leading the way), and as long as this is the case, Germany (through its nuclear participation) and NATO would do well to credibly contribute their share to nuclear deterrence.

Nevertheless, deterrence should always be accompanied by mutual nuclear disarmament. The risk of accidents (for example, in the process of modernizing weapons systems) and the potential of an accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized launch is too great. Despite a number of bilateral and multilateral agreements, there are major gaps in implementation, not least with respect to mutual verification of compliance with disarmament agreements, but also with respect to technological modernization.

Establishing clarity, maintaining memory

Earlier this year, shortly before its expiration, the U.S. and Russia were able to extend their bilateral nuclear disarmament treaty NEW START for another five years. The task now is to negotiate a new treaty. A crucial step, which however only concerns Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons. This is why international agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which includes all nuclear powers, needs further advancement. Particularly in light of severe conflicts of interest within the international community, like-minded states need to work closely together. Initiatives within the NPT, such as the Stockholm Initiative or the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, must be continued and further included in NPT review conferences. 

As an emerging security actor, the EU must define a clear strategy and position itself rigorously. Nuclear weapons and their policies (deployment, development, destruction) is a complex topic: discussions about deterrence and disarmament, different treaties (bilateral and multilateral, including and excluding Alliances such as NATO), new weapon technologies, uncertainty about aspirations of other states towards nuclear weapons (e.g. Iran) – the list of issues confusing politicians and civil society alike is long.

Translating nuclear policies into tangible actions and not losing sight of the big picture is an immense task. And sometimes, the catastrophic damage of an actual use of such a weapon is forgotten. That is why we remember.