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Nuclear Proliferation: the Steady Build to Armageddon ​


The Issue with a Climate of Nuclear Weapons

We’ve all seen the headlines at some point, each one a small desensitizing reminder that our nation exists with a loaded gun pointed to its head. In the past couple of years, North Korea has taken opportunity after opportunity to demonstrate it’s nuclear capabilities, specifically, it’s self-proclaimed ability to strike the U.S. homeland directly via intercontinental ballistic missile. In the minds of many Americans today, the North Korean threat has been pushed back into the background of their consciousness. As a nation, it seems we have come to de-sensitize ourselves to the idea of a dictatorship across the ocean having final say on if we live or die. But, only a decade or two ago, the idea of North Korea posing a threat to the U.S. mainland would be laughable. So what changed? The answer to that question is nuclear proliferation.

Broadly Defined as the continued spread of nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons technology, nuclear proliferation has put nuclear weapons tech into the hands of an increasing number of states across the globe. As seen in the case of North Korea, the result of a country gaining nuclear capabilities can be catastrophic with consequences ranging from threats to the interests and safety of the U.S. to the creation of a major threat to global peace.

My Interest+

I quite simply find the concept of nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare for that matter, profound. Today, the modern Hydrogen bomb has the destructive capability to level an entire city in seconds and when launched via ICBM, can reach its target in mere minutes. At some point, it no longer seems like warfare is an apt description for actions involving such unbiased destructive forces. But despite having such thoughts about nukes, something about the concepts they present feels like it has been in the back of my mind all my life. I feel that nuclear weapons have always been a part of my world. But never was I given a formal introduction to the concept. It was never explained to me that at any moment, a single call could send weapons of uncompromising destruction hurtling towards my family and I. Instead, it was nuclear weapons cultural importance which led to my awareness of their existence through media. But at that point I was much younger with only the most rudimentary understanding of the concepts nukes brought forward. Now older, I better understand the complexities and consequences that nukes create in the modern world. Nuclear proliferation has brought nuclear weapons to many new Nations and as a result, is major pillar of the global political climate we experience today. I was interested in researching the issue of nuclear proliferation because to me, nukes represented a profound power and following the consequences over time of nations gaining that power would help me understand how we ended up where we are today.            

The History of the Atomic Bomb and How we Got Here+

In 1945, headed by J. Robert Oppenheimer, Manhattan project scientists produced the world’s first atomic bomb (Galens). In the following month, the U.S. would drop two of these aforementioned bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing an estimated 150,000 Japanese nationals (Kennedy). The sheer amount of destruction resulting from each individual detonation was unseen before in any instance of previous warfare: the U.S. has been effectively able to level an entire city instantaneously using a device smaller than a tank (Perkins). A week after the attacks, in August 1945, Japan surrendered, effectively ending World War II (Kennedy). The attacks on Japan had demonstrated the raw power of the atomic bomb to the international community and proved the danger posed by the nations who held them (Kimball). In the following two decades, four more countries: the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China developed nuclear capabilities (Bangheri)(ProQuest Staff). But the days of free for all of nuclear weapons development were not to last. First put into full effect in 1970, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or NPT was an internationally organized agreement whose goal is to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons around the world and focus the use of nuclear technology towards peaceful uses such as energy (Perkovich). Under the NPT, nations which had completed nuclear weapons tests prior to the 1970 date of the treaty were defined as nuclear weapons states and were able to hold nuclear weapons if they agreed to and worked towards the goals of the NPT (Bangheri). This definition outlined by the treaty is why not all states that have acquired nuclear arms are technically results of nuclear proliferation. The only nations to fall under these requirements would be The five aforementioned ones from the beginning of this segment (ProQuest Staff). While the NPT was successful in some regards, ultimately the issue of nuclear proliferation continued and four years later, despite the treaty, India would join the ranks of these five as the first unofficial nuclear capable state. In direct contradiction to the NPT, India conducted its first successful nuclear test codenamed: “Smiling Buddha” in May of 1974 (Singh). As a direct response to India’s nuclear initiative, Pakistan conducted its own successful nuclear test in 1998 (Singh). Two other nations would become known new nuclear powers with Israel’s secret nuclear program all but confirmed in the 80s and North Korea announcing in 2006 that it had accomplished its first successful nuclear test (ProQuest Staff). The developments from these states had made it apparent that nuclear proliferation was very real. Moving further into the 21st century, new strategies and issues have arisen in the struggle against nuclear proliferation.

North Korea and the Current State of Non-Proliferation Efforts+

Today, the threat posed by nuclear weapons, and the countries that hold them, are very real. Nuclear weapons hold an immense power which has the potential to cause widespread devastation in the cities they are deployed in (Nuclear Weapons). When proliferation has occurred, this power has fallen into the wrong hands, creating major threats to our national security which continue to be dealt with today. The most dire, as well as most recent example of the threat created by nuclear proliferation is the state of our negotiations with North Korea. In 2019, denuclearization negotiations between United States President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairmen of the Workers Party Kim Jong Un were abandoned (Kim). North Korea is the most recent failure of anti-proliferation efforts and, in many ways, also poses the greatest threat of the new nuclear powers. Situations such as that in North Korea pose such a great threat due in part to its status as a developing nation. Many developing nations lack the well established systems used by existing nuclear powers to prevent mistaken nuclear retaliation or potential theft of nuclear weapons by terrorist organizations (Asculai). Today, three out of the four countries currently established as unofficial nuclear powers are developing nations. But, the danger posed by North Korea is on a whole other scale. More than any other nuclear capable nation, North Korea has proven itself to be unstable, tyrannical and above all else; unpredictable. A country as volatile as North Korea having nuclear capabilities poses immense danger to the U.S. as well as the countries neighboring North Korea. To stop this threat, the global community has attempted to encourage North Korea to de-nuclearise through tariffs and treaties. These have at multiple points appeared to work only for North Korea to publicly go back on their stated agreement or just develop their nuclear program further in secret (Kim). In the past couple of years, Trump has attempted to negotiate with North Korea going so far as to hold two summits where he was to meet directly with Kim Jong Un (Berlinger). Ultimately these have been unsuccessful with the most recent attempt in Hanoi falling apart with little progress made towards North Korea’s denuclearization (Kim). The consequences of this failed effort were almost immediate as satellites picked up evidence that previously inactive North Korean launch sites were starting production once again (Berlinger). North Korea is a prime example of the threats resulting from the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But despite failings with the North Koreans, efforts against nuclear proliferation continue on the international scale. Because nuclear proliferation is by definition a global issue, it truly requires international cooperation in some form for any effective solution to come to fruition. Today, a large international contributor to anti-proliferation efforts is the United Nations. Soon after its establishment in 1945, the UN adopted the goal of nuclear disarmament (Nuclear Weapons). Since then, they have made many moves towards this ambitious goal including in 2017 enacting a new treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW) which prohibits nations from engaging in the developing, producing, testing or stockpiling of any nuclear arms (TPNW). The treaty additionally prohibits nations from assisting any other country in non-peaceful nuclear technology development (TPNW). While these rules may sound similar to previously established in treaties such as the NPT, unlike the NPT, countries adopting the TPNW are legally bound to follow its terms and cannot opt-out as easily or in the same short amount of time as with the NPT (Asculai) (Ifft). Because nuclear proliferation happens over many years at an inconsistent rate, it is hard to determine if these new treaties have been effective or will be effective if challenged in the future. What can be said now is that having legal penalties and responsibilities in writing puts more pressure on nations to follow the terms they agreed to versus the little to none seen before.

(Macro Solution)+

Many have tried to implement solutions and failed. I think we need to be more aggressive than we ever have before. There has been too much worry of trade interests being messed up by a heavy push for disarmament. Countries that are like-minded in this matter have to step and put heavy pressure on others not in agreement to fall in line. In cases like North Korea, this especially makes sense because the tyranny of the government prevents any input from the majority of their population so it is unknown if the motivation was shared amongst its general population or just in the heads of the well-fed higher-ups.

Pay no attention to the man in the thumbnail.

(Micro Solution)+

While the vast majority of my solution to nuclear proliferation relies on larger scale institutional changes, this is far from meaning that nothing can or should be done by average citizens. In America, a key factor in the functionality of our democracy is the input and opinions of its citizens. When issues such as nuclear proliferation are brought up, letting elected officials hear your thoughts on the matter can really help highlight important problems or the value in certain proposed solutions.

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COMMENTS: 2
  1. April 28, 2019 by Ethan de Anda Sanchez

    Great Job! This is a really interesting topic thats very prevalent in modern society.

  2. April 29, 2019 by Mai

    I really like the awareness you brought to the topic you chose to share. I’ll admit I don’t keep myself up to date with current events as much as I should and the last time I heard anything about the Kim-Trump affair it was all the “positive fluff” so this was a big eye-opener. Thank you for sharing!

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