Today marks the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more would later die from radiation exposure.
Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second, bigger atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people immediately and obliterating everything within a 1,000-yard radius.
Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in a radio broadcast on August 15, citing the devastating power of a “new and most cruel” bomb.
Today, we remember the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and remind ourselves that though it has been nearly seven decades since the first atomic bomb was used in warfare, the threat of a nuclear disaster is not a vestige of some bygone era.
Thanks to important agreements and significant unilateral reductions by the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons states, the global stockpile of nuclear weapons is significantly less than it was during the Cold War. However, at least 17,000 nuclear weapons that we know of still exist today in nine countries, with many on hair-trigger, launch-ready status.
Furthermore, 21st century global security continues to be fashioned upon the crumbling edifice of nuclear deterrence. Our continued reliance on weapons that have the ability to annihilate nations but do little to address the rise of violent extremists like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the deteriorating situation Afghanistan, makes us less safe, not more secure.
We need to continue to work with others to decrease global nuclear stockpiles, and use the billions of dollars we spend on relics of the Cold War to develop creative solutions to present and future threats.
In addition to the thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by nine nations, there is nearly 2,000 metric tons of nuclear material spread across hundreds of sites in 25 countries, and not much of it is effectively secured. We know that terrorists are bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon, and according to former Senator Sam Nunn, a determined group or individual “would only need enough highly enriched uranium to fit into a 5-pound bad of sugar or enough plutonium the size of a grapefruit” to fashion a crude nuclear device.
The tragic attacks of September 11, 2001—and the discovery of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear technology black market just a few years later—should open our eyes to the dangerous and unpredictable world in which we live today.
While there have been many important accomplishments in reducing the threat of lost or stolen nuclear material (particularly during President Obama’s first term) now is not the time to rest upon our laurels. It is important now more than ever to appropriately fund critical nonproliferation programs at home and abroad that work to secure vulnerable nuclear materials, and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
In a recent interview ahead of the anniversary, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller reinforced President Obama’s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Referring to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, Gottemoeller stated that the “United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring nonnuclear attacks” and seek to make deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies “the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”
Today, we use this solemn anniversary as motivation to ensure that our leader’s words mean something, and continue our tireless march towards a more balanced national security strategy and a safer world.