The two deadly dates of 06 Aug 1945 and 09 Aug 1945 witnessed the first use of nuclear weapons by USA over the two cities of Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. It caused unprecedented levels of destruction. Devastation was not only instant but continued in times to come due to radiation and related fallout from the nuclear detonation. The deaths and destruction were not only limited to the war waging potential of Japan, but majority losses/casualties were born by innocent civilians and their next generations. Deaths in both these two nuclear strikes were over two lakhs. In case the numbers of those affected are added having some kind of impact on them, it goes beyond six lakhs and inches towards 10 lakhs figure specially when indirect impact is factored.
Good for the humanity that the nuclear bombs have been never used after this singular event despite multiple conflict so far. It is difficult to predict whether it will ever be used again at certain point of time or not. The current belief articulates these nuclear bombs as effective means of deterrence but whether these have been able to fill this role or not, requires critical examination. There have been various instances in the nuclear armed countries wherein they have still been subjected to conventional conflicts / other forms of aggression. Thus, the nuclear weapons are nothing, but just a little at higher pedestal than being called a hoax. It clearly emerges that nuclear weapons have so far been a cocktail attaining the flavor of country of possession, nuclear or non-nuclear status of the adversary and the prevalent eco system prevalent at the time of event. It will be clearly evident from the subsequent discussion.
While WW2 touched majority of the countries in the world, it was primarily fought between the Axis powers viz Italy, Japan and Germany and Allied powers viz France, Great Britain, USA, USSR and China. This combination also did not exist at the beginning of WW2 but kept emerging over a period of time. Despite substantial wins by the Axis powers in the initial years, tide started turning against them, which led to Germany surrendering to Allied powers unconditionally on 07 May 1945. Italy had already surrendered to the Allies on 08 Sep 1943.
Despite Japan’s superior military power, allied powers were racing to defeat Japan which was the only major constituent of the Axis power still fighting after surrender of Germany. It was at this time Japan was covertly interacting with USSR to surrender on more favourable terms. Even without this, any political and military analyst could have concluded that Japan will surrender though it might have taken some more time. May be, Japan might have necessitated landing of Allied forces on its territory, preparation for which had already commenced.
Despite all this, USA chose to drop two nuclear bombs on civilian population of Japan on 06 Aug 1945 and 09 Aug 1945 thus causing huge destruction. There is a school of thought that dropping of nuclear bombs was not for fastening the surrender of Japan but ensure ascendency of USA in post WW2 era. Ultimately, Japan surrendered on 15 Aug 1945 and signed surrender instrument formally on 02 Sep 1945 thus ending the WW2. No respect of human lives, morality or values were considered by USA and nuclear bombs were dropped only for destruction.
Having seen the destructive profile of nuclear weapons, it is essential to examine their deterrence capability which has also stood test of time to a reasonable extent. There are five declared nuclear weapon states to include USA (since 19 Jul 45 having 5428 weapons), Russia (since 29 Aug 49, 5977 weapons, UK (03 Oct 52 having 225 weapons), France (since 13 Feb 60, 290 weapons) and China (since 16 Oct 64, 350 weapons). Incidentally, these five countries are also the permanent members of the security council with veto power. The nuclear status was given as they had declared so before Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into being in 1970. Non-NPT nuclear powers include India (since 18 May 74, 160 weapons), Pakistan (since 28 May 98, 165 weapons) and North Korea (since 09 Oct 2006, 20 weapons). In addition, Israel has been able to maintain its unambiguous state holding close to 90 nuclear weapons.
While there have been numerous conflicts after first use of dropping of nuclear bombs but majority of them have not taken place between two nuclear states except the local conflicts between India, Pakistan and China. No conflict in the world have escalated to include any major region leave aside the world despite USA and USSR fighting proxy wars in different regions of the world.
Whether Russia-Ukraine war transgresses in the nuclear conflict domain or not is yet to be seen. The deterrence capability of nuclear weapons has avoided large number of conflicts and in large number of cases, reduced the scope to localise. It is this facet which has ensured that it has never been used again being the flag bearer of all the deterrence measures.
Then there is a hoax component as well which is visible in the context of India, China and Pakistan. Certain events confirm this. Since both India and Pakistan detonated nuclear bombs in 1998, Kargil still happened between these two neighbours. Whether these weapons alone localised the conflict in Kargil wherein India did not cross the Line of Control (LOC) or there were other reasons as well, is a matter of detail.
Subsequent conduct of surgical strike in Uri using land forces and Balakot strike using AF indicate that there is adequate space below the nuclear threshold for conduct of conventional operations. Doklam standoff in 2017 and continuing stand off on the LAC in Eastern Ladakh since Apr-May 2020 between India and China confirm a reasonable space for conventional operations and these could be called hoax in this space.
It may not be fully appropriate to brand the nuclear weapons with a single characteristic viz being destructive, deterrent, or a hoax and probably, these are deadly mix of all these three characteristics which manifest in varying degrees based on the parties of the conflict besides their likely impact on the region and the world.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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