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Editorial: This Hiroshima Day we must wake up to the real danger of a nuclear war

HIROSHIMA Day commemorates the US atom bombing of the Japanese city 77 years ago, which killed almost 150,000 people.

A further 80,000 were killed three days later when the US dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. But this year’s events must be more than a commemoration — they should sound the alarm.

To date, the two US bombings are the only times nuclear weapons have ever been used. But the risk of a repeat has seldom been closer than it is today.

Confrontation between the world’s greatest military powers is at boiling point. In Ukraine, invading Russian troops are in direct combat with armed forces equipped and trained by Nato; US and British-supplied rockets are fired on Russian forces.

This weekend, Chinese military drills involving hypersonic missile strikes, simulated naval blockades and stealth bombers are being held in response to a crass stunt by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose Taiwan visit was apparently designed to provoke such a response.

China has a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, but that is no guarantee a clash with the United States in the Pacific would not go nuclear — particularly since the US navy has deployed smaller, so-called “tactical” nuclear warheads to its submarine fleet since 2020.

These are devices whose very existence is based on the false premise that a nuclear warhead can be a “battlefield weapon” and that a nuclear war can be locally contained.

And China’s no-first-use pledge is rare among nuclear-armed states. Of the others only India has made a similar commitment (the Soviet Union did, but post-Soviet Russia repudiated it in 1993). The US, Britain, France, Russia and Pakistan all reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first, while North Korea and Israel have no explicit policy regarding their use.

This makes the hot war in Ukraine acutely dangerous. 

From the beginning Russia has hinted at its readiness to escalate to nuclear conflict, warning Western powers in February of “consequences you have never seen in your history” if Nato fights it in Ukraine. 

Discussion of nuclear war as a realistic possibility has become terrifyingly common. 

Russian defence committee member Andrey Gurulyov, an MP in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, spoke on Russian television in June about the early stages of such a war, specifying London as the first city to be hit. In this country, opinion columns in mainstream media outlets like the Telegraph and Observer call for open war with Russia. 

While the targeting of any civilians in conflict is a war crime that should be investigated and punished, hysterical rhetoric from both Russia and Ukraine has the effect of downplaying how much more horrific things could still get, with Mariupol’s deputy mayor Sergeii Orlov comparing the now conquered city’s bombardment to the Hiroshima bombing and a Russian occupation official in Novaya Khakovka making the same analogy about a rocket attack on it by Ukraine.

After decades of reducing nuclear arsenals, countries are reversing the trend and expanding their size — not least Britain, in a reckless and catastrophically expensive decision shamefully enjoying Labour support. 

The former government of Donald Trump brought nuclear brinkmanship closer through tearing up the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty as well as the Open Skies policy allowing Russia and the US to conduct overflights across each other’s territory. 

Though the election of Joe Biden managed to salvage the strategic arms reduction treaty (New Start) with Russia, in other respects he has continued where Trump left off. 

Politicians’ current blasé approach to nuclear confrontation cannot stand. 

At key points in the cold war, armageddon was avoided by an ability to negotiate and compromise which now seems to be rejected on principle by the heads of Nato states. This recklessness endangers all of us.

Only a far stronger peace movement can counter the new militarism. All socialists should work to build such a movement.

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