Saturday, August 18, 2007

William Hartung: Lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki Not Yet Fully Learned

William Hartung of the New America Foundation recently penned an exceptional op-ed for the History News Network in which he argues, It has been 62 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the moral and strategic lessons of those devastating acts have still not been fully learned.

Hartung spends the first half of the article outlining the greater historical context for the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before moving into the crux of his argument. He writes that even though the world has not seen nuclear weapons used anew,

the foundations of U.S. nuclear policy remain morally suspect. There has not been another Nagasaki, but it is U.S. policy to engage in veiled threats to launch just such an attack, even if the target nation does not possess nuclear weapons.

Case in point: the criticism Obama drew for his statements taking the nuclear option off the table in potentially attacking al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Hartung also posits that the threat of using nuclear weapons is also counterproductive at the strategic level.

The threat to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is only liable to spur them to seek their own. Taking this stance toward Iran -- even if the actual use of the weapons is extremely unlikely -- will undermine prospects for negotiations to curb Teheran's program while giving leverage to officials within Iran who want to go from nuclear enrichment to nuclear weapons.

Hartung rightfully concludes,

Short of getting a global agreement to abolish nuclear weapons -- a goal worth striving for no matter how difficult it may be to achieve in practice -- one of the most important steps the U.S. could take would be to adopt a policy of "no first use" of nuclear weapons against any nation that is not literally poised to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. This shift in U.S. policy would suggest that it is possible to reverse the mentality that led to the bombing of Nagasaki, even at this late date.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hartung, according to your post, writes, "There has not been another Nagasaki, but it is U.S. policy to engage in veiled threats to launch just such an attack, even if the target nation does not possess nuclear weapons" (emphasis mine).

I believe that Hartung's statement is inaccurate. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were what later came to be called nuclear "countervalue" attacks.

Do correct me if I'm wrong, but it is not -- nor has it been for many decades -- U.S. nuclear operational policy to aim at countervalue targets. Rather, the policy is to aim at "counterforce" military targets.

This is not to say that, in the event of a nuclear counterforce attack, what is euphemistically called "collateral damage" would not necessarily occur. To move away from that euphemism, the number of civilian noncombatants killed or injured in a nuclear counterforce attack would depend greatly many factors -- e.g., accuracy of warhead delivery, warhead yield, elevation/depth of warhead detonation, proximity of civilians, local geography, geology, weather and wind patterns.

But the point is that with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the goal was to aim at cities, civilians and, to whatever extent, industry. Such countervalue attacks, however, are not the goal -- direct or indirect -- of contemporary U.S. nuclear counterforce targeting. Contrary to what Hartung claims, it is not "U.S. policy to engage in veiled threats to launch" Hiroshima or Nagasaki-like attacks.