The Sum of All Fears: Nuclear North Korea

By Bryce Bower, Staff Writer

“But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”  President Barack Obama delivered this line during his visit to Hiroshima in May of 2016, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who echoed the president’s sentiments.

“This tragedy must not be repeated again… We are determined to realize a world free of nuclear weapons no matter how long and how difficult the road will be,” Prime Minister Abe said.  Both leaders called on the world to work towards a lasting peace, despite their respective countries increased military spending.  Tensions between the Koreas, China, and Japan have been growing as some countries have become more aggressive, and this uneasiness is reflected by growing military budgets.  The increase in Japan’s military budget may seem at odds with the general peaceful perception of Japan. Prime Minister Abe has long argued that Article 9 of Japan’s constitution should be amended. Article 9 states:

(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

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The Japanese government has interpreted (2) in a variety of ways over the last 70 years, and has maintained a self-defense force since the 1950s.  Abe has always taken a looser stance on Article 9, perhaps best demonstrated by the legislation change in July 2015 that allowed Japan’s military to engage (in a limited capacity) in extra-national conflicts.  This parliamentary vote, a huge victory for Abe, was met with stark political opposition as well as public protests estimated at 100,000 people.

As North Korea continues to boldly test and improve its weapons programs, even launching a ballistic missile directly over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Japan has understandably taken a keener interest in ramping up its military.  Prime Minister Abe, who has fervently promoted peace, is asking for a military budget increase for the sixth year in a row—this time for $48 billion. This increase would focus on missile defense systems, acquiring several new aircraft, strengthening reconnaissance technology, and developing long-range projectiles geared towards island defense.

I do not claim to know what Prime Minister Abe’s true thoughts are.  I believe that Abe sincerely wishes for peace and an eventual downscaling of his country’s military strength, but the political climate in east Asia is just too volatile right now to justify passivity.  Japan, which is perhaps the 20th century’s best object lesson in man’s cruelty (some might argue as both victim and aggressor), which has been the sole recipient of an atomic attack, which would love nothing more than a peaceful future for its children, is feeling so threatened by its nuclear neighbors that it is preparing for possible war amid its peoples’ cries for pacifism.

I fear that in creating nuclear weapons, mankind has opened Pandora’s Box.  Now that this weapon has been created and collected by several countries, the only realistic way that we could achieve global denuclearization is if every nation agrees to it at the same time.  I believe President Trump would agree with me. In February he said, “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.” While any single country has nuclear weapons, few leaders will be willing to make themselves vulnerable and take the first step to removing his/her nuclear arsenal – least of all President Donald “We’re Gonna Win So Much You’ll Get Tired of Winning” Trump.

Look at the number of nuclear warheads owned by each country [Figure below]. How afraid do you have to be to create 7,000 nuclear warheads?  The hydrogen bomb that North Korea just tested on September 3 under the Punggye-ri mountain was estimated to have a yield of 120-140 Kilotons.  For context, the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima was “only” 15 Kilotons. So, I ask rhetorically, what can be accomplished with 6,800 nuclear explosions that could not be accomplished with 6,700? Considering these numbers, I believe that down-scaling the US and Russian arsenals would be the best start to a global denuclearization process.

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Some suggest that the only thing preventing the outbreak of war in certain regions is the fear of a nuclear strike.  As international relations break down, fear of destruction seems to be the biggest driving force for peace.  But this does not have to be the case.  Every day I walk by a bench on campus that bears an engraving of William Schurz’s words, “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.”  What if, instead of basing our peace on mutual destruction, it was based upon mutual dependability?

The world requires a global attitude shift if it is to affect lasting change that leads to peace. On July 7, 122 countries met at the UN and signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.  Not surprisingly, this meeting was boycotted by every nation that owns a nuclear weapon.  There is a worldwide call to dismantle these programs, a call that is going unanswered.  I recognize that some transgressions may never be forgiven and some grudges that have lasted 1400 years may never be forgotten.  Complete world peace may never be obtainable.  But how can we make sure the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never repeated?  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”  If you want the world to be a more peaceful and less fearful place, start with yourself.

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