TOPICS : Proliferation threats and A-bomb survivors’ pleas

Sixty years ago Miyoko Watanabe walked out of her house in Hiroshima and saw a flash of light and felt fire rolling toward her. It was the explosion of the atomic bomb. Her father perished, along with some 140,000 citizens of Hiroshima, and 80,000 citizens of Nagasaki three days later. She survived, and as a 75-year-old recounted her story in Sunday’s New York Times. In a moving plea, along with thousands of other Japanese, she called for the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020. While that goal may seem fanciful, she says, “we have to keep trying, one step at a time.”

Since the fiery destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weaponry has proliferated. The blessed upside is that these weapons have been kept sheathed and not used in any of the wars that have sadly continued to roil our planet. The agony of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was too awesome for a reprise to be contemplated. The weapons proved an effective deterrent against use by others.

A string of American presidents have pondered their destructive force and mused how to control or even eliminate them. President Eisenhower launched the Atoms for Peace Programme at the UN in 1953. Though the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia have been sharply reduced in recent years, nuclear missiles still threaten. While they remain in responsible hands, the world has been relatively safe from their use.

But with the acquisition, or pending acquisition, of nuclear weapons technology by such rogue nations as North Korea and Iran, the world faces new uncertainty. The problem is rendered more acute by the freelance trade of nuclear technology by such private entrepreneurs as Pakistan’s A Q Khan, and the interest of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

Last weekend, attempts to halt probable nuclear weapons development by two nations that consort with terrorists — Iran and North Korea — were dealt setbacks. Iran rejected a proposal by Britain, France and Germany, acting on behalf of the EU, offering major economic, political and security incentives in return for Iranian cooperation in ensuring that its nuclear programme would not be used for military purposes. The proposal was supported by the US. Iran deemed it “unacceptable,” and vowed to continue uranium enrichment, which can be used for both peaceful and military purposes.

Six-party talks that have been going on in Beijing in an attempt to persuade North Korea to abandon its programme fared little better. China, Russia, Japan, the US and South Korea were unsuccessful in getting North Korea to join in a statement of broad shared principles. The North Koreans demand the right to continue peaceful nuclear development. The exhausted participants in the talks ended their discussions in impasse.

If the actual elimination of nuclear weapons proves impossible, surely we must join with

the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in their prayers and pleas that the weapons “never again” be used. — The Christian Science Monitor