With global conflicts on a steady slope upward, the increased military flexing from global superpowers, and the potential of modern nuclear weapons all considered, concerns regarding the possibility of a global nuclear fallout in the near future are not unrealistic. The chemical attacks carried out in Syria, the 59 tomahawk missiles the U.S. has fired at a Syrian airbase, Russia’s angry response to the U.S. airstrike — all events that have transpired in the last week alone.
But what exactly would happen in the event of a global nuclear war?
Theoretically, it begins with approximately 2600 American and Russian nuclear weapons being deployed at strategic points in Europe and North America in a matter of minutes. The resulting catastrophe causes the immediate deaths of tens — if not hundreds of millions of civilians in high populated areas. After decimating hundreds of cities, around 150 million tons of thick smoke rises from the rubble and ascends above the clouds into the stratosphere. The smoke quickly spreads, blocking and absorbing sunlight from approximately 70% of the Northern Hemisphere and up to 35% of the Southern Hemisphere. This ushers in a new ice age, promoting subzero temperatures and making agriculture nearly impossible for years to come.
Furthermore, the ozone begins to further deteriorate, exposing the Earth’s surface to heightened levels of damaging UV rays, putting further stress on already collapsing ecosystems across the globe. In a nutshell: a mass extinction.
However, thousands of scientists from across the globe are working to bring a new hope to the world. Over 2500 scientists from 70 countries have signed an open letter to the U.N. calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons. The open letter reads:
“Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought. Individual explosions can obliterate cities, radioactive fallout can contaminate regions, and a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse may cause mayhem by frying electrical grids and electronics across a continent. The most horrible hazard is a nuclear-induced winter, in which the fires and smoke from as few as a thousand detonations might darken the atmosphere enough to trigger a global mini ice age with year-round winter-like conditions. This could cause a complete collapse of the global food system and apocalyptic unrest, potentially killing most people on Earth – even if the nuclear war involved only a small fraction of the roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons that today’s nine nuclear powers control. As Ronald Reagan said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Unfortunately, such a war is more likely than one may hope, because it can start by mistake, miscalculation or terrorist provocation. There is a steady stream of accidents and false alarms that could trigger all-out war, and relying on never-ending luck is not a sustainable strategy. Many nuclear powers have larger nuclear arsenals than needed for deterrence, yet prioritize making them more lethal over reducing them and the risk that they get used.
But there is also cause for optimism. On March 27 2017, an unprecedented process begins at the United Nations: most of the world’s nations convene to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, to stigmatize them like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world free of these weapons of mass destruction. We support this, and urge our national governments to do the same, because nuclear weapons threaten not merely those who have them, but all people on Earth.”
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. as well as Britain, France, and about forty other countries, all stand in opposition of the proposed initiative, skipping the talks on March 27th altogether and using the most predictable angle to justify the existence of such destructive weapons: fear. Speaking in reference to the recent (failed) nuclear missile tests in North Korea that violent U.N. regulations, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley states:
“We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” Haley said. “North Korea would be the one cheering and all of us, and the people we represent, would be the ones at risk.”
This logic seems to overlook the fact that not only are North Korea’s nuclear efforts arguably laughable due to their persistent failures, but a global response to a possible nuclear threat in North Korea would not require nuclear weapons to remedy. Advocates of nuclear arms using this line of thinking seem to be under the impression that nuclear capabilities make a country’s infrastructure impervious to the same tomahawk missiles used against Syria this week. Which is simply absurd. That’s like saying 100 — or even 50 people armed with 9mm pistols couldn’t stop a single person armed with an AR-15.
A world armed with nuclear weapons is only a ticking clock to a dismally anticipated doomsday; a consequence of mankind’s perpetual state of fear. As the most advanced species on the planet, one would imagine humans would be willing to curb their path toward impending doom, but alas, the world, it seems, is to fall victim to the shortsightedness of man… once again.
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