Nuclear weapons are one of the most-feared weapons especially to a small country like Sri Lanka. A single blast can destroy our entire island and take out perhaps several surrounding islands too. However, because this subject is so feared, there are many myths circulating it too.

Consequently, this week’s FYI will help debunk these myths with the assistance of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

MYTH: Nuclear weapons were needed to defeat Japan in World War II.
FACT: It is widely believed, particularly in the United States, that the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to defeat Japan in World War II. This is not, however, the opinion of the leading US military figures in the war, including General Dwight Eisenhower, General Omar Bradley, General Hap Arnold and Admiral William Leahy. General Eisenhower, for example, who was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe during World War II and later US president, wrote, “I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced [to Secretary of War Stimson] my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’….” Not only was the use of nuclear force unnecessary, its destructive force was excessive, resulting in 220,000 deaths by the end of 1945.

MYTH: Nuclear weapons prevented a war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
FACT: Many people believe that the nuclear standoff during the Cold War prevented the two superpowers from going to war with each other, for fear of mutually-assured destruction.  While it is true that the superpowers did not engage in nuclear warfare during the Cold War, there were many confrontations between them that came uncomfortably close to nuclear war, the most prominent being the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

There were also many deadly conflicts and ‘proxy’ wars carried out by the superpowers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Vietnam War, which took several million Vietnamese lives and the lives of more than 58,000 Americans, is an egregious example. These wars made the supposed nuclear peace very bloody and deadly. Lurking in the background was the constant danger of a nuclear exchange. The Cold War was an exceedingly dangerous time with a massive nuclear arms race, and the human race was extremely fortunate to have survived it without suffering a nuclear war.

MYTH: Nuclear threats have gone away since the end of the Cold War.
FACT: In light of the Cold War’s end, many people believed that nuclear threats had gone away.  While the nature of nuclear threats has changed since the end of the Cold War, these threats are far from having disappeared or even significantly diminished. During the Cold War, the greatest threat was that of a massive nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the Cold War, a variety of new nuclear threats have emerged.  Among these are the following dangers:

Increased possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists who would not hesitate to use them;

Nuclear war between India and Pakistan;

Policies of the US government to make nuclear weapons smaller and more usable;
Use of nuclear weapons by accident, particularly by Russia, which has a substantially weakened early warning system; and Spread of nuclear weapons to other states, which  may perceive them to be an ‘equalizer’ against a more powerful state.

MYTH: The United States needs nuclear weapons for its national security.
FACT: There is widespread belief in the United States that nuclear weapons are necessary for the US to defend against aggressor states. US national security, however, would be far improved if the US took a leadership role in seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons throughout the world. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons that could actually destroy the United States, and their existence and proliferation threaten US security. Continued high-alert deployment of nuclear weapons and research on smaller and more usable nuclear weapons by the US, combined with a more aggressive foreign policy, makes many weaker nations feel threatened.

Weaker states may think of nuclear weapons as an equalizer, giving them the ability to effectively neutralize the forces of a threatening nuclear weapons state. Thus, as in the case of North Korea, the US threat may be instigating nuclear weapons proliferation.

Continued reliance on nuclear weapons by the United States is setting the wrong example for the world, and is further endangering the country rather than protecting it. The United States has strong conventional military forces and would be far more secure in a world in which no country had nuclear arms.

MYTH: Nuclear weapons make a country safer.
FACT: It is a common belief that nuclear weapons protect a country by deterring potential aggressors from attacking. By threatening massive nuclear retaliation, the argument goes, nuclear weapons prevent an attacker from starting a war. To the contrary, nuclear weapons are actually undermining the safety of the countries that possess them by providing a false sense of security. While nuclear deterrence can provide some psychological sense of security, there are no guarantees that the threat of retaliation will succeed in preventing an attack. There are many ways in which deterrence could fail, including misunderstandings, faulty communications, irrational leaders, miscalculations and accidents. In addition, the possession of nuclear weapons enhances the risks of terrorism, proliferation and ultimately nuclear annihilation.