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Why Obama's Hiroshima visit is so important

May 26, 2016 09:55 IST

'Obama's visit to Hiroshima must generate a fresh debate in the international community about how to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international politics and how to disarm the world from these monstrous weapons forever,' says Sanjeev Shrivastav.

IMAGE: US President Barack Obama arrives at the Chubu Centrair International airport in Tokoname, Japan. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

United States President Barack Obama's visit to Hiroshima on May 27 is of immense historic value as well as of great importance for contemporary times and the future.

He is the first US President who will visit Hiroshima, nearly 71 years after the city was obliterated by an American nuclear bomb. Soon after assuming the office of President, Obama showed his commitment to nuclear disarmament when he delivered a speech in Prague on April 5, 2009 (external link). It was not a surprise that after this speech, Obama was chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his Prague speech, Obama stated, 'And as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.'

The Nobel committee took note of Obama's noble intentions for nuclear disarmament as well and while conferring on him the Peace Prize, the committee stated, 'The committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons....The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.'

Obama had wanted to visit Hiroshima during his presidency, a visit which is now taking place in his final months in office. Obama's visit highlights the fact that even the United States, the only nation which has used nuclear weapons in war, realises the futility of these monstrous weapons.

A devil's advocate may argue that the use of nuclear weapons delivered the ultimate blow to the Japanese war effort, ending World War II. What these weapons achieved was instant massive devastation of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thereafter, a constant existential fear of such a war which could lead to the extinction of humankind itself.

Nuclear weapons were not used in a war just once, but twice. First, in 1945, in Hiroshima on August 6. Even after witnessing the massive devastation and mass destruction caused by this monstrous weapon, the Americans used it again in Nagasaki three days later, on August 9, which raises the apprehension and fear that it can be used again.

In this regard, President Obama's visit to Hiroshima is a great symbolic gesture which would help mitigate such apprehensions and fears as well as strengthen a regime of deep trust and understanding aimed at ensuring that these weapons of mass destruction shall never ever be used again.

The May 27 visit will certainly add to President Obama's legacy and he will go down in history as a leader who remained committed and strived for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from the very beginning till the end of his presidency.

During his first term, Obama negotiated a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (external link) with Russia in April 2010, started the Nuclear Security Summit process in 2010, which was aimed at addressing the danger of nuclear terrorism by way of securing and minimising nuclear material, upgrading cooperation in the international community to check and prevent nuclear material from illegally falling into the hands of terrorists as well as strengthen the nuclear security system globally.

During his second term, Obama made greater efforts for a nuclear deal with Iran, which was signed in July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the US, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, France and Germany). This historic agreement will immensely help in reducing the nuclear arms race in the Middle East and indeed around the world as well as strengthen the global regime for nuclear security.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima boldly reiterates the fact that nuclear weapons are not weapons of war.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima must generate a fresh debate in the international community about how to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international politics and how to disarm the world from these monstrous weapons forever.

It is essential to note that nuclear disarmament is not possible by one single nation alone. It must necessarily be a global effort. A single nation will not give up its nuclear weapons at the cost of its own security.

Obama's nuclear weapons modernisation programme of $1 trillion in 30 years -- which is the largest programme in history -- should be viewed with this perspective. Unilateral efforts will not succeed. Nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts can only succeed if these are global and collective involving all nations and civil societies around the globe.

The international community must strive hard to ensure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of terrorists and also how to secure these weapons when it is in the hands of unstable and rogue regimes like North Korea.

The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC on March 31 and April 1 was called the 'final summit'. This visionary process Obama initiated must continue even after he leaves office because the threats related to nuclear weapons and material remains. The Nuclear Security Summit's recommendations must be vigorously followed. The implementation needs to be regularly monitored and the progress reviewed constantly.

A global regime of concern and trust for nuclear arms control and disarmament must constantly be developed and nurtured. President Obama's visit to Hiroshima will greatly help nurture such a regime.

Sanjeev Shrivastav is a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Sanjeev Shrivastav
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