In 1946, just a year after the United States dropped atomic bombs on two major Japanese cities, prominent businessman and philanthropist Bernard Baruch was commissioned by President Harry Truman to devise a plan on what the world ought to do now that nuclear weapons were a reality.
A wartime adviser to both Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Baruch proclaimed that atomic weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction — chemical and biological — needed to be eliminated from all national armaments.
His plan also called for the newly formed United Nations to control nuclear power and ensure it was used only for peaceful purposes, and for an effective inspection system to be established to enforce that policy. The U.S., the only nuclear power at the time of course, quickly proposed that it would turn over its nukes on the condition that everyone else pledged not to produce them and accepted Baruch's inspection proposal.
Nothing, as we all painfully know today, became of the plan. Russia and the U.S. did not trust each other and, besides, Russia was already on the way to secretly building an A-bomb of its own. When Congress inserted a couple of conditions in the plan, that gave the Russians the excuse to flatly turn it down.
So here we are more than 70 years later still sitting on the edge of our seats over nuclear weapons, not to mention threatening to build more of them even though their use could spell the end of humanity. North Korea now claims that it has missiles that could land an A-bomb on Seattle, a threat no one seems to know what to do about.
Today nine countries possess actual nuclear weapons: Russia, the United States, China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Another dozen or so have developed nuclear power that's being used to generate electricity and other, hopefully, peaceful uses.
Through the years many organizations and individuals have tried to renew what Bernard Baruch proposed back in 1946. There have been some successes — the non-proliferation treaties, the nuclear weapons freezes, the test ban treaties — but the threat hanging over the world persists. Iran wants a bomb to counter Israel. North Korea built one to counter the U.S. and threaten South Korea. It's a lethal game that seems without end.
There's been one bright spot and it happened just last month. The leaders of 122 U.N. countries negotiated the first-ever treaty outlawing atomic bombs, just like chemical and biological weapons are outlawed. Of course, the 122 didn't include the nuke powers, including the U.S. — those countries instead ridiculed the action and pointed out it couldn't be enforced.
But no less than former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry praised the treaty and said it is his hope "it will mark a sea change toward global support for the abolition of nuclear weapons." He also said he hoped it would encourage the U.S. and Russia, who between them have 3,000 nukes, to abide by their commitment to reduce the number of bombs in their arsenals.
We're just about to observe the 72nd anniversary of the use of the first atomic bomb on Japan. And the truth is that the world today is too dangerous a place for nuclear weapons.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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