A few days ago marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They remain the only instances of the use of nuclear weapons in warfare, and many would like to keep it that way. Unsurprisingly, Japan has been one of the most vocal supporters of nuclear non-proliferation. A noble goal, but unfortunately one which seems unlikely.
The evidence can, in part, be seen in the actions of the current Japanese government, led by Shinzo Abe. Even whilst speaking at a memorial service held in Hiroshima, Abe’s government is pushing through highly controversial, and far from unopposed legislation which allows Japanese forces to fight overseas. This puts the country in the interesting position of both advocating and condemning military capability. The Japanese constitution, drawn up after WWII, causes the country to “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Like atomic warfare, many would rather this didn’t change. Without the potential for aggression, Japan can be all but guaranteed international support in instances of conflict, and is largely protected from revenge attacks suffered by many Western countries embroiled in Middle-Eastern conflicts.
The irony of Abe’s two positions is that both share a common issue: once in the club, of nuclear powers or military ones, it is very difficult to get back out. Japan’s advantage is twofold in that it is in neither. But for countries like Britain and America, which are in both, the issue is significant. To scrap nuclear weapons, especially openly, requires enormous trust in other nations that may not be quite so transparent about their agendas or their stock of warheads. The principle of mutually assured destruction holds the balance, and the horrors witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki likely serve only to tighten the nuclear powers’ grip even as it pushes non-nuclear nations away.
Arguments for scrapping the Trident missile system were rife in the run up to the last election, but many seemed to have lost sight of why it is there in the first place. The reason why we have Trident, (even, I might argue, the reason why any country maintains nuclear armaments) is so we can say we have Trident. Those who argue it isn’t being used and that we’re not going to war fall into the same fallacy as arguing that spending vast amounts of money on vaccinations wasn’t worth it because almost no-one dropped dead of swine/bird/etc. flu. The way we know both are working is that they appear to be unnecessary. And if you let go of either you’re left with a country full of disease or an unpleasant Middle-Eastern dictatorship that knows it’s got the most powerful weapons in the world.