Seventy-Three Years After the First Nuclear Strike, Nukes Are Everywhere
Today is the 73rd anniversary of the world’s first nuclear strike—the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
The nuclear destruction was so horrific that we don’t like to think about it. In Hiroshima, a single bomb killed around 100,000 people. Nearly 5 square miles of the city was destroyed. And by today’s standards, that was a small bomb. The most powerful nuclear bomb ever made, the Tsar Bomba, would produce a fireball covering nearly 50 square miles. The heat and shock wave would destroy hundreds more square miles. An online simulator shows the effects of detonating a nuclear weapon in your own backyard.
The fact that just one bomb can destroy so much defies imagination. And on the anniversary of that deadly day, it is worth surveying the state of the world’s nuclear arsenal.
The good news is that the world’s stock of nuclear weapons has declined. The world had more than 60,000 nuclear warheads in 1986, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Today, the estimated number is less than 10,000.
That’s still more than enough to wipe out the world. And the bad news is that everywhere you look, nations are renewing their interest in nuclear bombs. In fact, experts like James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is warning that a new round of the nuclear arms race has begun. It may not be reflected yet in the quantity of the world’s nuclear weapons, but a desperate race is underway to improve their quality. And this doesn’t even include nations like Germany and Japan, which are talking more and more about getting the bomb.
Russia has been one of the most obvious examples of renewed interest in nuclear weapons. Since around 2008, it has been improving and updating its arsenal.
Most eye-catching is its Satan 2 missile—the largest ballistic missile in history. Each missile can carry 10 large nuclear warheads or 16 smaller ones. Combine all of that destructive power together, and you can practically destroy an entire European nation or even an American state as large as Texas.
Russia is developing a host of new nuclear weapons. In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about several new weapons programs. It was a deliberate effort to intimidate the world with Russia’s fast improving nuclear technology.
“Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world, but nobody listened to us,” warned Putin. “Listen now.”
He claims that Russia has an “invincible missile,” a “fundamentally new type of weapon.” This nuclear-powered cruise missile can fly low enough to avoid being intercepted by any existing missile defense system. Experts dispute the claim that Russia has successfully built such a weapon. “Not everyone is sure that Russia is really this far along in developing a nuclear-powered cruise missile,” wrote Ars Technica. “But there’s plenty of evidence that they’re trying hard.”
In the same speech, Putin announced that Russia had created a nuclear-powered torpedo—perhaps another attempt to ensure Russia can get past America’s nuclear defenses. The Russian press reported that it carries a 100-megaton warhead, which would release a huge amount of radiation. “A single Russian submarine armed with these weapons would release more radiation than the entire U.S. strategic force,” wrote Mark Schneider for Real Clear Defense. The project seems similar to one put forward in the 1960s. Back then, the Soviets squashed it because the admiral in charge was “shocked and disgusted by the idea of merciless mass slaughter,” according to the weapon’s designer Andrei Sakharov. But Putin’s Russia is pushing forward with it.
Of course, Putin is not exactly well known for his honesty, and taking his claims for granted would be foolish. But so too would be underestimating a nuclear-armed adversary that is publicly displaying renewed interest in weapons that can penetrate the defenses of the United States and its allies. Some of these higher-profile projects may be questionable. But Russia is also pouring money into much more basic yet terrifyingly deadly nuclear upgrades.
China, too, is improving its arsenal. The U.S., China and Russia are all involved in an arms race to develop the next generation of nuclear missiles: hypersonic vehicles. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (icbms) have existed since the 1950s: They launch into space before returning into the atmosphere and speeding toward their targets. They’re fast, but for most of their flight, they cannot be maneuvered. So you can see them coming, you can calculate where they will land, you have time to react, and you have a chance to shoot them down.
Shooting down one missile using another missile is much harder than most realize—even the United States military is not very good at it right now.
But a hypersonic missile can travel low and fast—three times faster than the world’s fastest bullet. And it can be maneuvered. No missile defense system in existence today can stop them. Air Force Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”
Just today China claimed to have successfully tested a hypersonic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. Western experts believe Russia has carried out two successful tests of a hypersonic missile. cnbc claimed that “sources with direct knowledge of American intelligence reports” said that Russia’s hypersonic weapon would be ready by 2020—though others dispute this.
America’s hypersonic program is very secret. But some experts worry that America is running behind. The Pentagon told Congress earlier this year that China had carried out 20 times more hypersonic test flights than America.
Just like Russia, China is also working on its arsenal in less dramatic ways. They are building six to seven new warheads a year. Since September 2014, they have carried out an average of five simulated nuclear blasts a month, compared with America’s pace of just one a month. China may also be working on a “salted” nuclear bomb—a weapon designed to spread radiation as far as possible, rendering huge areas uninhabitable long after the blast. It is also working on new land-based launchers and new nuclear submarines.
Other countries that do not yet have operational nuclear weapons are talking more and more about getting them. Iran, the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism, keeps its weapons program constantly in the news. Despite the quickly dying nuclear deal, the Iranians are still making progress toward a bomb. Last month, they announced that they had nearly finished a new factory to make centrifuges. This will enable them to push toward a bomb more quickly.
This is naturally making others nervous. Saudi Arabia is working on its own nuclear-power plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency (iaea) completed a 12-day review of the Saudis’ nuclear infrastructure development last month. This is for peaceful nuclear energy, but Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told cbs in March that “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Perhaps most remarkable is news from Germany and Japan—two nations on the losing side of World War ii that have a taboo about developing nuclear bombs.
“Do We Need the Bomb?” asked the front-page headline of the July 29 Welt Am Sonntag, one of Germany’s top newspapers.
“National defense on the basis of a nuclear deterrent must be given priority in light of new trans-Atlantic uncertainties and potential confrontations,” wrote Christian Hacke.
“It would be easier to dismiss the article as the ramblings of an eccentric academic were Hacke not a fixture of Germany’s foreign-policy establishment and a respected university professor,” noted Politico. “That the debate is happening at all speaks to how unnerved Germany’s security community has become in the face of Trump’s threats, including his warning at last month’s nato summit that the U.S. might ‘go it alone.’”
Hacke is not alone. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Spiegel Online, Tagesspiegel and public television channel ard have called for Germany either to develop nuclear weapons or to at least open up a debate on the matter. This talking point is becoming increasingly common among defense experts.
As Politico pointed out, perhaps the most likely course for Germany is to push for some kind of shared European nuclear arsenal. But it’s vital to remember that Germany already has nuclear bombs—American ones. They are deployed on German bases, compatible with German aircraft, and ready for German pilots to drop.
Japan is having a similar debate. The Japanese have built one of the most advanced nuclear-powered industries on the planet. It has the know-how and material to go nuclear, but it has chosen not to, so far. Channel News Asia reported last month that Japan has stockpiled enough plutonium for 6,000 atomic bombs.
“Japan appears to be caught up in the idea that in an emergency it can produce nuclear weapons with its reprocessing technology,” said Hideyuki Ban, codirector of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo. He may be right. Last year, former Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said Japan should abolish its “three non-nuclear principles”: not owning, making or hosting nuclear bombs in Japan.
And we cannot leave out the United States. The Americans are considering a $1 trillion plan to upgrade their nuclear arsenal, which already has more than 4,000 operational warheads.
The nuclear arms race is on. But why should you care?
First, a nuclear arms race is a symptom. Nations don’t spend billions on nukes just for fun. They buy them because they want to threaten other nations, or because they feel threatened. A nuclear arms race shows us that nations are worried about war—or desire to use war as a threat.
We are entering a time when new technologies may make countries think they can use nukes and get away with it. Nations that have never before been trusted with the bomb are building them, or thinking about it.
But as nuclear weapons spread to more countries, the risk rises of them being used.
“The issue of nuclear arms control is a literally vital issue, not only for the superpowers, not only for their allies, but for all of humanity,” Hans Morgenthau, a top thinker in the field of international relations, wrote in Politics Among Nations. “For with proliferation now underway in earnest, there is little doubt that a nuclear arms race—no longer limited to two superpowers with cautious governments that are mortally afraid of each other—but spreading over the whole globe, is bound, sooner or later, to lead to an unspeakable catastrophe. For history shows, if history shows anything, that all nations have been governed at times by fools and knaves, and even a combination of both. That was bad enough before nuclear weapons existed. But imagine a fool or knave or a combination of both in the possession of nuclear weapons, and nuclear war becomes unavoidable.” This, Morgenthau concluded, “makes nuclear arms control and, in the end, nuclear disarmament a question of life or death for all mankind.”
Nuclear weapons are a problem we don’t like to think about and one we have no solutions for. In 73 years, no one has come up with a way to eliminate nuclear weapons.
There is no hope for a solution from man’s foreign-policy elite. But there is hope in the Bible, along with some sobering warnings. The Bible contains many passages that describe the aftereffects of nuclear bombs. Jeremiah 2:15 discusses cities “burned without inhabitant.” Habakkuk 3:17 describes plants that do not blossom or give fruit, fields that produce no food, and stocks of animals wiped out. Verse 16 describes this as the work of invading soldiers. Amos 5 describes an attack destroying 90 percent of a city’s population.
Matthew 24:21-22 state, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved ….” The Moffatt version clarifies this passage—adding that “there should no flesh be saved alive.” This isn’t talking about being saved spiritually or being saved from suffering. The context makes it clear that no flesh would be saved from dying. This verse is talking about a period when mankind nearly wipes itself out.
The Bible is clear: Nuclear weapons will be used. Many will be killed. But the same scriptures contain great hope. That same verse in Matthew 24 finishes by stating that “for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” God won’t allow mankind to destroy itself. Each prophet who forecast this destruction also described man’s great hope. Amos 9 describes Israel rebuilding the cities destroyed in war. In fact, these people have so much abundance, they cannot gather all the food in fast enough (verse 13). Jeremiah says that despite all this trouble “there is hope in thine end” (Jeremiah 31:17). “[T]hey shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord …” (verse 34). Habakkuk writes of a time when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
This is the only hope for nuclear proliferation. The world’s best experts know that these weapons will be used. But God says that He will not allow mankind to destroy itself. Instead, the suffering caused as mankind brings itself within inches of its own destruction will finally make human beings willing to listen to God. God will intervene and will finally be able to teach the world, and lead all man in the way of real peace.
This is why it is important to review the subject of nuclear weapons. It is unpleasant, but it is also intimately connected with man’s only hope. For more on this important subject, read our free booklet Nuclear Armageddon Is ‘At the Door.’