Towards the end of July 1945, Japan was on the verge of surrendering to the Allies. Despite military advice to the contrary, United States President Harry. S. Truman authorised the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on August 9. The President was fully aware of the deadly consequences of deploying this weapon, from the results of the Nevada test conducted just a month earlier. Analysts believe this decision was primarily taken to convey a message to the rest of the world community and especially to the Soviet Union: the emergence of the US as the sole leader of the post-war world. Predictably, other nations followed suit to produce the atomic bomb: the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and lastly, China in 1964. Ten years later, India demonstrated its technical capability and conducted its first “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” in 1974. Twenty-four years later, in May 1998, India and Pakistan conducted further tests and declared themselves nuclear weapon capable states.

It was in protest against nuclear testing by France that the valiant ship “Rainbow Warrior” belonging to Greenpeace was lost. She was sunk by French agents on July 10, 1985, whilst moored at Auckland harbour, in New Zealand. She was due to sail the next day for Mururoa Atoll, the venue of the French tests. Needless to say, this triggered a worldwide outcry and David Lange, then Prime Minister of New Zealand, described it as “a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism.” Not only have Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear activists in civil society protested against nuclear testing, but India too has been at the forefront, calling for global nuclear disarmament. Despite almost 35 years of the Non Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT) existence, the Nuclear Weapons States (NWSs) have failed to carry out nuclear disarmament as per Article VI. All that the world community has been able to achieve during this period is to give the NPT a fresh lease of life into perpetuity. Meanwhile, efforts to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force have also failed. The US rejected the CTBT in the Senate, and that virtually sealed its fate. The two five yearly NPT review meetings held at the United Nations in 2000 and recently in May this year, have both resulted in virtual disaster. Nothing tangible has been possible in persuading the NWSs to move towards nuclear disarmament.

In a few weeks from now, we shall be remembering the hundreds of thousands lost in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If anything, the world is becoming more and more of a dangerous place to live in. Despite the end of the Cold War, both Russia and the US have nearly 3,000 nukes under hair trigger alert. We have enough nuclear warheads to destroy this beautiful planet many times over. Not content with this, every NWS has been engaged in upgrading its nuclear inventories with the latest technologies. Whilst all this may sound exciting, the problem of managing nukes with safety is yet to be attained. Many questions still remain unanswered. How are we to ensure correct interpretation of intent, especially if deception is in the mind of the adversary? If things are going very badly in the conventional warfare scene, can we be sure that the losing party will still not raise the level to a nuclear exchange? Can these weapons not be deployed either by accident or due to a misinterpretation of detection on any one of the many sensors? What then is the way ahead?

India needs to take the initiative to address nuclear disarmament very seriously. Perhaps the best time is now. Let India build on the Rajiv Gandhi plan for total nuclear disarmament as presented by him to the U.N. in 1988. India should convene an International Conference by inviting all the Nuclear Weapons States and also those 43 states listed for bringing the CTBT into force. This would provide a great opportunity to all the countries to put on the table their concerns and contributions for making this world a safer place to live in. Now that India is a nuclear weapons capable nation, an initiative of this nature at this stage would be widely welcomed by the world community.

Whilst the ultimate goal must remain to run down nuclear weapons to zero, even partial success like achieving a consensus on `de-alerting’ will be a great step forward. For as long as these horrible weapons exist, there is always the danger that they could be used either by accident or design. Let the loss of so many innocents and that of the “Rainbow Warrior” not go in vain. The struggle must continue to make this planet a safe place for all of us and successive generations to come.

Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas is a former Chief of India’s Naval Staff.

Originally published in the Hindu.