All over the newspapers, internet and TV today we are seeing the unbelievable devastation caused by the earthquake near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thousands of collapsed buildings, infrastructure destroyed, an unknown (but very high) number of people dead or missing. My heart aches at the suffering this natural disaster has caused.
When I came in to work this morning, my thoughts turned to images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Just as in Haiti today, buildings collapsed and a city was destroyed. In Japan, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in a very short period of time, not by a natural disaster but a man-made one. The US atomic bombs, nicknamed "Little Boy" and "Fat Man," brought unforgettable destruction and anguish to those two Japanese cities.
Today, there are about 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 95% of which are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. The average destructive power of a nuclear weapon today is much higher than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost 65 years ago. The US and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert, a dangerous carry-over from the Cold War.
Human beings have not figured out how to prevent natural disasters such as earthquakes. But we CAN prevent tragedies like Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening ever again. As the Dalai Lama once said of nuclear weapons, "Is it not logical that we should remove the cause for our own destruction when we know the cause and have both the time and the means to do so?"
This year, President Obama and other world leaders have multiple opportunities to eliminate nuclear weapons and thus avoid an unparalleled catastrophe. The United States' Nuclear Posture Review, which will set US nuclear policy for years to come, is due out by March 1. In April, President Obama will host a high-level summit on nuclear security. In May, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference will bring together nearly all the countries in the world to discuss and (hopefully) progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
With sufficient public pressure and political will, we can avoid man-made nuclear devastation that would be beyond anything humanity has ever experienced.