The year is 1952. Reed Hadley, beloved movie star, is playing the role not of villain or protagonist, but of narrator. He’s used to this. In addition to his good looks, he also possesses a voice perfect for narration, whether in movies or documentaries. But while this type of work is routine, the subject for this particular documentary is not. Hadley has been recruited to be the narrator of the official government production surrounding the first US test of a hydrogen bomb, Operation Ivy.
By the time the US was ready to test this bomb (named “Mike”), it had already tested many other nuclear weapons, each a version of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima. That bomb was the simplest. Over the years, as the nuclear arms race escalated, the US and the Soviet Union would carry out a bevy of tests meant to project an image of superior firepower. But nuclear bombs are not like guns or grenades; conventional explosives also pale in comparison. Each new test was a testament to the growing destructive capabilities possessed by the human race.
Operation Ivy the Film was a 30-minute documentary meant to inform the American public about the awesome power of nuclear weapons–particularly those of the hydrogen sort. During the film, just before Mike is dropped on Bikini Atoll, Hadley addresses the audience, saying that if this bomb is a success, the world will enter a new age of hydrogen nuclear power.
To most individuals, this pronouncement seems grim. But at this point in the film, minutes before the explosion is to take place, the tone is upbeat–even hopeful. It is only when the bomb goes off and the explosion fills the screen that the audience is reminded of how dangerous an age this new one will be.
Operation Ivy happened 60 years ago. Since then, the planet has not been devastated by nuclear war. In fact, no weapons have been detonated as an act of war, and treaties like the CTBT and the NPT have ensured that only nine countries possess nuclear weapons, instead of the dozens once predicted.
Yet two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War and half a century after the first nuclear weapon engulfed Hiroshima, our world still lies in the shadow of nuclear war. Fears of an arms race initiated by a potentially nuclear Iran grip policymakers and civilians alike. Four weapons states remain outside the NPT. Pakistan and India, one of the world’s most active rivalries, both possess nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Pakistan’s deteriorating stability raises alarms about the feasibility and probability of an act of nuclear terrorism in the near future.
We live in a nuclear age, where every act of war, violence, and terrorism brings us that much closer to nuclear war. Poverty, starvation and weak economies lead to instability and delegitimization of governments; nuclear weapons and materials in these countries are susceptible to theft or misuse. Illegal markets that promote the trafficking of drugs and humans can also aid in the trafficking of uranium and plutonium. Even now, there are 19,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and there are materials enough to make over 200,000 more. In the best case scenario, if a nuclear war broke out today, some inhabitants of the Southern hemisphere might survive. You can forget about those of us in the North.
The world is changing. War is changing. But until radical steps are taken to decrease the risks of nuclear war initiated by state AND non-state actors, the threat of nuclear warfare will remain the same.
This blog seeks to compile information about issues pertaining to international security, always keeping in mind that ours is a nuclear age. This blog does not seek to be a forum for answers. All views expressed on this blog are those of the author and have been shaped by the author’s own research. Readers of this blog are encouraged to seek out multiple viewpoints and to form their opinions based on fact rather than the opinions of others. Whenever possible, the author will strive to keep this blog’s content as factual and unbiased as possible, and the author will also seek to alert readers to other viewpoints whenever applicable.