Liberation Days minus 7771 (entry #3)

Aaron Tovish
6 min readApr 25, 2024

Please note: “Days” rather than “Day”.

Why plural and not singular? “Let me list the reasons.”

(1) The celebration aspect should come after the completion of the one-day disablement exercise.

(2) After a “century of living dangerously” (better: “recklessly”) a party rolling around the world for three days is in order (not a mere single day).

(3) Nagasaki. Nagasaki has always been Hiroshima’s poor cousin. Hit three days later by an even more powerful explosion, per capita, Nagasaki suffered more grievously. This, despite the fact that the Bomb was dropped way off target. Nagasaki inhabits three valleys. The plan was to explode the Bomb where the valleys converged, allowing the shock waves to go up all three valleys. But when the bomber plane reached Nagasaki, it was almost completely clouded over. Through a small gap in the cloud the bombardier saw buildings and that’s where he dropped it.

Urakami Valley was where most of Nagasaki’s Catholics lived; their cathedral (the largest in Asia at that time) was blasted to bits. But if the bomb had been on target, the carnage throughout Nagasaki would have been three times worse. Furthermore, the Urikami blast actually did more damage to Japan’s naval assets than an on-target blast would have done. So much to the vaunted claim that the Bombs targeted military assets!

The key thing is that the worldwide, popular movement for a nuclear weapon free world “totally owns” these four days in 2045. We do that by laying claim to them already NOW, and shaping them to OUR vision of the future. These days must not be just an “historical centenary”; it must be about the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one.

At the end of Entry #2, I promised to address the weaknesses of nuclear first-use policies and the strengths of no-first-use policies. Henceforth I will eschew the word “first” in favor of “initiate” as in, “It’s a really,really bad idea to initiate nuclear warfare.” The point being that it is not about going first or second, it’s about giving the world its best chance of not being plunged into a nuclear war. This is not a minor distinction, because in conventional warfare preemptive attack is considered a legitimate, even smart, move. That is, if an enemy attack appears imminent, beating them to the punch may be a logical thing to do. But when, as with nuclear “weapons”, the overarching requirement is to avoid nuclear war, instilling fear in the enemy that they might be beaten to the punch if they hesitate any longer, is exactly the wrong approach. It is much better if they don’t feel rushed, and upon further reflection realize that it is best to show reciprocal restraint than mutual annihilation.

Ideally, both sides can count on their adversary to demonstrate nuclear restraint. When India and China, the two powers that practice such restraint, clash over their common border in the Himalayas, the world is not thrust into nuclear crisis mode.

Even if only one side in a conflict has an established policy not to initiate nuclear warfare, it is a crucial stabilizing factor. When India and Pakistan clash, India’s no-first-use policy assures Pakistan that it can hold its nuclear fire without fear of being preempted. This buys precious time for diplomatic intervention.

As the Liberation Days count underscores, we have to avoid nuclear war for another 7771 days while we strive mightily to establish a nuclear “weapon” free world. Assuming we make it to August 9, next year, that’s 80 years since Nagasaki and 20 years till Liberation Days. If the odds of making it through 20 years of nuclear arms racing and stand-offs is, say, 50/50, then luck has given us four heads in a row. Who’s to say we will be so lucky going forward?

Doesn’t it make sense to shift the odds of making it to 2045 significantly in our favor? That’s what renouncing all options to initiate nuclear warfare is about. That and other important risk reduction measures which this Great Renunciation will pave the way for.

And what about paving the way for disarmament? (Yes, I haven’t forgotten disarmament.) As mentioned in #2, developing and deploying nuclear-war-initiation options have been a major feature of the nuclear arms race. With the Great Renunciation, all the “weapons” created for those options will become obsolete and easier to unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilateral dispense with. The strictly retaliatory systems will be harder to unilaterally or bilaterally relinquish. That’s what Day One of Liberation Days is all about: tackling the logistical challenge of simultaneous, global elimination. But clearly, many other facets of launching and establishing a nuclear weapon free world will need to be in place prior to 6 August 2045. These facets will be taken up one-by-one in future Countdown #s, as well as why “simultaneously” is so important.

Enough theory for today! What about action?

During the past week I have been working with my good colleagues in NoFirstUse Global on how to draw attention to a very positive step taken by China, as announced at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in late February. To cut to the chase: we would like the United States to take up the Chinese no-first-use proposal, and for China to reciprocate by considering US risk reduction proposals. As it stands now each is viewing its own proposal as the sine qua non, and the other’s proposal as distraction. This is a classic case where “third party intervention” could break the deadlock.

We are drafting a letter to Xi and Biden urging them to make the win-win compromise of “all the above”. The odds that the letter will gain the attention it merits are not particularly good, so we are discussing now how to then use it to prompt action by actors who can get a fair hearing. I will report back on these developments in due course. Here I will just supply a little background which readers ought to know as this goes forward.

2022 was about to go down as the most dismal year of the Nuclear Age. Rather than belabor the litany of setback and broken promises, I refer the reader to the “Doomday Clock” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It was like we were inexorably sliding down the cliff-face into the nuclear abyss. Personally, I was in desperation mode, but that’s a story for another time.

Suddenly, an unexpected foothold appeared and our descent was arrested. Could it be exploited to crawl back up and out of the abyss?

I refer to the November 2022 Summit of the Group of Twenty (G20) in Bali, Indonesia and the statement the leaders issued, particularly eleven words of it: “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” None of the six nuclear armed states’ leaders had ever said anything remotely so clear cut about nuclear “weapons” before, individually, much less collectively.

Paradoxically, the sweeping nature of this true breakthrough was its main weakness. There was no way that defense establishments in at least four of the six nuclear armed states would receive this stance favorably. While they do not, by any means, favor use of nuclear “weapons”, they fervently (and illogically) believe that the threat to start using them is the best way of preventing their use by their adversary. A hint of this opposition was soon seen in Hiroshima, where the Group of Seven (G7) Summit was held in 2023.

What a perfect setting, one might imagine, to underscore the inadmissibility of what had been inflicted upon Hiroshima in 1945! But no, their statement focussed solely on the admissibility of Russia’s threatening rhetoric over Ukraine. Yes, it would have been wrong not to call out Russia’s violation of the Bali eleven-words, but it left the impression that “inadmissibility” entailed no accountability of their own actions, not only in 1945, but also quite recently. For example, paraphrasing Truman’s message following the bombing of Hiroshima, Trump — from the podium of the UN General Assembly! — threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea.

(President Bush Sr. during the first Gulf War: “All options are on the table.” Reporter: “Including the nuclear option?” Bush: “ALL options.”)

The acid test would be the 2023 G20 Summit in Delhi, India. Sure enough, the eleven-words made it through again, unscathed! Later in New York, the State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons declared their “approval” of this stance.

So what’s the problem? This: first-use options are in immediate and direct contradiction to “inadmissibility”; real progress will only be possible when they are renounced. Without that, the eleven-words are only that, eleven words. Someone had to step forward and say, “Walk the talk.” And this is what China has done. Now, the other nuclear armed states have to respond, not to a broad ban on use and threat, but to a specific ban on initiating nuclear war. This puts the defense establishments in a bind; what are they going to say, “No, we want to threaten the initiation of nuclear war.”?!?

The cliff-face foothold may soon serve as a platform for reaching higher, toward the light.