Nuclear weapons cannot guarantee peace
A recent article on moves to make Southeast Asia a nuclear-free zone (‘Nuclear Brinkmanship’, Nik Luqman, Dec. 2022) served as a timely reflection on re-emerging genocidal issues within the Asia-Pacific theatre. I was glad the article gave little credence to the so-called ‘nuclear peace theory’, which maintains that nuclear-armed states are less likely to go to war with each other because a ‘peace’ develops as a consequence of their weaponisation.It is founded on the premise that nuclear weapons are not meant to be used in combat.
However, they have been used. Indeed, upon seeing the catastrophic and indiscriminate damage of the Hiroshima bomb in August 1945 – and undaunted by the deaths of around 125,000 people – US President Harry S. Truman ordered another attack three days later on the Japanese port of Nagasaki. This proves that a willingness to press the button sits well within the human temperament.
Emergencies arose during the Cold War between America and the USSR. While the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is well known, less familiar is a situation in 1983 when military drills by NATO forces in Europe almost led to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If there were no nuclear weapons on account of global disarmament – or because it was illegal to produce them – the world would not have faced such threats of annihilation.
Fear is an important aspect to consider here. Even if one accepts that nuclear weapons offer a peace of sorts, there can be little doubt that they provoke extenuating levels of mortal fear. Psychology suggests that when people are fearful, they are reluctant to engage in dialogue. The art of active listening breaks down.
We should also consider the financial burden placed upon the citizens of nuclear armed states. In North Korea, for example, people experience hardship as the government invests in its nuclear programme above all other priorities, keeping the country desperately poor.
Dr Colin Alexander
Senior Lecturer in Political Communications, Nottingham Trent University, UK
China’s Covid challenge
‘The ringmaster and his charmed circle’ (Richard Gregson, Nov. 2022) quoted Xi Jinping’s claims that his zero-Covid policy had ‘successfully contained the infection’ and that his country has made great sacrifices to fight the disease. Lockdowns well into 2022 sparked a wave of protests in November, which were followed by a loosening of restrictions.
China’s zero-Covid approach has drawn much international criticism. However, in the early days of the pandemic – when we knew little about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and had no effective medical interventions – lockdowns significantly reduced the spread of the virus and prevented many deaths in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
Recognising the social and economic costs of a strict elimination strategy, and armed with effective vaccines and antiviral therapies, these countries were then able to successfully transition to a so-called ‘living with Covid’ situation. Mass vaccination and a high level of manageable infections created a wall of protective immunity which reduced the number of people with severe disease and eased the burden on healthcare systems. This is not the case in China.
While China’s zero-Covid policy has resulted in far fewer deaths than most other countries, sticking with this extreme approach has led to vaccine hesitancy. Transitioning away from zero-Covid risks widespread infection, resulting in high levels of severe disease and death. There is also a danger that new variants of the virus emerge.
In my view, the only way to safely exit from this situation is to expedite mass vaccination with an effective booster vaccine. Preferably this would be an mRNA vaccine – such as the one made by Pfizer BioNTech – or a domestic version developed by a Chinese company.
December’s easing of restrictions, plans to use more lateral flow tests, accelerate vaccine programmes for the elderly and take a more targeted approach towards lockdowns seem to be the basis of a sensible strategy. The success of this transition away from zero-Covid is not only crucial for the welfare of China’s people and its economy; it is also vital for the rest of the world and the global route out of this pandemic.
Lawrence S. Young PhD DSc FRCPath FRCP FMedSci
Virologist & Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, UK
UN a cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy
I welcome the debate in Asian Affairs about whether Japan should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (‘Give Japan a permanent seat at the UN’s top table’, Letters, Dec. 2022). Japan has prioritised UN-centred diplomacy as a cornerstone of its foreign policy since its admission to the UN in 1956.
Japan is a dedicated architect of a rules-based international order and upholds multilateralism. In the maritime domain, it is of vital importance to maintain and strengthen a free and open order by promoting freedom of navigation, free trade as well as respect for international law. Another crucial element for the future of the UN is promoting respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Japan is currently serving as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, where it continues to play a meaningful role in the protection and promotion of human rights, including those of women and children.
Let’s stand with Iran’s protesters
I am grateful for your editorial and article on the protests in Iran, what they mean for the future of the regime, and the need for targeted rather than blanket sanctions against this repressive government. But while the editorial posits, reasonably enough, that ‘it may not be too late for Iran, if the regime pulls back and thinks out of the box’, I fear that the recent executions of protesters indicate that such time has passed. Iran’s rulers are very much caught within the narrow and cruel confines of their ‘box’, so the international community must now step up to the plate and do all in its power to punish them – not the Iranian people.
Samuel M. Kane