As words fly fiercely and tensions mount over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, world leaders would do well to remember the singular lesson of this week in history:
Never again. We have seen the devastating consequences of these weapons before. We cannot get this wrong.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States deployed the first nuclear weapon, killing 140,000 people in Hiroshima. Wednesday is the anniversary of the second attack, when 70,000 died in Nagasaki, hastening the end of World War II. Those bombs were not as powerful as the ones that exist today.
Yet the dream of a non-nuclear world remains remote. Last month, the UN announced its first pact to ban nuclear arms. But neither the nine nations with nuclear weapons nor Japan participated in the process. Unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to test missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland.
The UN Security Council responded by levying its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea, costing the impoverished country up to $1 billion a year. Most encouraging was China’s yes vote on the new penalties it drafted with the United States. Kim will not be deterred, if he can be at all, without help from his main benefactor.
Bellicose words and displays of military strength only inflame hostilities. Better to turn down the temperature via diplomacy. Meeting is better than not meeting. Talking is better than not talking. It was good news that North Korea’s foreign minister sat down last weekend with colleagues from South Korea, China and Russia, and that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held open the possibility of direct talks with North Korea.
The way to a more peaceful future lies in lessons learned 72 years ago. Never again.