Commentary. The world is poised for a nuclear disaster. Instead of turning down the heat, governments have been pushing for even stronger weapons.

The darkness of atomic terror

There is a rumor that a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear site in North Korea collapsed on Oct. 10, causing 200 deaths. The incident, with a potential risk of radioactive leaks, could be a consequence of the nuclear test held on Sept. 3 that caused a magnitude 6.3 earthquake.

We use the conditional because the information comes from the South Korean news agency Yonhap, and South Korea is engaged in the clash between Pyongyang and the White House, despite being led by the pacifist Moon Jae-in. The incident was also announced by the Japanese TV station Asahi, while Premier Shinzo Abe, strong after his electoral victory, kicks off the country’s resurgence by abolishing the post-war Constitution.

And yet, even though it may be propaganda, the suspicion alone that the accident may have happened is cause for legitimate alarm. Not only for diplomats ahead of Trump’s visit Asia in a few days, but above all for the powerless citizens of earth, whose security is not being cared for by anyone, neither in the East nor in the West.

Once again the world is forced to look apprehensively at the dangerous North Korean nuclear and missile tests. By a regime of “dynastic socialism” that, in order to save the power of Kim Jong-un’s family leadership and the militarized border of an unfinished war, is preparing a wicked race toward a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang intends, however, to stop the very real atomic threat from the United States, whose nearby base in Guam and B-52 bombers in perpetual flight have a nuclear target on North Korea.

That’s the dirty and risky nuclear game: Those who gain an atomic weapon are almost certain not to be attacked, while other nations that did not have weapons of mass destruction have been attacked.

We are in a nasty situation where a small circle of states maintains the nuclear weapons oligopoly, and those that have them threaten those that don’t. It is more and more likely that others will try to procure them. In addition to the nine countries that already possess nuclear weapons, there are at least another 35 capable of building them.

That cruel, shadowy truth instills a quiet terror. The general picture is that of a growing arms race that, while maintaining a nuclear arsenal capable of eradicating the human species from the face of the earth, points to technologically increasingly sophisticated warheads and vectors.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates North Korea has “enough fissile material to potentially produce 10 to 20 nuclear warheads, but there is no evidence to indicate that it has been able to build nuclear warheads to be transported by ballistic missiles.”

But according to FAS, the U.S. keeps 6,800 nuclear warheads, of which 1,650 strategic and 150 non-strategic ones are ready to be launched at any time. Including the French and British nuclear arsenals (300 and 215 respectively), NATO’s nuclear arsenals include 7,315 nuclear warheads, of which 2,200 are ready to launch, compared to 7,000 in Russia, of which 1,950 are ready to launch. Moreover, about 550 U.S., French and British ready-to-launch nuclear warheads are in Europe, close to Russian territory. When we add the bombs in China (270), Pakistan (120-130), India (110-120) and Israel (about 80 but their existence isn’t acknowledged), the total number of nuclear warheads is estimated to be around 15,000. And now Trump wants to order the American atomic arsenal to be increased.

Part of this plan is the replacement of the American B61 nuclear bombs deployed in Italy — 50 to 70 atomic bombs stored in the “landscaped” Italian sites of Ghedi and Aviano — and other European countries, with the new B61-12, which are first-strike weapons. Another is to install the so-called “anti-missile shield” to neutralize the enemy’s retaliation, like the one deployed by the U.S. in Europe against Russia, and in South Korea, not against North Korea but actually against China. And Russia and China naturally will pursue the modernization of their own nuclear arsenals.

That is why the disaster on the North Korean site helps to illuminate the darkness of global atomic terror. In the silence of governments, like Italy’s, which says it’s ready to review the strategy of nuclear armament with allies but does not adhere to the U.N. treaty issued before the summer that banned atomic weapons.

Thus, amid the political inertia and indifference — while half a point of GDP weighs more than atomic terror — Pope Francis decided to make a move in the wake of the U.N. treaty and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. He called for a congress in the Vatican entitled “Prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament.” In addition to “heavy weight” interlocutors like NATO, unforgettable witnesses will attend: the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Francis’ call for this peace summit is simple and should be understood in Pyongyang as well as in Washington, Ghedi and Aviano: “Humanity risks suicide.”

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