President Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima was rich in symbolism, but light on substance. Echoing his landmark Prague speech in 2009, Obama recommitted the US to a nuclear-free world, but with no reference to how this would be achieved. The Hiroshima visit and the President’s remarks may have been a milestone the nuclear disarmament discourse, but it obscured the favourable light in which nuclear weapons are still seen by many countries.

As unpalatable as it is to advocates of nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapons remain central to the defence and security of a wide range of states. Predictions that nuclear weapons would decline in strategic value have failed to materialise, and they are arguably more significant than ever in shaping key facets of international relations. Importantly, this is the case not only for nuclear-armed states and nuclear wannabees like Iran, but also for the dynamics of America’s Asian and European alliances.

While they vary in their levels of anxiety, and therefore in their respective need to be assured by US nuclear guarantees, all of America’s allies see extended nuclear deterrence as a symbol of Washington’s commitment to their security. For some it is a means of putting off potentially awkward decisions about national nuclear capability. Nuclear weapons form part of the security guarantees the US has extended to allies for several decades. It is most obvious in the case of NATO as a ‘nuclear alliance’, and is also the case in the bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Read the full “Obama’s Hiroshima rhetoric obscures growing role for nuclear weapons” article in The Lowy Interpreter by Stephan Frühling, associate professor in the Strategic and Defence Centre, ANU, and Andrew O’Neil, professor and dean in the Griffith University Business School.