THE ULTIMATE EVIL: The Moral Imperative Of the Abolition Of Nuclear Weapons

An Address to Chautauqua Institution Seminar
April 13, 2002
By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative

During the past decade, in many seminars I have conducted with students and the public, I have come to the realization that the farther in time humanity moves from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the less is understood about the full meaning of nuclear weapons.

* * *

The Lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

At 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close in the Pacific, an American atomic bomb exploded 580 metres above the heart of Hiroshima. It contained a small amount of uranium-235 and produced the energy equivalent of 15,000 tons (15 kilotons) of TNT. An intense flash of light flooded the city centre. With the roar that followed, enormous pillars of flame burst toward the skies, as most buildings crumbled and many people died or were injured. Old and young, male and female, soldier and civilian -- the killing was utterly indiscriminate. The entire city was exposed to the compound and devastating effects of thermal rays, shock wave blast, and radiation.

The Hiroshima bomb generated intense heat that shot out from a fireball about 280 metres in diameter. The thermal rays emanating from it are thought to have instantly charred any human being outdoors near the hypocentre (the surface point directly below the explosion). As far as two kilometers from the hypocenter, people's clothing burst into flames. Fires ignited simultaneously across the city, reducing it to char and ashes.

After the initial shock wave, an extremely powerful wind of nearly 1,000 miles per hour tore through the city. People were lifted and carried through the air by this blast. All wooden buildings within a radius of about two kilometres collapsed; many well beyond that distance were badly damaged. The blast and thermal rays combined to totally burn or collapse 70 percent of the more than 76,000 dwellings in Hiroshima at the time.

There was also radiation damage. Immediately after the explosion, the area was bathed in high levels of initial radiation -- gamma rays and neutrons. Within a radius of about one kilometre of the hypocentre, nearly everyone who suffered full body exposure to radiation died. Those who initially managed to survive soon succumbed to the radiation's after-effects. Many not directly exposed to the bomb approached the hypocentre to offer help and sickened or died due to residual radiation.

Hospitals were in ruins, medical staff was dead or injured, and there were no medicines or equipment. Despite their own burns and injuries, survivors worked frantically to help others, but after a few days or weeks, fever, diarrhea, hemorrhaging, and extreme fatigue claimed many more lives. All told, more than 200,000 people died.

Three days later, on August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the Urakami district of Nagasaki, home to a large Christian population that had kept the light of faith alive during the long period of persecution from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The Mayor of Nagasaki has recorded the effect of the explosion:

The explosion of the atomic bomb generated an enormous fireball, 200 metres in radius, almost as though a small sun had appeared in the sky. The next instant, a ferocious blast and wave of heat assailed the ground with a thunderous roar. The surface temperature of the fireball was about 7,000oC, and the heat rays that reached the ground were over 3,000oC. The explosion instantly killed or injured people within a two-kilometre radius of the hypocentre, leaving innumerable corpses charred like clumps of charcoal and scattered in the ruins near the hypocentre. In some cases, not even a trace of the person's remains could be found. A wind of over [680 miles per hour] slapped down trees and demolished most buildings. Even iron-reinforced concrete structures were so badly damaged that they seemed to have been smashed by a giant hammer. The fierce flash of heat meanwhile melted glass and left metal objects contorted like strands of taffy, and the subsequent fires burned the ruins of the city to ashes. Nagasaki became a city of death where not even the sounds of insects could be heard.

After a while, countless men, women and children began to gather for a drink of water at the banks of nearby Urakami River, their hair and clothing scorched and their burnt skin hanging off in sheets like rags. Begging for help, they died one after another in the water or in heaps on the banks. Then radiation began to take its toll, killing people like a scourge [of] death expanding in concentric circles from the hypocentre. Four months after the atomic bombing, 74,000 people were dead and 75,000 had suffered injuries, that is, two-thirds of the city population had fallen victim to this calamity that came upon Nagasaki like a preview of the Apocalypse.

The suffering caused by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was immense. However, those original atomic bombs were primitive by today's standards. Their explosive power was about 15 kilotons, 15,000 tons of TNT. In subsequent years, vastly more powerful nuclear weapons were developed as new technologies emerged to make weapons and their delivery systems ever more efficient and deadly. Bombs in the megaton (equivalent to one million tons of TNT) and multiple-megaton range, even up to twenty megatons, were developed. A one-megaton bomb carries 70 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. A five-megaton weapon would represent more explosive power than all bombs used in World War II combined! Huge arsenals of awesome destructive power were amassed during the Cold War in a seemingly never-ending search for security based on the threat of mass devastation.

At the peak of the Cold War, there were more than 70,000 nuclear warheads in existence, and the point had long been passed where all the nuclear weapons in the world had sufficient destructive power to destroy all life on the planet many times over. The fact that there have been post-Cold War reductions in numbers does not lessen the assault on humanity nuclear weapons represent, for the use of even a few of them could wreak intolerable damage to the life-support systems of the planet.

The essential facts about nuclear weapons, seemingly lost on succeeding generations are these: With their colossal power and capacity for slaughter and destruction, nuclear weapons make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants or between military installations and civilian communities; moreover, the radiation released by these weapons cannot be confined to specific military targets. Nuclear weapons are inhuman tools for mass slaughter and destruction.

Yet there is in the public mind what the psychologist Robert Jay Lifton has called “a collective form of psychic numbing" about nuclear weapons. Misleading official statements and government secrecy have contributed to a sort of societal amnesia. When the subject does surface, there is a form of denial about the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. to mark the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1995, political pressure from Congress resulted in the removal of any artifact or photo depicting the damage. Rather than coming to terms with the bombing, and what it should mean in the modern context, Americans continue to treat Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a threat to their national self-image.

When the President of the International Court of Justice called nuclear weapons “the ultimate evil," his words were ignored in Washington, where the Administration continues to hold that nuclear weapons play an essential role in U.S. military doctrine. Nuclear retentionists hide the brutalities of nuclear weapons behind a veil of generalities, platitudes and obfuscation. One of the favourite phrases of nuclear proponents is “unintended collateral damage": any civilian deaths from a nuclear bomb are unfortunate but unintended. Such phrases make a mockery of language. The very nature of the nuclear weapon is to kill massively. A close and unvarnished examination of the technological leap represented by nuclear weapons is essential to an understanding of the multifarious threats to the human condition they pose. Nuclear weapons stand indicted in the court of world opinion. In the words of George Kennan, a distinguished American diplomat, who originated the U.S. “containment" policy towards the Soviet Union:

. . . the readiness to use nuclear weapons against other human beings -- against people we do not know, whom we have never seen, and whose guilt or innocence it is not for us to establish -- and, in doing so, to place in jeopardy the natural structure upon which all civilization rests, as though the safety and perceived interests of our own generation were more important than everything that has taken place or could take place in civilization: this is nothing less than a presumption, a blasphemy, an indignity -- an indignity of monstrous dimensions -- offered to God!"

* * *

An 'Unequivocal Undertaking' to Elimination

For more than thirty years, the international community has struggled to eliminate nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the five declared nuclear weapons states: the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China.

In 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty came into existence and, with 187 states parties, it is now the largest arms control and disarmament treaty in the world. The NPT involves five commitments: acceptance of a political and moral norm against the possession of nuclear weapons; the obligation to eliminate existing stocks; international cooperation in the peaceful use of energy; special assistance to developing countries; measures to ensure a world free of nuclear weapons. It is well established that the NPT represents a bargain between those who possessed nuclear weapons in 1970 and those who did not. In return for non-nuclear states not developing nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states agreed to negotiate their elimination. In essence, the NPT promised a world in which nuclear weapons would be eliminated and technological cooperation for development would be widespread.

The centerpiece of the NPT is Article VI, which states:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Before the ink was dry, nations began arguing over the meaning of this Article. The nuclear weapons states said they were only obliged to negotiate nuclear elimination in the context of a treaty on general and complete disarmament. The non-nuclear weapons states maintained that nuclear negotiations should come first.

The U.S. and the Soviet Union (later Russia), which possess about 95 percent of all the nuclear weapons in the world, did negotiate reductions in their stocks of operationally deployed nuclear weapons. But the cuts were largely of superfluous arms, both countries maintaining that the preservation of nuclear weapons was essential. Today, twelve years after the end of the Cold War, there are still 31,000 nuclear weapons in existence, with about 5,000 maintained on hair-trigger alert so that they could be detonated on 15 minutes' notice. In addition to those held by the original five nuclear countries, India, Pakistan and Israel now possess nuclear weapons. India's argument is trenchant: as long as the original five – which are the five permanent members of the Security Council – continue to possess nuclear weapons and refuse to negotiate their elimination, then India must also possess them as the currency of power.

The International Court of Justice entered this dilemma with an Advisory Opinion in 1996, which said that nations are obliged to conclude negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Court insisted that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally contravene the rules of humanitarian law. The Court could not reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality of use of nuclear weapons in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which its very survival would be at stake. But it issued a strong appeal for nations to act – as Article VI of the NPT obliges – “in good faith." The Court added: “Any realistic search for general and complete disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, necessitates the cooperation of all states."

But cooperation between the nuclear and the non-nuclear states is precisely what has been missing through the years. When the 2000 Review of the NPT was held, the mood was one of frustration. To find some way through the impasse, a group of middle power states – Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden – formed a New Agenda Coalition in 1998 to work together to press the nuclear weapons states to honour their obligations for comprehensive negotiations. At first rebuffed by the nuclear states, the New Agenda gained credibility and found themselves at the 2000 Review at the centre of discussions with the nuclear states. The result was a commitment from the nuclear weapons states that systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI would include:

An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states parties are committed under Article VI.
This commitment was embodied in a list of 13 practical steps the conference unanimously agreed to take. These included a moratorium on nuclear testing until a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban (CTBT) comes into force, negotiations for a ban on the production of fissile materials, measures to reduce the operational status of nuclear systems and a diminished role for nuclear weapons in policies, a reaffirmation of the goal of general and complete disarmament, and more verification techniques.
* * *

The U.S. and 'Good Faith' Requirements

The 13-step achievement was termed by the New Agenda “an important landmark on which to build a nuclear weapons free world." But this buoyancy was short-lived. When an international conference on the CTBT was held in 2001, the U.S. refused to attend, holding that it did not support a CTBT. In fact, President Clinton was the first leader to sign the treaty when it was opened for signature in 1996, but when it later came up for ratification in the Senate, it was rejected in a highly-partisan 51-48 vote. The Bush Administration then took over and showed its hostility to the treaty by cutting its share of the funding for the office that is developing strong verification techniques. The CTBT cannot come into effect without the ratification of the U.S. and currently 12 other states, including India, Pakistan and Israel which even refuse to sign it.

Despite the imbroglio over the CTBT, President Bush has offered to cut further the U.S. stock of deployed weapons. On the surface, this is a welcome move, but the international community is skeptical, since the cuts will not be irreversible, i.e., the weapons can be remounted again quickly. And such cuts, if actually implemented, will leave the U.S. with at least 2,200 operationally deployed warheads in 2012, plus many more inactive nuclear weapons. An even more serious objection to U.S. behaviour is the matter of the development of new nuclear weapons. Is the U.S. now acting in “good faith" when its nuclear disarmament efforts consist of getting rid of unneeded weapons while at the same time it is modernizing its arsenal?

This question has been brought to a head by the latest Nuclear Posture Review, which establishes the broad outline of Pentagon planning for U.S. nuclear strategy and force levels for the next 10 years and beyond. Although the full contents of the Review have not been made public, some information has been released, and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists, has been able to produce an analysis. It is a devastating document because it shows that, while faking restraint, the Bush Administration actually plans to strengthen the U.S. nuclear forces.

Behind the administration's rhetorical mask of post Cold War restraint lie expansive plans to revitalize U.S. nuclear forces, and all the elements that support them, within a so-called 'New Triad' of capabilities that combine nuclear and conventional offensive strikes with missile defenses and nuclear weapons infrastructure.
The NRDC says that the Bush Administration assumes that nuclear weapons will be part of U.S. military forces at least for the next 50 years. It is planning an extensive and expensive series of programs to modernize the existing force, including a new ICBM to be operational in 2020 and a new heavy bomber in 2040. Nuclear weapons will continue to play a “critical role" because they possess “unique properties" that provide “credible military options."

The Nuclear Posture Review maintains a four-fold purpose of possessing nuclear weapons: to “assure allies and friends," “dissuade competitors," “deter aggressors" and “defeat enemies." Over the next 10 years, the Bush Administration's plans call for the U.S. to retain a total stockpile of intact nuclear weapons and weapons components roughly seven to nine times larger than the publicly stated goal of 1,700 to 2,200 “operationally deployed weapons." Operationally deployed weapons are only the visible portion of a huge, hidden arsenal. When to the “accountable' tally of 2,200 is added missiles kept in a responsive mode, non-strategic (i.e., short-range) nuclear weapons, spares and those kept in an inactive category, the total number of U.S. nuclear weapons ten years from now will be as many as 15,000. The justification given for these numbers is that, in the event of an international crisis, “the U.S. may need to revise its nuclear force levels and posture," by returning weapons from what henceforth will be labeled a “responsive" reserve back to the “operationally deployed" force. This “uploading" could be accomplished in a period ranging from days or weeks to months or years, depending on the particular weapon system.

Moving into the future, the Administration plans to invest in better intelligence capabilities for “information operations targeting, weaponeering and strike execution." The Administration believes that deploying missile defences will increase the U.S. ability “to use its power projection forces" by “improving the ability to counter-attack an enemy." The whole U.S. nuclear infrastructure will be upgraded with “entirely new systems." Thus significantly modified and quite possibly new nuclear warheads will be required to accomplish new military missions. The National Nuclear Security Administration is putting in place advance warhead concept design teams at each of the three design laboratories – Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. This initiative will include the development of nuclear weapons to defeat deeply buried targets. All of this is designed to “discourage" other countries from “competing militarily with the United States."

Although the Administration claims that the Nuclear Posture Review discards Cold War practices, the NRDC holds that the Nuclear Posture Review has retained more Cold War doctrine than it has discarded. Moreover, a strong case can now be made that U.S. nuclear polices are not in “good faith" with its requirements under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Bush administration posture of avoiding further binding legal constrains on the U.S. nuclear arsenal, while pursuing the reinvigoration of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex and the development of new nuclear weapons, will be viewed by many nations as a blatant breach of the 'good faith' negotiating standard under the treaty, and tantamount to a U.S. 'breakout' from the NPT.
On the one hand, the U.S. has given its assurance at the 2000 NPT Review that it, with the other nuclear countries, unequivocally undertakes to eliminate its nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it is planning to retain and enhance nuclear weapons for at least the next 50 years. These two positions are in direct contradiction.

The U.S. is not alone in this duplicity. In 2000, Russia still had some 20,000 nuclear weapons and has withdrawn its old pledge not to use them first. Yet Russia has no economic capacity to maintain such huge expenditures and its political leaders would like to scale back sharply. The U.K. has 185 nuclear weapons and the farthest it has gone in nuclear disarmament is to relax the notice to fire weapons from its deployed Trident submarine from “minutes" to days. France has 450 and scorns disarmament talks. China has 400 and has voted at the U.N. to begin comprehensive negotiations towards elimination. Since they are not members of the NPT, India, Pakistan and Israel have not made the “unequivocal" pledge. Yet it is clear that if the major members of the nuclear “club" commenced negotiations towards elimination, world pressure would quickly bring in the other three.

Because of its military strength and commanding position as the world's lone superpower, it is the position of the United States that is central to making progress on nuclear disarmament. The NATO position, that nuclear weapons remain “essential," would fold in an instant if the U.S. took action in entering comprehensive negotiations for elimination. Russia and China, struggling to move their economies into strong positions, do not want to engage in a new nuclear arms race, which is precisely what they fear will happen if and when the U.S. actually deploys a national missile defence. Since the U.S. is pouring huge sums into its defence budget – it will soon be spending, at $400 billion annually, more than the next 15 countries combined – the international community has become rightfully alarmed about U.S. intentions. Nor is the rest of the world reassured when they see the Pentagon's website proclaiming the U.S. intention to weaponize space and thus ensure “full spectrum dominance" in land, sea, air and space.

The U.S. stand has alarmed the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who have responded by moving the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock" forward two minutes – to seven minutes to midnight – the same position as when the clock made its debut in 1947. “Despite a campaign promise to re-think nuclear policy, the Bush administration has taken no significant steps to alter nuclear targeting policies or reduce the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces," said George A. Lopez, Chairman of the Bulletin's Board of Directors. “Meanwhile, domestic weapons laboratories continue working to refine existing warheads and design new weapons, with an emphasis on the ability to destroy deeply buried targets."

The Bulletin also cited the continuing U.S. preference for unilateral rather than cooperative action, and its efforts to impede international agreements designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In particular, the Bulletin criticized U.S. plans to walk away from the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in June, 2002, and its refusal to participate in talks regarding implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Other factors were a general lack of progress on nuclear disarmament; growing concern about the security of nuclear weapons materials worldwide and the crisis between India and Pakistan. The Bulletin also pointed to the growing gap between rich and poor around the world, increasing the potential for violence and war.

The world spotlight is now on the U.S. Will it, or will it not, remain in “good faith" to its commitments under international law?

* * *

Raising Moral Consciousness

The nuclear abolition movements that developed in the 1990s offered logic, law and morality to government leaders as reasons to move to the elimination of nuclear weapons. We might be tempted to despair that we will ever be heard, but that would be the wrong reaction. We are being heard, and the proponents of the status quo are being forced to invent the most preposterous reasons to justify their slavish adherence to weapons that threaten humanity. Those who have worked hard for the elimination of nuclear weapons must be humble enough to recognize that there is still not a vibrant public opinion in our society against nuclear weapons. The public generally does not know enough about the present situation even to be in denial.

The time has come to inject renewed energy into the nuclear weapons debate. The sheer force of this energy must penetrate the consciences of decision-makers in the powerful states and thus transfer the nuclear abolition debate into a whole new field of action. We must rise up above the political, economic, social and cultural blockages to abolition and infuse the societal and political processes with a dynamic of action. The approach I am calling for must be based on our overpowering love for God's planet and all humanity on it. In this call to witness, we will find new confidence in our ability to overcome the temporary denial by politicians and officials who do not understand the power of this transformative moment in history.

The nuclear powers would not be able to so blithely carry on with their nuclear weapons programs if world consciousness, raised to a new recognition of this evil, demanded abolition. But world consciousness has been dulled. We have lived with the bomb so long that it has insinuated itself into our thinking. Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem so long ago, they are but a blur in memory.

The abolition movement seeks to open the eyes of society to “the ultimate evil." Society is certainly not impervious to evil: the Holocaust, AIDS, and genocide have all been recognized as the evils they are. But the ultimate – last, final, most remote in time or space – evil appears to be too far removed from daily life to engage our attention.

It is almost as if the issue is too big to handle. Nuclear weapons assault life on the planet, they assault the planet itself, and in so doing they assault the process of the continuing development of the planet. This is an affront to God, the Creator of the universe, an affront to the mysterious process of creation that makes a connection to an unfathomably distant past that the present generation has no right to interrupt. Nuclear weapons rival the power of God. They challenge God. They lure us into thinking we can control the destiny of the world. They turn upside down the natural morality that ensues from the relationship between God and humanity. Nuclear weapons are evil, because they destroy the process of life itself. They invert order into disorder.

Nuclear weapons are supposed to be governed by the covenants of humanitarian law. In fact, a nuclear war would destroy the very basis of humanitarian law. The structure of our civilization would disappear. Nuclear weapons, with no limitation or proportionality in their effect, make a mockery of the old “just war" theories. How can self-defence be cited as justification for the use of nuclear weapons when their full effect destroys the “self" that is supposed to be defended?

Nuclear weapons will only be abolished when the moral consciousness of humanity is raised, just as it was raised by the moral re-assessment and rejection of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid.

However, the societal acceptance of nuclear weapons cannot be expected to change until the moral leaders of society, particularly churches, present a unified view to the political order. What is religion for if it does not speak with an authoritative moral voice on the relationship of humanity to God? If it is true that scientists, physicians, lawyers and politicians all failed to take immediate action in 1945 to stop nuclear development and hence avoid deterrence, it is also true that the voice of religion was muted. That voice has become stronger but needs to make a greater impact yet.

The World Council of Churches, at its Sixth Assembly, in Vancouver in 1983, did take a strong stand:

The concept of deterrence, the credibility of which depends on the possible use of nuclear weapons, is to be rejected as morally unacceptable and as incapable of safeguarding peace and security in the long term … The production and deployment of nuclear weapons as well as their use constitute a crime against humanity …
Unfortunately, little has been heard from the Council since.

The Catholic Church first addressed this subject at the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65. Though they elaborated their concern that a universal public authority be put in place to outlaw war, the Fathers of the Council, rather grudgingly accepted the strategy of nuclear deterrence. The accumulation of arms, they said, serves “as a deterrent to possible enemy attack." Thus “peace of a sort" is maintained, though the balance resulting from the arms race threatens to lead to war, not eliminate it. The Catholic position on nuclear deterrence was re-stated by Pope John Paul II in a message to the U.N. Second Special Session on Disarmament:

In current conditions, 'deterrence' based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless, in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with the minimum which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.
In this statement, it is readily seen that nuclear deterrence, in order to be acceptable, must lead to disarmament measures. Consequently, deterrence as a single, permanent policy is not acceptable. The American Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace, published in 1983, took up this theme. Though expressing a strong “no" to nuclear war, declaring that a nuclear response to a conventional attack is “morally unjustifiable," and expressing skepticism that any nuclear war could avoid the massive killing of civilians, the bishops gave a “strictly conditioned moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence."

In a five-year follow-up to their letter, the bishops set out criteria to be met in order to continue this morally justifiable basis for deterrence. For example, the bishops said that, in order to be acceptable, nuclear deterrence could not be based on the direct targeting of urban populations. But starting with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, U.S. policy-makers have never excluded the targeting of cities. A nuclear attack cannot exclude the enemy's economic assets, which are located in the industrial-urban complexes. Also, the bishops opposed weapons combining size, accuracy and multiple warheads in a credible first-strike posture. Actually, new weapons now being tested and deployed are enhancing, not lessening, first-strike capability; the modernization process is not just to be able to retaliate against the opponent's strike but to increase the ability to strike first if the need arises.

Much more now needs to be heard from the American Catholic bishops.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II called for the banishment of all nuclear weapons through “a workable system of negotiation, even of arbitration." The speeches of the Holy See's representative at the U.N., Archbishop Renato Martino, have built on this call. Archbishop Martino said those nuclear weapons states resisting negotiations must be challenged:

…for, in clinging to their outmoded rationales for nuclear deterrence they are denying the most ardent aspirations of humanity as well as the opinion of the highest legal authority in the world. Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation. The preservation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty demands an unequivocal commitment to their abolition.
The Parliament of the World's Religions, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, and religious leaders meeting under the auspices of the State of the World Forum have all issued calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions said simply and powerfully: “Every human being must be treated humanely!"

This echoed a dramatic appeal contained in a 1955 manifesto issued by a group of scientists led by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein who, having worked on the development of the atomic bomb, called for its abolition: “We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest."

* * *

Humanity's Common Ground

The abolition of nuclear weapons, however, cannot take place in a vacuum. This effort must be part of an integrated agenda for attaining human security in every part of the world.

Science and technology have made evident the integral relationships that dominate the components of modern life. The commonality of life everywhere is thus revealed. The Earth is one place, subdivided, to be sure, into different nations, cultures and ideologies, yet increasingly seen to be perilously fragile or marvelously productive in ways that no one nation or society can control. The roadmap to survival is now clear: political, ideological and economic domination of one group by another must give way to a new range of cultural and societal values to protect the common good of people who stand on “common ground." Pragmatism forces cooperation.

It is through this prism of the power of technology and science, which paradoxically has led the modern world to downplay the authority of religion, that the unity of humankind can be rediscovered. Religion, at its best moments, has emphasized the integral relationship of all human beings. I do not mean merely that there are certain rights every person possesses. Rather, the qualities of intelligence and will provide a wholeness to the person, lifting up each individual as an integral, conscious part of the universe, a reflection of the divine. We have a duty to one another and are even commanded to love one another (an obligation, one would have to say, that is inconsistent with nuclear stockpiling).

It is ironic that the spiritual insight of human unity, lost for so long, is now sharply pointed up by the revelations of technology. The juxtaposition of the spiritual and pragmatic imperatives of “common ground' makes this a fascinating moment in history. From two different streams has emerged the common goal: a better system of sharing stewardship of the planet. The convergence of the two streams - humane values and political realities - creates a powerful flow of thought and makes possible the projection of a new global ethic.

A new global ethic would establish peace as the goal to be reached by enlarging our understanding of security. Security today demands economic and social development, the protection of human rights, an end to discrimination, as well as viable arms control and disarmament steps. We must, in short, increase our understanding and respect for one another as human beings; for we all have the same joys and sorrows, griefs and hopes. If we can grasp that human reconciliation is at the heart of the new ethic, a new breakthrough to lasting security can be made. Our common purpose is to live in peace so that our common home, the planet, can continue to glisten with the glories of nature and resound with the vibrancy of its inhabitants. This is not a vague concept, but very precise indeed. Through global cooperation, countries in every region could implement those global strategies for collective security and international economic development that have been so painstakingly laid out by the United Nations.

There have been numerous contemporary calls for an ethical response to the planet's problems. One of the most notable of these was a U.N.-sponsored seminar on the ethical and spiritual dimensions of social progress, held as part of preparations for the World Summit for Social Development. Convened at Bled, Slovenia, in October 1994, it sought to advance a common ethical understanding of poverty, employment and social integration and "pave the way for a more holistic perception of international cooperation." The U.N., being by definition a place where it is hard to find a common denominator, has customarily avoided discussions of spirituality, even though two of its Secretaries-General, Dag Hammarskjold and U Thant, were intensely religious men. But this seminar took as a working assumption that spirituality is an integral part of reality and that compassion, altruism, and generosity have the power to move societies away from fear, despair, selfishness, arrogance, and violence. It criticized the "Social Darwinism" spreading through the world as the strong, getting stronger, marginalize the weak:

The same Promethean philosophy, deriving from a concept of Man as master of the universe, has resulted in extensive damage to the planet and destruction of its wealth. In addition to the dangers which this situation presents for the survival of humankind, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the environment which is related to the various forms of violence afflicting contemporary societies.
Fundamental freedoms and civil and political rights represent basic achievements of humanity, "but individual freedom is meaningless and dangerous when not rooted in an ethic and enlightened by the Spirit." Human dignity, "the very nature of the human being as created by God," must be safeguarded by political action and the exercise of power. Thus a new ethic, based on hope not fear, should make it possible to transcend the world's differences. "This moral and spiritual renewal is a matter of urgency."

The moral challenge to nuclear weapons remains weak. It is almost as if moralists are afraid to moralize, as if the argument of immorality loses its impact in a secular world, as if the stamping out of evil cannot compete with scientific advancement. The world ethos is clearly weak in legislating and enforcing the protection of the common good. This is all the more reason for ethicists to speak out, to reach down into the depths of their humanity to decry the very instruments that attack humanity. This is not “moralism," it is not “rhetoric," it is not “simplism." It is rather the recovery of a teaching that the human conscience must assert itself in any understanding of right and wrong. To fail to do this is to consign humanity to the denigration of intellect and the loss of will, to deny it the very essence of humanity.

The nuclear powers -- and at this moment especially the United States -- must be challenged, for, in clinging to spurious, self-serving rationales, they are deliberately deceiving the world. The gravest of futures lies ahead for humanity if the world is to be ruled by militarism rather than law. The doctrine of nuclear deterrence can no longer claim the slightest shred of moral acceptance: it is morally bankrupt. The dangers of proliferation make it essential that religious leaders teach, with one voice, that nuclear weapons are immoral. Nuclear planners would then be deprived of any further claim to moral legitimacy.

The nuclear powers may not immediately heed a clear moral condemnation of nuclear weapons, just as they have tried to brush off the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. But the force of morality and law cannot long be ignored if the peoples of the world build their case for abolition on these twin bases.

Nuclear weapons are no longer about the enemy. Nuclear weapons are the enemy. They do not prevent an evil: they are the evil, in its most devastating form.