Abolition of Nuclear Weapons:
Vision, Courage, Strength, Perseverance
An Address to International Peace Bureau
Paris, October 12, 2000
By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative
Why has the steam gone out of the nuclear weapons abolition movement at just the moment the Nuclear Weapons States have made "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals"?
Why are some in the abolition movement now saying that the abolition of nuclear weapons is a remote, receding, and unrealistic goal?
Why are there no marches in capitals, few letters to newspapers, little expression of public opinion?
Why indeed are governments still being allowed to claim that the outmoded strategy of nuclear deterrence has even a shred of credibility or morality?
Why are the nuclear retentionists not being driven to obscurity by the sheer force of the legal, moral, political, and military arguments against the possession of nuclear weapons?
To address the paramount issue of our time with these searching questions brings us face to face with the hardest question of all: Does 21st century humanity have the vision, the courage, the strength, the perseverance to abolish the very instruments that can obliterate humanity itself? To that question we must give a resounding yes.
The opportunity opened up by the end of the Cold War has been squandered. The nuclear retentionists have succeeded in sowing doubts that the abolition goal is feasible, in insisting that regional security everywhere is a precondition, in claiming that the technicalities of compliance and verification are overwhelming. They get away with this intellectual corruption because neither the political order, the media, nor the public has yet summoned up the wrath to denounce the retentionists for the deceit, charlatanry, greed, and power they represent.
The longer the nuclear retentionists are able to bamboozle the public and the longer the time period that elapses since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with its resultant memory loss, then the greater the chance the post-Cold War opportunity will be lost. A new round of mistrust and rationale for maintaining nuclear weapons and building new ones has already started. The time for those who understand the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons to make our voices heard, to wake up the public, to shake up governments is -- now.
The public seems blithely unaware of the scale of the danger that nuclear abolitionists are talking about. Let us bring the basic facts into sharp focus. Today, eight nations possess some 32,000 nuclear bombs containing 5,000 megatons of destructive energy, which is the equivalent of 416,000 Hiroshima-size bombs. This is enough to destroy all major cities of 500,000 population or greater in the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Korea, Vietnam, Australia, South Africa, and Cuba.
U.S. and Russian nuclear-weapons systems remain on high alert. This fact, combined with the aging and weakness of Russian technical systems, which the Kursk submarine disaster and the Moscow Tower fire illustrated, has increased the risk of accidental nuclear attack. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that an accidental intermediate-sized launch ofweapons from a single Russian submarine would result in the deaths of 6,838,000 persons from firestorms in eight U.S. cities. A similar catastrophic toll of death would result in Russia from a U.S. accident.
The mind is almost unable to grasp the full extent of the horror of carnage and destruction on such a scale. The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has tried to express this horror:"If only, if only, nuclear war was just another kind of war. If only it was about the usual things -- nations and territories, gods and histories.
If only those of us who dread it are just worthless moral cowards who are not prepared to die in defense of our beliefs. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries and men battle men. But it isnÕt. If there is a nuclear war, our foe will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements -- the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water -- will all turn against us. Our cities and forests, our fields and villages, will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?"
Powerful as this depiction is, the public is still not paying attention, much less perceiving the subtext of the nuclear weapons agenda.
The maintenance of nuclear weapons into the 21st century is not to fight wars, although that can never be excluded, but to perpetuate power. This power flows from the structures of greed by which the rich think they have a right to the lionÕs share of the worldÕs resources, after which they will, in the right mood and setting, share superfluous largesse.
Recognition of the massive violence caused by nuclear weapons is missing today in public discourse. People have put the ghastly scenes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki out of their minds. "It canÕt happen again!" However, the likelihood of another Hiroshima is growing, not lessening. As nuclear proliferation spreads, as the Non-Proliferation Treaty is flouted, as terrorists multiply, as smuggling materials increases, as the desperation of downtrodden people mounts, the chances of another nuclear explosion go up.
There is an anger inside me as I see what exists and what ought to be. We maintain nuclear weapons that constantly endanger humanity. We spend money on excessive militarism at the expense of the poor. The way in which the public is manipulated into believing that militarism buys peace is the greatest intellectual insult of all.
Maybe some anger directed at the political process, which seems more constrained by the nuclear retentionists than motivated by the nuclear abolitionists, is needed. Certainly something must be done to produce public policies that benefit humanity rather than the military-industrialcomplex.
Let us stand up for human security in the way that the Hague Appeal for Peace encouraged us. Let us demand of our governments that they stop their duplicitous conduct and move beyond the traditional approaches of preventing war, which have failed disastrously. Today billions are spent on arms and militarization, while worthwhile peace initiatives and programs for human security are starved for lack of funds. These priorities must be reversed.
Can we not find a way to convince policy-makers that the ice melting at the North Pole requires immediate environmental action? That the widening gulf between rich and poor must be closed? That the long process of building up arms control and disarmament treaties ought not to be jeopardized in the name of a technologically dubious national missile defense?
Without a doubt, powerful forces opposing a human security agenda still drive government policy-making. The old ways of preparing for peace through war die hard. We should not expect an easy conversion of the "realists" who do not yet see or want to see that peace is obtained through preparing for peace. Nonetheless, the Hague Appeal for Peace successfully redefined peace as not only the absence of conflict between and within States, but also the absence of economic and social injustice. Understanding the integrated agenda for peace, the Hague enterprise fused environmental activists, human rights advocates, feminists, spiritualleaders, humanitarian aid and development workers, and experts in disarmament to work together for the development of a sustainable culture of peace.
Imagine the effect that would be created by the fusion of all the energy unleashed by activists all over the world literally demanding -- angrily on the one hand, creatively on the other -- that governments build systems to support and protect human security. That must be our goal at this conference of the International Peace Bureau, held in the very year that the United Nations has designated as the International Year for the Culture of Peace.
The first and perhaps over-arching requirement in building a culture of peace is to have the confidence that it can be done. The doubters have had their way long enough. Having shown our anger at mis-placed public priorities, let us now display our confidence that enough of us making a difference in the circumstances of our daily lives can indeed make a difference in the world as a whole.
Violence and war are not inevitable. An unavoidable clash of civilizations is not our fate. We can prevent wars in the first place by addressing their economic, social, cultural, and ethnic roots. That is the essence of the culture of peace approach.
A culture of peace is a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation. It grows out of beliefs and actions of the people themselves and develops in each country within its specific historical, socio-cultural, and economic context. A key is the transformation of violent competition into cooperation based on the sharing of values and goals. In particular, it requries that conflicting parties work together to achieve objectives of common interests at all levels, including the development process.
A peace consciousness does not appear overnight. Constructing a culture of peace requires comprehensive educational, social, and civic action. It addresses people of all ages. An open-minded, global strategy is required to make a culture of peace take root in peopleÕs hearts and minds.
Seize the opportunity presented by the whole opening decade of the new Millennium to build public opinion and develop new education programs at all levels to promote societyÕs rejection of war.
It is my firm conviction that a precondition to peace in the 21st century is the abolition of nuclear weapons. The most perilous of all the assumptions of a complacent public is the belief that nuclear deterrence is essential to security. The truth is the reverse. Maintaining nucleardeterrence will lead to catastrophe since, as the Canberra Commission showed, it is a mathematical certainty that nuclear weapons, if maintained indefinitely, will at one point be used.
Nuclear deterrence prevents genuine nuclear disarmament. It maintains an unacceptable hegemony over non-nuclear nations. It fuels arms races around the world, as India and Pakistan have demonstrated. It spawns a militarism that is choking off development for the poorest sections of humanity. It is a fundamental obstacle to achieving a new age of global security.
Once again, we must summon up our confidence that this stranglehold over humanity can be broken. Just as institutional slavery was broken, just as colonialism was broken, just as apartheid was broken, so too can the ultimate evil of nuclear deterrence, which promises to rain down catastrophic destruction on peoples we do not know, with whom we have no quarrel and who have every bit the same human right to live in peace as we do. It is unacceptable for a civilized people to live with such terror. This is the essential message that needs to be conveyed to the public, not more mumbo-jumbo from the nuclear retentionists who would enslave us withbureaucratic technicalities instead of a broad vision of building a world community based on the rule of law.
Our confidence in building a nuclear weapon-free world is further enhanced by remembering that historical momentum is with us. Consider what has occurred:
- The majority of nations have shown by their votes at the U.N. that they want an end to nuclear weapons.
- The U.N. Millennium Summit Declaration last month resolved "to strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons and to keep all options open for achieving this aim." Secretary-General AnnanÕs proposal for a global conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers deserves our full support.
- The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders pledged to join with the U.N. to work for the "universal abolition" of nuclear weapons.
- Both military and religious leaders have expressed their common call for the "universal outlawing" of nuclear weapons.
- The International Court of Justice has prepared the way for the de-legalization of nuclear weapons.
- The seven States of the New Agenda (Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, South Africa) have become a central force in advancing political action, and, indeed, have resolved to pursue the New Agenda initiative "with determination."
- The Abolition 2000 movement has been endorsed by 2,030 organizations in 93 countries.
In addition, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has been strengthened, not just by its indefinite extension in 1995, but by the 2000 Review Conference when the Nuclear Weapons States joined in "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." For the first time in an NPT setting, nuclear disarmament has been clearly separated from general and complete disarmament. This achievement was termed by the New Agenda, whose negotiating skills brought it about, "an important landmark on which to build a nuclear weapons-free world."
Since the NWS continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals, the obstacles to nuclear disarmament remain formidable. But they can no longer be considered overwhelming, because active work leading to the goal has been politically validated. The "unequivocal undertaking É to total nuclear disarmament" accepted by the NWS puts them in direct contradiction withtheir own nuclear deterrence doctrines. The New Agenda countries have become the central force leading the abolition movement in challenging the Nuclear Weapons States to live up to their commitment to Article VI of the NPT.
We must recognize that we now have a momentous opportunity. The final document of 2000 is worth far more than a grudging acknowledgment. True, it does not include the necessary steps of a no-first-use pledge, de-alerting, or a commitment to legally binding negative securityassurances. It certainly does not have a time-line for nuclear disarmament nor even an explicit commitment to comprehensive negotiations. But it has something that gives the nuclear weapons abolition movement the strongest political base it has ever had: the door to the longstanding nuclear powersÕ doctrine of nuclear deterrence has cracked open. The total elimination of nuclear weapons is now accepted by the nuclear powers. If total elimination, not merely reductions, is lifted off the pages of the final document to become the operative policy, then nuclear deterrencecannot remain as the permanent justification for the retention of nuclear weapons. Whether the nuclear powers fully accept it or not, the principle of "total," not "ultimate," elimination is institutionally formalized. When to that is coupled the "unequivocal undertaking" to accomplish it, the dawning of a new day is achieved.
For good reason, did the nuclear powers stoutly resist the first New Agenda resolution at the U.N. First Committee. They saw it as an unacceptable challenge to the underlying doctrine of nuclear deterrence. The New Agenda countries have always realized that if the fallacy of thenuclear deterrence doctrine could be exposed as the immoral, illegal, and militarily unsustainable policy it is, then the whole framework supporting nuclear weapons could crumble.
Of course, given the tenacity with which the nuclear powers are holding onto nuclear weapons as the core of their military doctrine, it would be totally unrealistic to think that they will immediately implement that to which they have signed onto. Nothing in their record over the 30-year history of the NPT could provide any confidence that the nuclear powers will suddenly honour their obligations.
The nuclear retentionists are digging in. But we can over-turn them.
Our instruments are a revivified United Nations, pressure on NATO to review its nuclear weapons policies, a stout-hearted New Agenda sustained by a growing body of nuclear abolitionists in civil society. In all of this, the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI) is pledged to play a role to influence and assist middle power governments.
MPI will continue to concentrate on identified middle power countries, encouraging them to press the nuclear powers to commence negotiations forthwith on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and to implement the 13 steps in paragraph 15 of the section on Article VI in the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document.
I ask for your support for this important work.
When leaders in civil society work with like-minded governments, powerful results can be obtained. I believe we can, as indeed we must, move the global political agenda forward to a nuclear weapons-free world. My hope lies in the blossoming of human intelligence and the emergence of a caring, activist civil society. I do not have the luxury of despair. I believe that, with the application of our minds and hearts, we can overcome the nuclear retentionists. The struggle is long, but we must never stop.