Globalization and the End of Nuclear Weapons

An Address to Opening Plenary
State of the World Millennium Forum

New York, September 5, 2000

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative


This great State of the World Forum on globalization is a moment for us to express a vision of the kind of world we want in the 21st century.

Let me tell you mine.

I want a world that is human-centered and genuinely democratic, a world that builds and protects peace, equality, justice and development. I want a world where human security, as envisioned in the principles of the United Nations Charter, replaces armaments, violent conflict and wars. I want a world where everyone lives in a clean environment with a fair distribution of the earth’s resources and where human rights are protected by a body of international law.

I do not feel alone in such desires, for this is the precise agenda advanced by the People’s Millennium Forum held at the United Nations earlier this year.

But it is hard to obtain such a world. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reminded us, the century just ended was disfigured time and again by ruthless conflict. Grinding poverty and striking inequality persist within and among countries even amidst unprecedented wealth. Nature’s life-sustaining services are being seriously disrupted and degraded.

Militarism, economic and social development, environmental protection -- these are now the core issues on the world’s political agenda. These diverse expressions of the new human security agenda carry a powerful message.

Globalization must bring a new understanding of the world as a single community.

Globalization must mean more than creating bigger markets.

Globalization must use the sweeping power of technology to raise all of humanity to higher levels of civilization.

The single biggest impediment to successful globalization is the maintenance of nuclear weapons. This is an issue that must be addressed.

The public seems blithely unaware of the present nuclear danger. 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 of weapons 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.

A national missile defense system is not the answer, for such a system is sure to provoke new arms races and increase the dangers. Nor are the cuts in nuclear arsenals which have occurred since the end of the Cold War sufficient. The Nuclear Weapons States’ current modernization programs to make their existing nuclear weapons even better undermine the effect of such cuts. What is needed for world security is a global commitment to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

It does not seem to be widely understood that the 187 nations belonging tothe Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have, in fact, made such a commitment.

At the 2000 Review of the NPT, nations gave "an unequivocal undertaking toaccomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." But this is still a paper commitment. The Nuclear Weapons States have not yet given a timetable for elimination, nor even their agreement to start comprehensive negotiations for elimination.

These nuclear weapons are still seen as the currency of power, with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council the same five principal Nuclear Weapons States. By their successful nuclear testing, India and Pakistan have shown that they want into the powerful nuclear club. India and Pakistan will not be alone.

The danger of nuclear weapons proliferation will grow until such time as we can shut it down with an iron-clad agreement by all the nuclear powers to start negotiations for a global ban. No one is talking about the immediate elimination of nuclear weapons. The process also requires the construction of a reliable global security system, which will take many years. The length of time this will take is not important. Rather, today’s urgency is caused by the refusal of the major powers to even start down that road.

There are hopeful signs of pressure for negotiations building up. Senior military figures in both the United States and Russia have said that nuclear weapons cannot be used to fight wars and are too dangerous to keep. Religious figures have condemned nuclear weapons as devoid of the slightest traces of morality. The International Court of Justice has said they must be eliminated. The majority of nations at the U.N. have voted for elimination. In the United States, 87 percent of Americans, responding to a poll, said they wanted the U.S. to join with other governments in negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Why then is there no real action for elimination? Because the political will has not yet been developed. A new grouping of middle power states, called the New Agenda, is trying to build that will. Also, the Middle Powers Initiative, a new organization of prominent nuclear disarmament organizations, is assisting and encouraging middle power governments to press the nuclear states for action.

The message I bring today is that the leading edge of civil society, which the State of the World Forum has so brilliantly encapsulated, should help build the momentum for the elimination of nuclear weapons. True globalization demands this effort.

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 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.