The Abolition of Nuclear Weapons is a Development Issue

An address to North South Roundtable Conference on
"A New Framework of Development Cooperation"
June 26-28, 1998, Easton, Maryland, U.S.A.

Like many members of the North South Roundtable, I was influenced by the progressive thinking of Inga Thorsson, who led the U.N. study on the relationship of disarmament and development. Inga Thorsson, intuitively understanding the truth of President Eisenhowerís words that every gun made is a theft from the poor of the world, pioneered the "dynamic triangular relationship" between security, disarmament and development. The development process, she said, can enhance security and thereby promote arms reductions and disarmament. And disarmament, providing for security at progressively lower levels of armaments, could allow additional resources to be devoted to addressing non-military challenges to security and thus result in enhanced overall security. Disarmament and development are the twin bases for human security.

All this was said at the height of the Cold War, when popular wisdom held that high military spending and the nuclear weapons arms race were unassailable. When the Berlin Wall fell, a "peace dividend" was suddenly talked about. But, like the vision of a "new world order," the "peace dividend" fell by the wayside, unless you count the soaring stock market as the principal benefit for humanity in the post-Cold War era.

The "peace dividend" has not been experienced by the United Nations, whose programs of preventive diplomacy and the alleviation of human suffering are so starved of the necessary governmental funding that they have to be rescued by the private beneficence of Ted Turner.

The "peace dividend" has not been experienced by the poorest fifth of the world who earn less than one twentieth of what the richest fifth earn, and who live, for the most part in countries where 25 armed conflicts persist.

The "peace dividend" has not been experienced in continuing nuclear arms races of qualitative and quantitative dimensions, which are driving the excessive militarism, still occupying the commanding heights of the old world disorder.

Despite the Security Councilís adoption in 1992 of the Inga Thorsson language that non-military threats to peace and security come from instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields, military spending still grabs the lionís share of public monies. So far are we from a genuine "peace dividend," in which the poor of the world would receive the benefits of enlarged spending on health and education, that the richest nations are actually subsidizing arms sales to poor countries who might otherwise not be able to afford them as a result of the current downturn in the Asian economies. Health and education can be cut in a downturn; arms sales must be protected.

There ought not to be any cheering just because world militaryexpenditures have declined to $740 billion, one-third less than their high in 1988. The political order still underwrites the culture of combat. A new political philosophy, encompassing a common, institutionalized system of standards and shared values, is still struggling to be born.

Nowhere is the residual exaltation of military values in the resolution of conflict seen so vividly as in the retention and development of nuclear weapons. The current breakdown of the non-proliferation regime ought to be a matter of primary concern to all who espouse equitable economic and social development. For it is the spread of nuclear weapons that imperils civilization. The real issue of modern nuclear weapons is that they incinerate whole populations, destroy the food, transportation and health chains, induce cancers and cause genetic deformities. They are antithetical to the whole development process.

The most flawed of all the Cold War assumptions carried into the new age is the belief that the strategy of nuclear deterrence is essential to a nationís security. Maintaining nuclear deterrence into the 21st century will impede, not aid, the cause of peace. Nuclear deterrence prevents genuine nuclear disarmament and maintains an unacceptable hegemony over non-nuclear development for the poorest half of the worldís population. It is a fundamental obstacle to achieving global security.

However much Western publics may have preferred not to think about nuclear weapons during the first decade of the post-Cold War era, that is no longer possible. The nuclear weapons testing by India and Pakistan have forced the issue back into public consciousness. Anger and sanctions are directed at India and Pakistan for asserting nuclear aggressiveness. The world has clearly become a more dangerous place as the result of the destabilized political situation in South Asia. But India and Pakistan are not the core of the problem.

The problem is the determination of the five declared nuclear weapons states -- the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China -- to maintain their arsenals of nuclear weapons into the indefinite future. These are the same five nations that are the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The public generally thinks the nuclear weapons problem evaporated with the end of the Cold War. It is true that reductions in U.S. and Russian stocks have taken place. But there are still about 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world. If the present agreements between Russia and the U.S. are fully implemented, there will still be 17,000 nuclear weapons in 2007.

By their own admission, the nuclear countries are retaining their nuclear weapons to maintain their power positions in world structures. The U.S. is currently conducting "sub-critical" nuclear tests which it claims are legal because their yield is below the limits imposed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. India sees this as duplicity and claims the U.S. -- and the other nuclear weapons states -- are not serious in their commitment to the "ultimate" elimination of nuclear weapons.

The new government of India maintains that if the major countries need nuclear weapons to hold onto power, then India will also become nuclear. India did not test because it fears Pakistan or is having trouble with its other neighbour China. India tested out of Indian pride. There is overwhelming domestic public support for India to assert itself in this manner on the world stage. Pakistan followed suit because no government in Pakistan could stay in power if it allowed India to get a nuclear weapons advantage.

The breakout of nuclear weapons will not stop there unless the non-proliferation regime is put back together. There is a new urgency to this task: in the wake of the testing in South Asia, the Atomic Bulletin of Scientists moved its "doomsday" clock forward by five minutes to nine minutes to midnight, describing the present situation as "perilous." Prior to India and Pakistanís actions, the New England Journal of Medicine conducted a two-year review which showed that the risk of an accidental nuclear attack has increased in recent years, threatening a public health disaster of unprecedented scale.

The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used -- accidentally or by decision -- defies credibility. That was a principal assertion of the Canberra Commission in calling upon nuclear weapons states to make an unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The International Court of Justice strengthened this call by affirming, with one voice, that:

"There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."

A new initiative for a nuclear-weapons-free world was launched recently by eight middle power countries: Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden. These countries criticized the "persistent reluctance" of the nuclear weapons states to honour their commitment to the disarmament provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They called on the five declared nuclear weapons states and the three nuclear weapons-capable states (India, Pakistan and Israel) to commit themselves unequivocally to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for abolition.

It should be noted that India and Pakistan have previously voted at the U.N. for resolutions calling for the commencement of negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. But the U.S., Russia, Britain and France have resisted such moves. The impasse continues.

All this should be of intense concern to the North South Roundtable. For the abolition of nuclear weapons is a development issue.

In the face of pressures bound only to increase in the early years of the next century -- pressures of the poor and homeless demanding resources and space, pressures of regional disputes over scarce commodities (of which fresh water will likely be at the head of the list), pressures growing out of the resentment against the West for hogging the lionís share of the worldís benefits (an imbalance made ever more visible through the exploding communications revolution), pressures from the ambitious military of the South -- nuclear proponents will stand their ground. Nuclear weapons are needed, they will argue, not necessarily to use, but to threaten those who would challenge the Western way of life. There might not be enough of everything needed to sustain Western lifestyles -- land, resources, wealth. Who knows what might happen? All the problems surrounding the basic needs of humans on a planet with definable limitations of growth are only getting worse.

The turbulence of today could become the gales of tomorrow, and so -- according to the nuclear powers -- nuclear weapons are necessary to protect the West against the unknown forces of the next century. But the clamour for equality is growing, showing up in all the debates over human rights, economic growth, and now nuclear weapons. Already, we can see that the defining problem of the early 21st century will be the struggle for equity -- between and among all nations, between and among all peoples.

The North South Roundtable is eminently equipped to speak out for the abolition of nuclear weapons, pressing the nuclear weapons states to accept their responsibilities in the name of humanityís great need for the continued economic and social development of all peoples on the planet.

Those who say that the elimination of all nuclear weapons is impossible forget that at previous periods in history, slavery, colonialism, and apartheid all appeared unalterable. Now they are gone, because the conscience of humanity demanded it.

Doug Roche