A New Beginning
- A World without Nuclear Weapons
by David Krieger, October 2000
A new beginning is a beautiful idea. It suggests
that we have infinite possibilities. It suggests that in the eyes
of God all things are possible, including our redemption. Spring
is a new beginning. The birth of each new creature is a new beginning.
Life itself is a new beginning with its constant renewal. Abraham
Lincoln, who led this country through a terrible civil war that
resulted in the abolition of slavery, said, “We must think
anew and act anew.”
We need a new beginning with regard to nuclear
weapons, a new beginning in which we create a world without nuclear
weapons. This is the greatest moral issue of our time and the
greatest responsibility that falls to those of us now living.
Nuclear weapons are weapons of indiscriminate mass
destruction. They do not and cannot discriminate between men,
women and children; between the healthy and the infirm; the aged
and the newly born. We know that. Each nuclear weapon could destroy
a city filled with people going about their daily lives. Some
fraction of the more than 30,000 nuclear weapons that continue
to exist in our world could put an end to human life on our planet.
The stakes are high. This is not a problem to run away from, to
justify or to deny. It would be irresponsible and immoral for
us not to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons and to work
to end that threat.
At the actual beginning of the Nuclear Age, a refugee
scientist from Hungary, Leo Szilard, conceptualized the possibility
of an atomic bomb while standing on a street corner in London.
Szilard was worried that the Nazis might succeed in developing
a nuclear weapon first and using it aggressively. He prepared
a letter to President Roosevelt and took it to Albert Einstein
to sign. Einstein did sign and send the letter to President Roosevelt.
The letter set in motion the largest scientific and engineering
project in the history of the world up to that time. Over a five
and a half year period some $2 billion was spent on the Manhattan
Engineering Project to develop an atomic bomb. Some of the greatest
physicists in the world, many European refugees, worked on the
bomb’s development. The purpose of the project, or so most
of the scientists thought, was to deter the use of a Nazi atomic
The Nazis, of course, never developed an atomic
bomb, and the war in Europe was over when the first successful
test of an atomic weapon took place in the desert of New Mexico
on July 16, 1945. From that date it took just three weeks to drop
an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. We know the havoc it
wreaked. Some 75,000 people were immediately killed by blast,
fire and radiation. Another 70,000 died by the end of 1945. Three
days after the bombing of Hiroshima, a second city, Nagasaki,
was attacked with a nuclear weapon. Another 75,000 people died
at Nagasaki by the end of 1945. Five days after the bombing of
Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered.
The Americans and the Japanese learned very different
lessons from these bombings. The American lesson was that nuclear
weapons win wars, and therefore have value. The Japanese survivors
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki learned that human beings and nuclear
weapons cannot co-exist. They learned that these weapons must
be abolished before they abolish us.
Our lesson led to the ongoing pursuit of more and
better nuclear weapons. It led to a mad nuclear arms race based
upon mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union. It led
to some 2,000 nuclear weapons tests in the world that have caused
untold radiation damage to downwinders, mostly indigenous peoples,
around the world. The stories are heart wrenching. Radiation affects
not only the living, but also the unborn. The pain, suffering
and death resulting from an arrogant attitude toward nuclear weapons
will continue in future generations, even if we abolished nuclear
weapons today. The truth is: In the Nuclear Age we are all downwinders.
Those nations that cling to nuclear weapons justify
their actions as deterring others from attacking them. But humans
are fallible, and deterrence is not a perfect system. It can fail
by human error, accident, miscalculation or simply miscommunication.
Does it make sense to risk the future of our cities and even the
human species on an unprovable theory?
In the mid-1960s, the nuclear weapons states began
worrying about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The US, UK
and USSR sponsored the Non-Proliferation Treaty in which non-nuclear
weapons states agreed not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons.
In exchange, the nuclear weapons states promised good faith negotiations
on nuclear disarmament.
Every nation in the world is a party to this treaty
except four: India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba. India and Pakistan
both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Both have said that they
would disarm their nuclear arsenals, but not unless the other
nuclear weapons states do so. They want equality. For them, it
is a dangerous way to seek equality. They have had repeated violent
conflicts over Kashmir and now these conflicts have the potential
to result in nuclear war.
Israel is known to have some 100 to 200 nuclear
weapons. Their official statement is that “Israel will not
be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.”
But what does this mean? Israel is the only country in the Middle
East with nuclear weapons, and having these weapons is provocative
to the other countries in the region.
The most powerful and prestigious countries in
the world maintain nuclear arsenals. They are setting the wrong
example. They are encouraging proliferation. If they do not fulfill
their obligation to achieve complete nuclear disarmament, other
countries will follow their lead and develop nuclear arsenals.
At the most recent Non-Proliferation Treaty Review
Conference in April and May 2000, the nuclear weapons states promised
“an unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total
elimination of their nuclear arsenals….” But their
words are not in line with their actions, and these states are
continuing to rely upon nuclear weapons for their security.
The Cold War ended more than ten years ago. It
is time for a new beginning. The phased and verifiable elimination
of nuclear weapons is possible. It could be achieved in a relatively
short period of time if there was the political will to do so.
Here are some of the steps that are needed that have been endorsed
by many world leaders, including Jimmy Carter, Queen Noor of Jordan,
Elie Wiesel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A total of 36 Nobel Laureates,
including 14 Nobel Peace Laureates, have endorsed these steps.
- Ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and
reaffirm commitments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
- De-alert all nuclear weapons and de-couple
all nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles.
- Declare policies of No First Use of nuclear
weapons against other nuclear weapons states and policies of
No Use against non-nuclear weapons states.
- Commence good faith negotiations to achieve
a Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased elimination
of all nuclear weapons, with provisions for effective verification
- Reallocate resources from the tens of billions
of dollars currently being spent for maintaining nuclear arsenals
to improving human health, education and welfare throughout
What is needed to make these steps a reality is US leadership.
But that leadership is unlikely to come from the government. It
must come from the people. The people must press the government
to show leadership. Once the US decides to lead, the world could
move rapidly toward a safer and saner future.
Does it sound dangerous for the US to assert leadership
toward a nuclear weapons free world? Here is what some military
leaders have to say.
General Lee Butler, the former commander of all
US strategic forces, asks, “By what authority do succeeding
generations of leaders in the nuclear weapons states usurp the
power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most
urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at the moment
when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united
in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestation?”
Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, the Deputy Director
of the Center for Defense Information, argues, “American
leaders have declared that nuclear weapons will remain the cornerstone
of US national security indefinitely. In truth, as the world’s
only remaining superpower, nuclear weapons are the sole military
source of our national insecurity. We, and the whole world, would
be much safer if nuclear weapons were abolished and Planet Earth
was a nuclear free zone.”
Admiral Noel Gayler, a former Commander in Chief
of the Pacific Command, asks, “Does nuclear disarmament
imperil our security?” He answers his question, “No.
It enhances it.”
Those who are working to end the nuclear weapons
threat to humanity may seem relatively weak in relation to the
magnitude of the problem, but our moral imperative could not be
more powerful. We are making headway day by day, and I invite
you to join us in this effort. If you would like to know more
about how you can be part of a new beginning to end the nuclear
weapons threat to humanity, visit the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s
web site at www.wagingpeace.org. We would welcome your involvement.