Meeting the Russell-Einstein Challenge to Humanity
by David Krieger, October 2004
"Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart."
On July 9, 1955, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto was issued in London. Its concern was with the new, powerful H-bombs, which the signers of the Manifesto believed placed the human race in jeopardy of annihilation. "Here, then, is the problem," the Manifesto stated, "which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war."
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation President David Krieger speaking to Soka Gakai in Hiroshima, Japan.
Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein were two of the leading intellectual figures of the 20th century. Russell was a philosopher, mathematician and Nobel Laureate in Literature. Einstein was a theoretical physicist, considered the greatest scientist of his time, and a Nobel Laureate in Physics. Both men were tireless advocates for peace throughout their lives.
Russell was primarily responsible for drafting the Manifesto, but it contained ideas that Einstein often discussed. Einstein signed the document just days before his death. It was his last major act for peace.
In addition to Russell and Einstein, the Manifesto was signed by nine other scientists: Max Born, Perry W. Bridgman, Leopold Infeld, Frederic Joliot-Curie, Herman J. Muller, Linus Pauling, Cecil F. Powell, Joseph Rotblat and Hideki Yukawa. All of these men either already had received or would receive the Nobel Prize. Linus Pauling, the great American chemist, would receive two Nobel Prizes, one for Chemistry and one for Peace.
Sir Joseph Rotblat is the only signer of the Manifesto still living, and he is now 96 years old. He is an extraordinary man, who has been a tireless advocate of the Manifesto throughout his long life. He was the only scientist in the Manhattan Project to leave his position when he realized that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic weapon. He was the founder of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and served as president of that organization until in recent years his advanced age caused him to step back. In 1995, Professor Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize. When Professor Rotblat turned 90, he announced that he had two remaining goals in life: first, the short-term goal of abolishing nuclear weapons; and, second, the long-term goal of abolishing war.
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto makes the following points:
- Scientists have special responsibilities to awaken the public to the technological threats, particularly nuclear threats, confronting humanity.
- Those scientists with the greatest knowledge of the situation appear to be the most concerned.
- Nuclear weapons endanger our largest cities and threaten the future of humanity.
- In the circumstance of prevailing nuclear threat, humankind must put aside its differences and confront this overriding problem.
- The prohibition of modern weapons is not a sufficient solution to the threat; war as an institution must be abolished.
- Nonetheless, as a first step the nuclear weapons states should renounce these weapons.
- The choice before humanity is to find peaceful means of settling conflicts or to face "universal death."
In the end, the signers of the Manifesto believed, that humanity had a choice: "There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation President David Krieger speaking to Soka Gakai in Hiroshima, Japan.
It has now been nearly 50 years since this Manifesto was made public. On the 40th anniversary of issuing the Manifesto in 1995, Joseph Rotblat concluded his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by echoing the call: "Remember your humanity, and forget the rest."
In 2005, when the Russell-Einstein Manifesto has its 50th anniversary, we will be 60 years into the Nuclear Age and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will commemorate the 35th anniversary of its entry into force. In April 2005, the 189 parties to the NPT will meet at the United Nations in New York for their 7th Review Conference. The meeting promises to be contentious and disappointing.
In 1995, the parties to the NPT agreed to extend the NPT indefinitely. At the time, the nuclear weapons states had reaffirmed their obligation in Article VI of the Treaty to pursue good faith efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament. Five years later, at the year 2000 NPT Review Conference, the parties to the Treaty agreed to 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. These included early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile materials, application of the principle of irreversibility to nuclear disarmament, and an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.."
The nuclear weapons states have made virtually no progress on the 13 Practical Steps and little seems likely. The United States has been the worst offender. It has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, opposed creating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty that is verifiable, treated nuclear disarmament as completely reversible and, in general, shown no good faith toward its obligations under the Treaty.
Rather than fulfilling its own obligations, the US has pointed the finger at some potential nuclear proliferators. It initiated an illegal war against Iraq, alleging it possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction programs, including nuclear programs, which turned out not to exist. It has stated that Iran will not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, implicitly threatening to attack Iran as well. After North Korea withdrew from the NPT, the US entered into six party talks with North Korea , but has been only half-hearted in its attempts to meet their concerns by offering security guarantees and development assistance.
At the same time, the US has never expressed concern that Israel 's nuclear weapons pose a threat to Middle Eastern or global stability. When India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998 the US initially expressed concern. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US tightened its relations with both of these countries and lifted its sanctions on military materials. Even after the discovery that Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan was conducting a global nuclear arms bazaar, the US has maintained its close ties to Pakistan , despite the fact that Pakistani President Musharaf moved quickly to grant Khan a pardon. The US has yet to question Khan with regard to the extent of his nuclear proliferation.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently reiterated that forty countries have the potential to become nuclear weapons states. Increased nuclear proliferation could be the ultimate result of the failure of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their obligations for nuclear disarmament. One of these proliferating countries could be Japan , which remains a virtual nuclear weapons power with the technology and nuclear materials to become a nuclear weapons state in a matter of days.
As we approach this important anniversary year of 2005, there is a failure of governmental leadership toward nuclear disarmament and little cause for hope. The United States , under the Bush administration, has turned the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 into an ongoing war, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq . Neither of these wars is going well. The Bush administration speaks of creating democracy in these two countries, but in fact both countries are now presided over by US-selected former CIA assets.
If Mr. Bush should be elected to a second term, the American people will have ratified his policies of preventive war, deployment of missile defenses, creation of new nuclear weapons, the undermining of international law and the ravaging of the global environment for the benefit of US global hegemony and corporate profit. This would be a tragedy for the United States and for the rest of the world. This decision will be made on November 2, 2004 in the most important election in our lifetimes. Until this decision is made, we cannot predict the prospects for success at the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. We can project, though, that if Bush is elected, the prospects for the success of the Treaty conference and the future of the NPT will be exceedingly dim.
The vision of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, and of the two great men who put their names on it, stands in stark contrast to the vision of the leaders of today's nuclear weapons states and, particularly, the present leadership in the United States . The Russell-Einstein Manifesto calls upon us to remember our humanity, ban nuclear weapons and cease war. Mr. Bush, in contrast, seems incapable of embracing a broader humanity, has shown no leadership toward banning nuclear weapons and has demonstrated his willingness to engage in preventive war on false pretenses.
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto calls upon humanity to choose dramatically different futures. Since humanity is made up of all of us, we all must choose. And the choice of each of us matters. This great city of Hiroshima , a city that has experienced so much devastation and rebirth, led by its hibakusha , has chosen the path of a nuclear weapons-free future. I am always inspired by the spirit of Hiroshima and its courageous hibakusha , and I stand in solidarity with you on this path.
One truly hopeful action at this time is the Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. This campaign, led by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calls for the initiation of negotiations in 2005 and the completion of negotiations in 2010 for the elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world by the year 2020. This is a great and necessary challenge, one which deserves our collective support. Just a few days ago, on behalf of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, I presented our 2004 World Citizenship Award to the Mayors for Peace for their critical effort on behalf of humanity.
Our cause is right and it is noble. It seeks, in the spirit of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, to preserve humanity's future. It calls upon us to raise our voices, to stand our ground, and to never give up. The year 2005 is a critical year, but it is not the only year. Our efforts must be sustained over a long period of time, perhaps longer than our lifetimes. This means we must inspire new generations to act for humanity.
There will be times when we may be tired and discouraged, but we are not allowed to cease our efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. No matter what obstacles we face in the form of political intransigence or public apathy, we are not allowed to give up hope. This is the price of being fully human in the Nuclear Age. The future demands of us that we keep our hearts strong, our voices firm, and our hope alive.
David Krieger is a founder and the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is a leader in the global movement to abolish nuclear weapons.