2005 is a year of important anniversaries of the Nuclear Age. It marks the 60th anniversary of the first test of an atomic weapon, an event that occurred at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Just weeks later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were each destroyed with a single atomic bomb, announcing to the world the onset of the Nuclear Age. Hibakusha — the survivors of these bombings, who have worked throughout their lives for the abolition of nuclear weapons — will gather with others from throughout the world on August 6th and 9th to renew their fervent plea of “Never again!” on the 60th anniversary of these bombings.
This year commemorates the 50 th anniversary of the death of the great scientist Albert Einstein, whose theories changed our understanding of the universe and the relationship of energy to matter. At the urging of his friend Leo Szilard, Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt in 1939 urging the United States to explore the possibility of an atomic weapon in order to be prepared to deter such weapons in the hands of Nazi Germany. Einstein later referred to his letter to Roosevelt as the greatest mistake of his life. Both Einstein and Szilard were active until their deaths in trying to abolish these most terrible weapons that they felt responsible for bringing into the world.
July 9, 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, the last public document to which Einstein gave his support. The document sounded a grave warning to humanity. “No doubt,” it stated, “in an H-bomb war great cities would be obliterated. But this is one of the minor disasters that would have to be faced.” Einstein, along with Bertrand Russell and the nine other prominent scientists who joined them in signing the Manifesto, warned that nuclear war could put an end to humanity. Their solution was to abolish war, a solution they understood to be both incredibly difficult and absolutely necessary. The Manifesto stated: “Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” Fifty years later, we remain confronted by this overriding problem.
The 35th anniversary of the entry into force of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will also be observed in 2005. It is the world’s only treaty that requires the nuclear weapons states to make good faith efforts to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. Five years ago, at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the parties to the treaty, now numbering 188 countries, agreed by consensus to 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. This was viewed throughout the world as a means to fulfill the treaty obligations of the nuclear weapons states to achieve nuclear disarmament. Among the most important of the 13 points is one requiring “[a]n unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals….”
Commitments made in 2000, however, have been thrown into severe doubt by the failure of the nuclear weapons states, and particularly the United States, to fulfill their obligations. US backtracking on the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament is casting a long shadow on the prospects for success at the 2005 NPT Review Conference that will be held in May at United Nations headquarters.
Humankind cannot indefinitely postpone making a choice. One choice is to do nothing. Another choice is to heed the warnings of Einstein and Russell and seek to fulfill the aspirations of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a world without nuclear weapons. The latter course will require creative and persistent public education and advocacy, particularly in the nuclear weapons states. This is the daily work of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, as you will see in this report. I encourage you to visit our www.wagingpeace.org website regularly and to become an active participant in our Turn the Tide Campaign as well as our many other activities for a more secure and nuclear weapons-free future.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).