It is a privilege to return to Nagasaki for this third Global Citizens’ Assembly to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons. I am convinced that it is only by the actions and initiatives of citizens leading leaders that humanity shall bring nuclear weapons, its most deadly invention, under control.
I want to return to what may seem an old theme, but one that remains critically important. More than fifty years ago, Albert Einstein warned, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” I would like to explore what Einstein meant in reference to changing our “modes of thinking.”
I believe Einstein was referring to humankind’s continued reliance on force as a means of settling differences as the old way of thinking. He believed that in the Nuclear Age reliance on force was pushing us toward catastrophe. Einstein’s warning was a recognition that with the advent of nuclear weapons, the use of force – a long-standing currency in the international system – placed not only countries but civilization and even humanity itself at risk, making force as a means of resolving disputes between nations too dangerous to be acceptable. If we are to move away from reliance on force to resolve conflicts, we must substitute something else in its place. What must take the place of threat or use of force is honest diplomacy, a willingness to engage in continuous dialogue with the goal of resolving even major differences between nations. That was the purpose for which the United Nations was created in June 1945, less than a month before the first test of an atomic weapon by the United States.
The United Nations sought to “end the scourge of war.” To achieve this, the UN Charter prohibits the use of force except in the limited circumstance of self-defense, and then only until the United Nations can take control of the situation, or when authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Unfortunately, the United Nations has not been very effective in prohibiting the threat or use of force. This is largely due to its structure, which gives special power to the five permanent members of the Security Council. These states can cast a veto on actions that would subject their behavior to appropriate scrutiny and control. Despite the bold opening words of the UN Charter, “We, the Peoples,” the UN is not a Peoples Parliament. Rather, it is a club of nation-states, and its most powerful members play by a different set of rules than do the other members.
The United Nations has been used cynically by the most powerful states to gain advantage rather than to seriously engage in problem solving about the world’s most pressing dangers. If we wish to move toward non-violent solutions to conflict, we must reform and strengthen the United Nations to truly become a House of Dialogue and a Parliament of Humanity.
One aspect of changed thinking that is needed is recognition of the importance of citizen participation in efforts to change the world. The world’s problems are too grave and dangerous to be left to governments without the active participation of citizens. Citizens must take responsibility for the actions of their governments as if their very lives depended upon those actions, as indeed they do. In the Nuclear Age, the actions of nuclear-armed states affect the future of all citizens on the planet. If citizens remain ignorant, apathetic and in denial, it is likely that governments will blunder into wars, inevitably including nuclear war.
Another aspect of the changed thinking that is needed is the disassociation of nuclear weapons with security both as a concept and as a national policy. Nuclear weapons do not make a country more secure. These weapons can be used to threaten retaliation, but they cannot provide actual physical security. Deterrence is a theory that requires rationality on all sides and effective communications. If there is one thing we know about humans, especially in the context of crises, they are not always rational and they do not communicate perfectly. This was one of the important findings of the meetings of key decision makers in the Cuban Missile Crisis. They came to understand that many of the assumptions they had made about the other participants in the crisis were incorrect and they were very fortunate to have averted nuclear war.
Still another aspect of thinking in which change is needed is the complacency of the rich within the two-tier structure of rich and poor nations. It is unlikely that wars will be eliminated while the economic divide is great and many people in the world live in deep poverty with all its disadvantages, while a minority lives in superabundance. Modern communications make the have-nots aware of what goes on behind the high walls of the rich, exacerbating the tensions.
This two-tier structure of rich and poor nations is also mirrored in our world of nuclear haves and have-nots. The world cannot go on indefinitely with bastions of the rich thinking they are protected by nuclear and other arms, while the majority of the world’s population lives in abject poverty. Nor can the world safely continue to be divided along religious and ideological fault lines.
Nuclear weapons, like other weapons, are part of the currency of power in a divided world. If there were widespread recognition of the essential oneness of humanity and the miracle of life that all humans share, it would be far more difficult to justify resort to arms and, in particular, to continue to threaten the indiscriminate mass destruction that is inherent in the use of nuclear weapons.