We need new thinking and effective campaigns if we are to succeed in quelling the growing nuclear dangers in the world. The existing nuclear weapons states are failing to fulfill their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT, and claims to have become a member of the nuclear weapons club. Iran is enriching uranium for what it claims are peaceful purposes. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently reminded the world that there are forty countries capable of converting their “peaceful” nuclear programs to weapons programs.

There are still well over 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world, perhaps closer to 30,000, mostly in the arsenals of the US and Russia. These two countries also continue to maintain over 2,000 nuclear weapons each on hair-trigger alert, creating the ongoing and increasing possibility of an accidental nuclear launch. Other nuclear weapons states include the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and likely North Korea .

Throughout the world, terrorism is on the rise with groups such as Al Qaeda openly expressing a desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Should such a group succeed in this quest, they could not be deterred from using these weapons, since deterrence implies being able to locate the attacking party in order to retaliate. Thus, existing arsenals of thousands of nuclear weapons cannot deter a small group of terrorists from attacking the cities of the militarily most powerful states.

The US attacked Iraq because of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, and has made threats of preemptive action to North Korea and Iran based on their nuclear arsenals. For geopolitical reasons, the US has turned a blind eye to Israel ‘s nuclear weapons and those of other allied nations, while attacking Iraq, a country that it falsely accused of having such weapons. The US has basically adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” strategy of nuclear arms control. Such a strategy, based on clear double standards, is extremely dangerous and destined to fail.

The world is walking a dangerous tightrope, while facing harsh prospects of potential nuclear disaster. The only way to prevent a nuclear 9/11 is to dramatically reduce the nuclear weapons, technologies and materials in the world and to bring the remaining ones under international control. This will require US leadership as the world’s most powerful country. Without US leadership, the world will continue its flirtation with nuclear disaster, increasing the likelihood that the US itself could become the victim of its own double standards.

Unfortunately, the US, under the Bush administration, has not only failed to show leadership to prevent nuclear terrorism and nuclear double standards, but has actively sought to improve its nuclear arsenal. It has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is moving toward lowering the time needed to resume nuclear testing. It has been allocating funds to research “bunker busting” nuclear weapons and “mini-nukes.” And it has forged ahead with deployment of untested missile defense systems that have caused Russia and China to make offensive improvements in their nuclear arsenals in order to maintain their deterrent capabilities.

If we are to avert future nuclear catastrophes it is necessary to change the course of current nuclear policy. In order to do this, we need a new way of thinking about nuclear weapons that reflects the view that they undermine rather than enhance our security. This is the conclusion reached by General George Lee Butler, the former head of the US Strategic Command. General Butler was once in charge of all US strategic weapons. He stated, “Sadly, the Cold War lives on in the minds of men who cannot let go the fears, the beliefs, the enmities of the Nuclear Age. They cling to deterrence, clutch its tattered promise to their breast, shake it wistfully at bygone adversaries and balefully at new or imagined ones. They are gripped still by its awful willingness not simply to tempt the apocalypse but to prepare the way.”

Nearly fifty years ago, Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, argued, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Shortly before Einstein’s death, he joined Bertrand Russell in issuing a short manifesto signed by themselves and nine other prominent scientists, including Joseph Rotblat , the one scientist who left the Manhattan Project when he realized that the Germans would not succeed in developing a nuclear weapon. The document, known simply as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, set forth the case that nuclear weapons make the abolition of war necessary. “Here, then, is the problem that 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.”

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was Einstein’s final warning and plea to humanity. The manifesto urged that humanity has 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?” The document went on to urge: “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.”

To succeed in ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity, ordinary people must engage in the issue and it must become a top priority issue. At present, most people are not engaged in this issue, or may even incorrectly believe that nuclear weapons provide prestige and enhance rather than undermine their security. What is needed is a massive, well-funded campaign of public education and advocacy in order to arouse ordinary people and officials everywhere to action.

I will mention two encouraging campaigns that are in their early stages. The first is the Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. 1 This campaign seeks to activate mayors around the world to engage their populations to pressure their national leaders to begin in 2005 negotiations on eliminating nuclear weapons, to complete these negotiations by 2010, and to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020. This campaign, led by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , holds promise, but at this point in time it remains dramatically under-funded. Nonetheless, it is moving forward with the expectation that more than 100 mayors and deputy mayors will state their case for nuclear disarmament at the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations. The Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign is receiving support from Abolition 2000, which has created Abolition Now! to help further the Mayors Campaign. 2

A second campaign now underway is called Turn the Tide. 3 It was created by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to focus on changing US nuclear policies. It is a campaign that reaches out to US citizens via the internet and urges them to communicate with their elected representatives to support actions set forth in their 13-point Campaign Statement:

  1. Stop all efforts to create dangerous new nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
  2. Maintain the current moratorium on nuclear testing and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  3. Cancel plans to build new nuclear weapons production plants, and close and clean up the toxic contamination at existing plants.
  4. Establish and enforce a legally binding US commitment to No Use of nuclear weapons against any nation or group that does not have nuclear weapons.
  5. Establish and enforce a legally binding US commitment to No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nations possessing nuclear weapons.
  6. Cancel funding for and plans to deploy offensive missile “defense” systems which could ignite a dangerous arms race and offer no security against terrorist weapons of mass destruction.
  7. In order to significantly decrease the threat of accidental launch, together with Russia , take nuclear weapons off high-alert status and do away with the strategy of launch-on-warning.
  8. Together with Russia , implement permanent and verifiable dismantlement of nuclear weapons taken off deployed status through the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).
  9. Demonstrate to other countries US commitment to reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons by removing all US nuclear weapons from foreign soil.
  10. To prevent future proliferation or theft, create and maintain a global inventory of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons materials and place these weapons and materials under strict international safeguards.
  11. Initiate international negotiations to fulfill existing treaty obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the phased and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.
  12. Initiate a moratorium on new nuclear power reactors and gradually phase out existing ones, as these are a primarily means for the proliferation of nuclear materials, technology and weapons; simultaneously establish an International Sustainable Energy Agency to support the development of clean, safe renewable energy.
  13. Redirect funding from nuclear weapons programs to dismantling nuclear weapons, safeguarding nuclear materials, cleaning up the toxic legacy of the Nuclear Age and meeting more pressing social needs such as education, health care and social services.

There is no magic formula for accomplishing these goals or, for that matter, for changing the world in any direction. Change often occurs one person at a time. The problem with the nuclear weapons threat is that there may not be time for such a progression of involvement. People must immediately change their thinking and they must engage in this issue as if their very lives depended upon it because they do. Many people think that this will probably not happen until another major city has been destroyed by a nuclear weapon. It would be a terrible failure of imagination if the destruction of a city is required to move us to take significant action to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity.

We know that the danger is lurking in the dark recesses of our collective consciences. Why else would we give our tacit assent to nuclear weapons programs, even in our most prestigious universities where the next generation of leaders is being educated? We must bring the hidden fears and dangers of the Nuclear Age into the light and act with resolve to change the course of history, which sadly now seems to be racing toward inevitable future nuclear catastrophes, unless there is a real awakening.

David Krieger is a founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is a leader in the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons.

1 See http://www.mayorsforpeace.org
2 See http://www.abolitionnow.org
3 See https://www.wagingpeace.org