Nuclear weapons will only be abolished when the moral consciousness of humanity is raised, just as it was raised by the moral re-assessment and rejection of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

The Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) would not be able to so blithely carry on with their nuclear weapons programs if world consciousness, raised to a new recognition of this continued affront on humanity, demanded abolition. But world consciousness has been dulled. We have lived with the bomb so long that it has insinuated itself into our thinking.

Why are some in the abolition movement now saying that the abolition of nuclear weapons is a remote, receding, and unrealistic goal?

Why are governments still being allowed to claim that the outmoded strategy of nuclear deterrence has even a shred of credibility or morality?

Why are the nuclear retentionists not being driven to obscurity by the sheer force of the legal, moral, political, and military arguments against the possession of nuclear weapons?

To address the paramount issue of our time with these searching questions brings us face to face with the hardest question of all: Does 21st century humanity have the vision, the courage, the strength, the perseverance to abolish the very instruments that can obliterate humanity itself? To that question we must give a resounding “yes”.

Public Priorities: A Common Ground For All Humanity

The first and perhaps over-arching requirement in building a world free of nuclear weapons is to have the confidence that it can be done. The doubters have had their way long enough. Having shown our anger at mis-placed public priorities where we prepare for war to preserve a fragile peace, let us now display our confidence that enough of us making a difference in the circumstances of our daily lives can indeed make a difference in the world as a whole.

Let us demand of our governments that they stop their duplicitous conduct and move beyond the traditional approaches of preventing war, which have failed disastrously. Today billions are spent on arms and militarization, while worthwhile peace initiatives and programs for human security are starved for lack of funds. These priorities must be reversed.

Globalization is a moment for us to express a vision of the kind of world we want in the 21st century.

Let me tell you my vision.

I want a world that is human-centered and genuinely democratic, a world that builds and protects peace, equality, justice and development. I want a world where human security, as envisioned in the principles of the United Nations Charter, replaces armaments, violent conflict and wars. I want a world where everyone lives in a clean environment with a fair distribution of the Earth’s resources and where human rights are protected by a body of international law.

But it is hard to obtain such a world. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reminded us, the century just ended was disfigured time and again by ruthless conflict. Grinding poverty and striking inequality persist within and among countries amidst unprecedented wealth. Nature’s life-sustaining services are being seriously disrupted and degraded. These diverse challenges to human security carry a powerful message.

Globalization must bring a new understanding of the world as a single community.

Globalization must mean more than creating bigger markets.

Globalization must use the sweeping power of technology to raise all of humanity to higher levels of civilization under a common global ethic.

By “global ethic,” I do not mean a global ideology or a single unified religion, and I certainly don’t mean the domination of one religion at the expense of others. Rather, I mean a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards, and personal attitudes. This ethic is the expression of a vision of peoples living peacefully together, of peoples sharing responsibility for the care of the planet. The abolition of nuclear weapons must become a central part of this new global ethic of enlightened realism.

Because of massive transformations in technology, communication and transportation humanity can now see itself, its unity and disunity, as no generation before could do. Humanity must also see not only its coexistence but also its commonality and the need for cooperation with one another.

Beyond all else, one great fact must stand out – the whole of the Earth is greater than the parts. Global security is of a higher order than national security – security at the expense of others.

Violence, injustice, war, oppression and poverty are seen not as the inevitable consequences of greed and aggression, but as symptoms of a world disorder caused by putting the parts before the whole. A globalized world of peace and justice can only be achieved by fostering this global ethic. This is an ethic that is not disloyal to community or country, rather, it lifts up the consciousness of one’s surroundings to a new recognition, never possible in the pre-technological age of globalization, of the interdependence of nations and systems making up the whole.

To address the human security agenda there needs to be an infusion of values-based principles into public policy that would establish and reinforce a common ground for all humanity: One that would emphasize the core values of respect for life, freedom, justice and equity. Sadly, this common ethic remains elusive in public policy. Consider:

The world’s nuclear arsenals have thus far cost over $8 trillion and counting. The U.S. alone has spent $5.5 trillion on its nuclear weapons and American taxpayers expend about $100 million a day in order to maintain them.

Despite the end of the Cold War, the world still spends $781 billion a year on armaments. Contrast this preparation for war with the $1.3 billion it spends on maintaining United Nations programs for peace.

For every dollar that all governments spend on military activities, less than a quarter-of-a-cent is spent on U.N. peacekeeping. Contrast this reality with the following: At least one-quarter of the world’s people live in extreme poverty, meaning they do not get enough food, access to clean water, proper sanitation, are subject to rampant disease, and are deprived of proper education.

Across the world nearly one billion people, two thirds of them women, will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or so much as write their names. This total includes more than 130 million primary school-aged children who are growing up without access to basic education.

Despite the purported goal of universal primary education, OXFAM argues that if current trends continue an estimated 75 million children will be out of school in the year 2015. These facts are not indicative of some tragic twist of fate, but are the result of the choices our governments have made, a testament to a deliberate turning of heads away from the poor. We must give meaning and value to all life.

It is not the resources that are lacking, but the political will. Let us remember such contrasts when we think of globalization and building a common ethic for a culture of peace. Elimination of the instruments of violence, beating swords into plougshares, making the transition from a culture of war, maintained and advanced by the huge war machine human industry has built up over many centuries, would be the greatest legacy we could ever leave to future generations. This must be our resolve.

Policy-makers must rid themselves of the idea that peace and security can be bought only with weaponry. We need to foster and promote the transition from a culture of war, violence, and discrimination to a culture, an ethic, of non-violence, dialogue, and tolerance. It will have to be based on collective efforts from a variety of partners inside and outside of government. It will depend upon the ability to raise people’s awareness of the fundamental human security needs and rights affecting the daily lives of millions.

A transformation of human consciousness, as great as the transformative power of globalization itself, must occur.

The Political Will To Abolish Nuclear Weapons

The single biggest impediment to successful globalization – that is peaceful and just – is the maintenance of nuclear weapons.

With the proliferation of nuclear and of other weapons of mass destruction, the weapons themselves have become the main enemy. Because an increasing number of nations will not tolerate the possession of nuclear weapons by some to the exclusion of others, the abolition of nuclear weapons is the indispensable condition for peace in the 21st century. Their abolition must be the focal point to the deep social change required for a global ethic of peace, since there is not hope for an equitable world as long as a handful of powerful States retain and rely on nuclear weapons while trying to prevent others from acquiring them.

The adherents of nuclear weapons say that their abolition will be the end result of the solidification of peace. They are putting the cart before the horse; the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) – through maintaining their nuclear weapons as instruments of power – are the catalysts for the spread of nuclear weapons and thus destabilizing the regions of the world. Of course, a security architecture must be built to support the abolition of nuclear weapons, but it is the outright refusal of the NWS to enter comprehensive negotiations for elimination that is worsening international relations.

The maintenance of nuclear weapons into the 21st century is not to fight wars, although that can never be excluded, but to perpetuate power. This power flows from the structures of greed by which the rich think they have a right to the lion’s share of the world’s resources, after which they will, in the right mood and setting, share superfluous largesse. What are the real concerns of the nuclear retentionists? The ability to maintain a free hand to coerce and impose their will globally; ergo the decision to construct a National Missile Defence system in order to preserve asymmetrical power between themselves and the rest of the world.

Proponents of missile defence claim they will not allow the United States to be black mailed by smaller nuclear powers. But because the U.S. intends to continue do just that with its own nuclear arsenal, it merely postpones the inevitable. Eventually either most nations will possess their own nuclear deterrent for self-defence or no one will.

The public seems precariously unaware of the present nuclear danger. Let us bring the basic facts into sharp focus. Today, eight nations possess some 32,000 nuclear bombs containing 5,000 megatons of destructive energy, which is the equivalent of 416,000 Hiroshima-size bombs. This is enough to destroy all major cities of 500,000 population or greater in the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Korea, Vietnam, Australia, South Africa, and Cuba.

U.S. and Russian nuclear-weapons systems remain on high alert despite the fact they ceased to be formal enemies a decade ago. Many Americans, as I know many Canadians, do not realize that the U.S. and Russia still rely on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). This doctrine purportedly made the use of nuclear weapons unthinkable during the Cold War by threatening the launch “on warning” of nuclear arsenals to counter any pre-emptive strike from the enemy, thus ensuring the devastation of all in any scenario.

The Cold War is supposed to be over, we have entered a new century and a new millennium, yet we still retain the ways and means to destroy ourselves. Indeed those means are spreading to other countries. This fact, combined with the aging and weakness of Russian technical systems, which the Kursk submarine disaster illustrated, has increased the risk of accidental nuclear attack. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that an accidental intermediate-sized launch of weapons from a single Russian submarine would result in the deaths of 6,838,000 persons from firestorms in eight U.S. cities. A similar catastrophic toll of death would result in Russia from a U.S. accident.

Why then is there no real action for elimination on the part of all the Nuclear Weapon States? Because the political will has not yet been developed.

The actual year in which the last nuclear weapon is dismantled or the precise time when the international community recognizes that war is no longer a viable means of resolving disputes is less important than the decision taken today to start down that road. The refusal of States to recognize that war is outmoded and a new architecture of global security must be built leaves the world in an increasingly dangerous condition.

The opportunity opened up by the end of the Cold War has been squandered. The nuclear retentionists have succeeded in sowing doubts that the abolition goal is feasible, in insisting that regional security everywhere is a precondition, in claiming that the technicalities of compliance and verification are overwhelming. They get away with this intellectual corruption because neither the political order, the media, nor the public has yet summoned up the wrath to denounce the retentionists for the deceit, charlatanry, greed, and power they represent.

The Right To Peace And The Abolition Of Nuclear Weapons

Society accepts the maintenance, indeed the reliance, of nuclear weapons because we accept violence. Nuclear weapons are the reflection of society’s willingness to commit violence. It is violence when great sections of humanity are economically discriminated against and even robbed of their right to basic human needs. It is violence when we sell arms to governments to intimidate, if not wage war against, their neighbours and even their own people. Violence is so endemic in our culture that it has become routine. It is the ultimate violence to threaten to use nuclear weapons against other human beings — against people we do not even know and to place in jeopardy not only their own survival as a people but the natural structure upon which all civilization rests.

The moral, legal and political challenge to nuclear weapons must be reinvigorated. Civil society, by this I mean communities, churches, citizens’ groups, all have a most pivotal role to play in heightening the pressure on governments to begin effective negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. It is essential that non-governmental leaders speak, with one voice, that nuclear weapons are unacceptable. Nuclear planners would then be deprived of any claim to moral legitimacy.

We must speak out to decry these very instruments that attack humanity. This is not “moralism,” it is not “rhetoric,” it is not “simplism.” It is, rather, the strengthening of a teaching that human conscience must assert itself in any understanding of right and wrong. To fail to do this is to consign humanity to denigration of intellect and loss of will, to deny it the very essence of humanity. I have stressed in this lecture the possibilities of globalization to promote attitudinal change in society so that it seeps into moral and legal thinking to both stimulate and sustain new government policies. A whole new way of thinking about nuclear weapons is required to effectuate change. This is the goal of UNESCO in promoting knowledge of a culture of peace.

A culture of peace is the set of values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behaviour and ways of life that inspire respect for all life, rejection of violence, and promotion of all human rights. A culture of peace is a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation. It grows out of beliefs and actions of the people themselves and develops in each country within its specific historical, socio-cultural and economic context. Mobilizing public opinion and developing new education programs, at all levels, are essential.

The themes of a culture of peace are the architecture for the human right to peace. The protection of the right to life and bodily security are at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When a weapon has the potential to kill millions of people in one blast, human life becomes reduced to a level of worthlessness that totally belies human dignity as understood in any culture. No weapon invented in the long history of warfare has so negated the dignity and worth of the human person as has the nuclear bomb.

The most devastating attack on the Declaration of Human Rights comes from those who would assault the very existence of human life on the planet.

We are yet some distance from a general societal recognition that the right to peace demands the abolition of nuclear weapons. But let us have a vision that morality and law, fully developed, will bring us to this vision. While we must bring our head to this matter, we must also bring our heart.

I reject the thinking of those who hold that the end of nuclear weapons is at least 100 years away and that until then “we must live with nuclear weapons as responsibly and quietly as we can.” That is dangerous pessimism. The world does not have 100 years to stamp out this pernicious cancer that is eroding human security.

There are too many people suffering, too much political frustration, too much potential for global devastation, to allow a mood of passivity. The abolition of nuclear weapons will not, by itself, bring peace, but it will allow the international community to deal more effectively with other threats to peace.

All great historical ideas for change go through three stages: first, the idea is ridiculed; then it is vigorously objected to; finally, it is accepted as conventional wisdom. The movement to abolish nuclear weapons has entered the second stage.

The time for those who understand the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons to make their voices heard, to wake up the public, to shake up governments is now. My hope lies in the blossoming of human intelligence and the emergence of a caring, activist civil society working along side of like-minded governments. We do not have the luxury of despair. We must believe that, with the application of our minds and hearts, we can overcome the nuclear retentionists.

When leaders in civil society work with like-minded governments, powerful results can be obtained. It is now the responsibility of civil society to put a worldwide spotlight on the recalcitrance of the NWS governments and show them that human consciousness has moved beyond them.