Nuclear weapons, which might more appropriately be called “instruments of genocide,” are the ultimate weapons of mass annihilation. Global dialogue, on the other hand, is an engaged series of communications that seeks a deeper understanding and reconciliation of differences as well as peaceful solutions to conflicts affecting the international community. Nuclear weapons necessitate global dialogue.

Throughout the Nuclear Age, most of the exchange on nuclear weapons within the nuclear weapons states has been insular, technical and restricted to an elite group of political, military, industrial and academic participants–hardly a dialogue. It has been restricted to what kind of nuclear weapons to create, how to deploy them, how they should be developed and tested, and how many are needed. This non-dialogue has taken place within national security establishments, generally behind closed doors, with little public involvement. The result has been the development of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, reliance on untestable theories of deterrence, and security policies with the crudeness and finality of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Even in democratic societies such as the U.S., Britain and France, the public has never been offered a significant role in decisions on nuclear policy. The public has managed to intrude itself in the discourse only in extreme circumstances. One such circumstance occurred from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s when the public, with leadership from men like Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Schweitzer, became justifiably worried about the health effects of the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Public protests of atmospheric testing in the U.S. and elsewhere led to the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons in the oceans, the atmosphere and outer space.

In the U.S., the public again entered the discourse on nuclear weapons issues in the early 1980s when Cold War rhetoric reached alarming levels. Ronald Reagan was referring to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” and dialogue between the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union had all but vanished. Large numbers of people became active in a campaign to freeze nuclear arsenals as a first step towards nuclear disarmament. Civic and religious organizations throughout the nation added their voices in support of the freeze. On June 12, 1982 some one million people gathered in New York in support of the nuclear freeze movement.

In the mid-1980s, when the nuclear freeze movement was active in the United States, Europeans were protesting the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing missiles on their territories. People throughout Europe feared that with the emplacement of these nuclear-armed missiles on their soil, Europe would become the primary battleground for a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Each of these periods of public involvement opened the door to dialogue between the U.S. and Soviet governments on arms control issues. Unfortunately, the governments chose to take only small steps rather than significant strides. They ceased atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, but continued their testing underground. In doing so, they immediately reduced the environmental threat to humanity, but they failed to take the more important step of ending the nuclear arms race. The nuclear freeze movement led to a resumption of dialogue between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader with surprising vision, had become the head of the USSR. He and Ronald Reagan almost agreed to the elimination of their nuclear arsenals at a face to face meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986. For a few hours the two leaders, without their national security subordinates, actually engaged in a serious dialogue on eliminating their nuclear weapons. In the end, they were unable to reach an accord due to President Reagan’s commitment to building a missile defense system. A few years later, however, they began the process of strategic arms reductions. The U.S. and USSR were also able to agree to the elimination of all intermediate-range nuclear missiles, leading to the removal of U.S. cruise and Pershing missiles from Europe.

Among governments in the international community, a dialogue on nuclear weapons began almost immediately after the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. at the end of World War II. The very first resolution of the United Nations in January 1946 called for the creation of an Atomic Energy Commission with the task of eliminating nuclear weapons from national arsenals. Early efforts to achieve the international control of nuclear weapons at the United Nations failed, however, and the U.S. began atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific in mid-1946. Three years later the USSR began testing its own nuclear weapons.

In 1968 the international community reached agreement on a treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This agreement defined two classes of states, those with nuclear weapons prior to January 1, 1967, and all other states. In effect, this treaty divided the world into nuclear “haves” (U.S., USSR, UK, France and China), and nuclear “have-nots” (all other countries). It effectively established a system of nuclear apartheid. In Article VI of this treaty, the nuclear weapons states promised the other states that they would proceed with good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. Today, 30 years later, many non-nuclear weapons states rightfully question the good faith of the nuclear weapons states.

In 1995 the dialogue on non-proliferation and disarmament continued when the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) held a review and extension conference. At this conference, the nuclear weapons states sought an indefinite extension of the treaty, and brought much pressure to bear on non-nuclear weapons states to achieve this goal. A number of the non-nuclear weapons states argued for extensions for periods of time (such as 5 to 25 years) with renewals contingent upon progress by the nuclear weapons states in keeping their Article VI promises. In the end, the nuclear weapons states prevailed and the treaty was extended indefinitely.

Certain non-binding commitments, though, strongly advocated by the non-nuclear weapons states, were agreed to by the nuclear weapons states. These were: adoption of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, undertaking negotiations for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and the promise to engage in the “determined pursuit… of systematic and progressive efforts” to achieve nuclear disarmament. A CTBT was adopted in 1996, but negotiations have yet to begin on a fissile material cut-off. The “determined pursuit… of systematic and progressive” efforts by the nuclear weapons states to achieve nuclear disarmament is not apparent.

There are encouraging developments of more recent public involvement in the global dialogue on nuclear weapons. In the mid-1990s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came to the NPT Review and Extension Conference and lobbied for a commitment to the elimination of nuclear arsenals. When their lobbying of the nuclear weapons states fell largely on deaf ears, these NGOs prepared and adopted the Abolition 2000 Statement, which calls for negotiating a treaty by the year 2000 for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons. The goal of these NGOs was to enter the 21st century with such a treaty in place. These NGOs and others formed themselves into a global network to eliminate nuclear weapons, which is called Abolition 2000. Organizations in the network have attempted to enter into a dialogue with states on the issue of abolishing nuclear arsenals.

Another major citizen activity that brought the public into the global dialogue on nuclear weapons was the World Court Project. This project sought a decision from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Over 600 NGOs lobbied at the United Nations and around the world in support of taking this matter to the ICJ. They succeeded in getting both the World Health Organization and the UN General Assembly to ask the Court for an advisory opinion on the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

Oral hearings at the Court took place in October and November 1995. The nuclear weapons states and their NATO allies argued that the Court should not issue an opinion but, if it did, it should rule that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be legal under certain circumstances. Nearly all of the other states that came before the Court argued that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be illegal under international law under any circumstances.

On July 8, 1996 the Court issued its opinion. It found that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be generally illegal. Based upon the facts before it and the current state of international law, however, the Court was unable to conclude whether or not the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be legal or illegal in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a state would be at stake. The Court also said that any threat or use of nuclear weapons that violated international humanitarian law would be illegal. Thus, even in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, when its very survival was at stake, a state would still have to use nuclear weapons in such a way as not to injure or kill civilians and not to cause unnecessary suffering to combatants. Because of the nature of nuclear weapons (instruments of genocide) this would not be possible.

The Court concluded its opinion by stating: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The nuclear weapons states have thus far largely ignored this obligation. The UN General Assembly has responded by referring to this obligation in annual resolutions calling upon “all States immediately to fulfill that obligation by commencing multilateral negotiations … leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination.” These resolutions have been adopted by the UN general Assembly in 1996 and 1997.

Currently, many prominent voices are being heard in a decidedly one-sided attempt at global dialogue. These include distinguished international personalities–including U.S. General Lee Butler, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, British Field Marshall Lord Carver, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, and Nobel Peace Laureate Joseph Rotblat–who were called together by the Australian government in the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This commission made a strong plea for the elimination of nuclear arsenals in their 1996 report. They stated, “The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used–accidentally or by decision–defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.”

Some 60 former generals and admirals from throughout the world, also joined the call for the abolition of nuclear weapons in late 1996. The generals and admirals argued, “We believe… that business as usual is not an acceptable way for the world to proceed in nuclear matters. It is our deep conviction that the following is urgently needed and must be undertaken now:

“First, present and planned stockpiles of nuclear weapons are exceedingly large and should now be greatly cut back;

“Second, remaining nuclear weapons should be gradually and transparently taken off alert, and their readiness substantially reduced both in nuclear weapons states and in de facto nuclear weapons states;

“Third, long-term international nuclear policy must be based on the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons.”

In early 1998 over 100 international civilian leaders, including some 50 current or past heads of state or heads of government, also joined in the call for eliminating nuclear arsenals. These civilian leaders argued that the following six steps should be taken immediately:

1. Remove nuclear weapons from alert status, separate them from their delivery vehicles, and place them in secure national storage.

2. Halt production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

3. End nuclear testing, pending entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

4. Launch immediate U.S./Russian negotiations toward further, deep reductions of their nuclear arsenals, irrespective of START II ratification.

5. Unequivocal commitment by the other declared and undeclared nuclear weapon states to join the reduction process on a proportional basis as the U.S. and Russia approach their arsenal levels, within an international system of inspection, verification, and safeguards.

6. Develop a plan for eventual implementation, achievement and enforcement of the distant but final goal of elimination.

Nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 impacted the global dialogue, underscoring the Indian position that they will live in a world with no nuclear weapons, but not in a world of nuclear apartheid. It reflects the failure of the global dialogue that states as poor as India and Pakistan would find it necessary to devote any of their resources to nuclear weapons when so many of their people are without adequate food, shelter, education, and health care.

Over the years, religious organizations have from time to time spoken out on nuclear weapons issues. Some 75 U.S. Catholic Bishops associated with Pax Christi USA issued an important statement in June 1998 in which they challenged the theory of deterrence. Their statement concluded, “[T]he time has come for concrete action for nuclear disarmament. On the eve of the Third Millennium may our world rid itself of these terrible weapons of mass destruction and the constant threat they pose. We cannot delay any longer. Nuclear deterrence as a national policy must be condemned as morally abhorrent because it is the excuse and justification for the continued possession and further development of these horrendous weapons. We urge all to join in taking up the challenge to begin the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons now, rather than relying on them indefinitely.”

In June 1998, eight middle power nations, referring to themselves as the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden), called for entering the new millennium with a commitment in place to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons. In important respects, the call of the New Agenda Coalition echoed that of Abolition 2000. “The international community must not enter the third millennium,” the eight nation declaration asserted, “with the prospect that the maintenance of these weapons will be considered legitimate for the indefinite future, when the present juncture provides a unique opportunity to eradicate and prohibit them for all time. We therefore call on the Governments of each of the nuclear-weapons States and the three nuclear-weapons-capable States to commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of their respective nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capability and to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement.”

While the chorus of voices seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons is growing and includes many significant leaders, a real dialogue is not yet occurring. The nuclear weapons states are not taking seriously the calls for abolition, and they are not responding to these calls. For the most part, the acts of the nuclear weapons states constitute a continuation of the status quo. By the behavior of the nuclear weapons states, including their lack of dialogue, one would think that the Cold War had not ended nearly ten years ago.

We appear to be in a dialogue of the deaf. The people speak, but their voices are still weak. The political leaders and national security establishments of the nuclear weapons states do not respond. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin have been practically moribund with regard to their own nuclear dialogue. By their work to extend the NPT indefinitely and to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, they have, arguably, only sought to perpetuate nuclear apartheid. They also pushed back the date for completing the START 2 nuclear arms reductions from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007.

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin certainly have not moved decisively toward eliminating the nuclear threat to humanity or reducing their own arsenals. I believe that they will be judged harshly in the future for missing this historic opportunity. It is unfortunate that they are now being judged harshly for their respective addictions rather than for their abdication of responsibility on this issue of greatest importance to humanity’s future.

Dialogue is a characteristic of a healthy society. People must speak and listen to each other. Without dialogue, democracy fails. Without dialogue, needs go unmet and preventable disasters occur. In a global society, with technologies as powerful as nuclear weapons, dialogue is essential if we are to prevent major catastrophes.

We can learn from the history of the Nuclear Age that when enough people speak with a strong and unified voice the political leaders will respond. However, if the people do not speak, their political leaders will be unlikely to alter the status quo by themselves. This is one of the great tragedies of our time. Our political leaders have led by following. This places additional responsibility on people everywhere. More and more people must again make their voices heard on nuclear disarmament. They must demand an end to secrecy and elitism with regard to decisions on nuclear armaments. But most of all, they must demand an end to the nuclear weapons era. They must demand negotiations on the elimination of nuclear armaments, and the conclusion of a treaty to complete this process.

The future of humanity and much of life remains in jeopardy of annihilation by nuclear arsenals. The promises of the nuclear weapons states for good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament remain to be fulfilled. The people of the world, and particularly the people of the nuclear weapons states, must demand that the promise of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty for good faith negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament, be kept.

There are hopeful signs. The growth of Abolition 2000 to over 1,100 organizations is a sign of hope. In Japan, in only three months, over 13 million people signed the Abolition 2000 International Petition calling for ending the nuclear threat, signing a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, and reallocating resources to meet human needs. Abolition 2000’s goal of achieving an international treaty on nuclear disarmament by the year 2000 has now been echoed by the eight nations of the New Agenda Coalition. It is a reasonable goal. It provides an immediate focus for a global dialogue on nuclear disarmament. The missing actors in this dialogue are the leaders of the nuclear weapons states. The people must now lead them to the negotiating table.