“Nuclear bombs.violate everything that is humane; they alter the meaning of life. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?” — Arundhati Roy

David KriegerNorth and South are approximations, reflecting both a geographic and economic divide. There is no monolithic North, nor South. There is South within North and North within South, inasmuch as in the North there exists much poverty and in the South there is a stratum enjoying great wealth in most societies. In general, though, the North tends toward industrialization, wealth, dominance and exploitation, while the South, which has a long history of domination by the North in colonial and post-colonial times, tends toward poverty, including extreme and sometimes devastating poverty. Within both South and North powerful subcultures of militarism and extremist violence have emerged that, when linked to nuclear weapons, threaten cities, countries, civilization and the future of life.

Nuclear weapons have been primarily developed and brandished by the North, and used to threaten other countries, North and South. The South, which for the most part has lacked the technology to develop nuclear weapons, has begun to cross this technological threshold and join the North in obtaining these weapons of mass annihilation. The original nuclear weapons states – the US, Soviet Union, UK, France and China – were largely of the dominant North, although the Soviet Union had major areas of poverty and China, although geographically in the North was the exception, reflecting the poverty of the South after having been subjected to humiliating colonial domination and exploitation.

Israel, an outpost of the North surrounded by oil-rich but underdeveloped countries of the South, surreptitiously developed a nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan, coming from a background of poverty and colonial domination, developed nuclear arsenals after it became clear that the other nuclear weapons states were intent upon indefinitely maintaining their nuclear arsenals rather than fulfilling their obligations for nuclear disarmament. Both countries were clearly on the Southern side of the economic and colonial divide, as was the final nuclear weapons state, North Korea, which is thought to have developed a small arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The world is at a critical nuclear crossroads. In one direction lies an increasing number of nuclear weapons states and nuclear-armed terrorist organizations, a world of unfathomable danger. In the other direction, lies a nuclear weapons-free world. It is the responsibility of those of us alive today on our planet to choose in which direction we shall travel. We do not have the option of standing still, with North and South, rich and poor, dominant and exploited frozen in time and inequity. Terrorism is inherent in the possession and implicit threat of use of nuclear weapons by any country. Such state terrorism creates the possibility that extremist non-state actors, who can neither be located nor deterred, will gain possession of these weapons or the materials to make them and threaten or use nuclear weapons against even the most powerful, nuclear-armed countries.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Metaphor

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a metaphor for the North-South divide on nuclear weapons. The United States viewed the explosions from above. In fact, the US sent a camera crew in a separate airplane to record from the air the bombing of Hiroshima. In considering the bombings, the United States focused on technological achievement, the efficiency and power of the bomb, and bringing the war to a rapid conclusion. US politicians and opinion leaders wrapped the bomb in ribbons of mythic goodness and Americans today continue, to their own peril, to treat the bomb as a historically favorable outcome of fortune, scientific skill and determination to prevail. US President Harry Truman invoked God in his first public comment on the bomb: “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.” In the view of Truman and many Americans, God had delivered to the Americans a war-winning tool of dominance, perhaps absolute dominance. This was and remains the view of the North, the rich, powerful, dominant and aloof.

The Japanese, despite the closer fit of the country with the North than the South, viewed the bomb from the uncomfortable position of being beneath it and victimized by the full fury of its force. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over 210,000 men, women and children were killed instantly or given short-term death sentences due to the explosive force of the bombs, the fires that were set in motion by the bombs and the deadly radiation released by the bombs. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked without warning and the vast majority of those who perished in those destroyed cities were civilians. For more than 60 years the survivors of the atomic bombings have fought for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The memorial cenotaph at Hiroshima carries these words: “Never Again! We shall not repeat the evil.” Those who survived the bombings, the hibakusha, reflect the view of the South, the poor, powerless, dominated and exploited.

The Metaphor of Master and Slave

Another metaphor that is apt is that of master and slave. If nuclear weapons are instruments of absolute dominance, they create a master-slave relationship. The master doesn’t need to use the bomb to exercise his power. He only needs to make known his willingness to do so. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki etched into the minds of people everywhere the fact that the US was willing to use the bomb, should circumstances dictate. The US had proven its commitment to power by its ruthless destruction of undefended cities. It sent a message regarding its will to dominance of extraordinary clarity, intended primarily to the Soviet Union, but to people everywhere as well.

Other states, primarily in the North, followed the US and developed their own nuclear arsenals: first, the Soviet Union, then the UK, France and China. These five states, the victors in World War II and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, became the first five nuclear weapons states. They developed policies of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which they believed held each other’s nuclear arsenals in check. In their dangerous nuclear posturing, they placed at risk not only their own citizens but the future of life on the planet. They called this posturing deterrence, but more objectively it might have been called state-threatened nuclear terrorism.

In every aspect of pursuing and perfecting nuclear annihilation, the nuclear weapons states have exploited the South, including the pockets of poverty within their own borders. It has been the poor and disempowered, often indigenous peoples, of the South who have paid the heaviest price in health and future habitability of their lands for the mining of uranium, the atmospheric and underground testing of nuclear weapons, and the dumping of the radioactive wastes in their backyards.

But by the mid-1960s the nuclear weapons states, which continued to increase the size and power of their own arsenals, became worried that the world would become far more dangerous if nuclear arms spread to other countries, and particularly to countries of the South. They believed that the further proliferation of nuclear weapons would disrupt the patterns of dominance in the post-colonial relationship between the North and South that was developing with the collapse of overt colonialism.

The Two-Tier Structure of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Thus, it was the US, UK and USSR that proposed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the mid-1960s. By 1968, the treaty was ready for signatures and the three initiating nuclear weapons states were eager to sign. The treaty required the non-nuclear weapons states to agree not to acquire nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapons states to agree not to provide nuclear weapons or the materials to make them to the non-nuclear weapons states. But it went further. To sweeten the deal for the non-nuclear weapons states, the nuclear weapons states agreed in Article IV to assist them with the “peaceful” uses of nuclear technology; and also agreed in Article VI to “good faith” negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament.

When the Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970, the non-nuclear weapons states had every reason to believe that the treaty would lead to nuclear disarmament on the part of the nuclear weapons states, thus leveling the playing field, rather than creating a permanent two-tier structure of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” a structure that would assure the dominance of the North. As it turned out, the nuclear weapons states did not fulfill their nuclear disarmament obligations under the treaty, and continued to build up their nuclear arsenals for two more decades before making any serious attempts to reduce them in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Many leaders in the South recognized the spiritual bankruptcy and extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, as well as the threats to humanity posed by the Cold War nuclear arms race. States of the South, for the most part, were content to forego nuclear weapons in the interests of other forms of security. Nearly all states of the South became parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and most of the states in the Southern hemisphere entered into agreements to create regional Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; and Africa. Nearly the whole of the Southern hemisphere is now part of the series of Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones that are committed to keeping nuclear weapons out of their regions. While this was going on, the nuclear weapons states turned a blind eye or, in some cases worse, assisted Israel in developing a nuclear arsenal.

By the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a review conference of the parties took place at five year intervals and a Review and Extension Conference was scheduled for 25 years after the treaty’s entry into force. The Review and Extension Conference took place in 1995 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The nuclear weapons states, led by the United States, pushed for an indefinite extension of the treaty to make it permanent. A few courageous states of the South and many civil society organizations took issue with this position on the grounds that the nuclear weapons states had not fulfilled their obligations for good faith negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. Under such circumstances, they argued, an indefinite extension would be akin to giving these states a blank check to continue with business as usual. The opponents of an indefinite extension pressed for extensions for periods of years, in which the nuclear weapons states would be required to make progress toward achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament.

The Indefinite Extension of the Treaty

At the end of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, the nuclear weapons states prevailed and the treaty was extended indefinitely. The nuclear weapons states reaffirmed their Article VI commitment “to pursue good faith negotiations of effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.” They also promised “determined pursuit.of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons.” But their pursuit of these goals has been far less than “determined.”

What the opponents of the indefinite extension feared would happen, has indeed transpired. In the light of little tangible progress on nuclear disarmament or sincerity on the part of the nuclear weapons states, India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons in 1998, announcing that they would not live in a world of “nuclear apartheid.” India, a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, had tested what it called a “peaceful” nuclear device in 1974. In 1998, India clearly crossed the line into the status of nuclear weapons state. There was cheering in the streets of India, and this would be matched by the wild excitement demonstrated in the streets of Pakistan following their nuclear tests. A very dangerous region of repeated crises and violence over the disputed territory of Kashmir had now taken on a nuclear dimension, one with the possibility of taking tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, of innocent lives.

In the year 2000, the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty met for their sixth five-year review conference and the first since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference. After much jockeying for position, the parties to the treaty agreed unanimously to 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. These steps included ratification of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, preserving and strengthening the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and negotiations for a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons states committed to an “unequivocal undertaking.to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament.” But despite the agreement of the nuclear weapons states to these and other steps for nuclear disarmament, they have accomplished almost nothing to demonstrate that their words were anything more than additional empty promises.

At the seventh Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in the year 2005, there was virtually no progress. The delegates spent the first ten days of the meetings trying to reach agreement on an agenda, and then could only take note of the failure to make progress on any of the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. Much of this failure can be attributed to a single incompetent leader in the North, George W. Bush, who has promoted new uses for nuclear weapons use while expressing implacable hostility to international law in all its forms.

The Tragic Policies of George W. Bush

The policies of George W. Bush have opened the door to preemptive or preventive uses of nuclear weapons, and have made clear that under his leadership US nuclear policy contemplates the use of nuclear weapons as opposed to a more limited policy of deterrence. Mr. Bush has opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and encouraged funding to reduce the time needed to make the Nevada Test Site ready for testing from three years to about 18 months. Bush also withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, despite protests from both Russia and China. In addition, Bush pushed the Russians into signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in 2002, a treaty which provides for reducing the number of actively deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each side from about 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 by December 31, 2012. Among the many problems with this treaty are that it has no provisions for verification or irreversibility, no timetable other than the end date, and no means to continue the treaty beyond 2012, when both sides could immediately and dramatically expand their nuclear arsenals.

In his first State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” Despite the fact that the three countries formed no axis, Bush lumped them together and branded them as evil. Once a country has been tarred as evil, it is far easier to commit atrocities against its people, as Mr. Bush has demonstrated in the aggressive war he has pursued against Iraq. North Korea has withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Iran, as yet still a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has been pursuing uranium enrichment, a potential step toward the development of nuclear weapons, but one that has been allowed under Article IV of the treaty and has been exercised by other non-nuclear weapons states parties to the treaty.

In these early years of the 21st century, the North continues to find uses for nuclear weapons that threaten the countries of the South. What the countries of the North, perhaps particularly the United States, don’t seem to grasp is that nuclear weapons are likely to be their undoing in a time of non-state extremism. While it may be possible to deter another country from using nuclear weapons (this is arguably the principal reason that North Korea and Iran would pursue nuclear arsenals), it is impossible to deter a non-state terrorist organization from using nuclear weapons. Nuclear deterrence has its limits, and one clear limit is that a country cannot threaten or retaliate against organizations that cannot be located or whose members are suicidal. The longer the US and other nuclear weapons powers continue to rely upon nuclear weapons for their security, the greater the likelihood that these weapons will find their way into the hands of terrorist organizations intent on inflicting damage on the nuclear weapons states.

Need for New Leadership

Mr. Bush has embarked upon what appears to be a highly unsuccessful “Global War on Terrorism,” a war that seems to be stimulating and breeding terrorism rather than eradicating it. It is a war pitting extremists against extremists, made more dangerous by the possibility of nuclear weapons being used by the North on countries of the South, or by terrorist organizations obtaining nuclear weapons and using them in the form of a nuclear 9/11. The possibility of nuclear weapons again being used in war has perhaps not been greater since their last use at Nagasaki. The clash of fundamentalists has pushed the door to nuclear annihilation open wider than ever. Common sense and reasonable concerns for security suggest that it is time to close that door by eliminating nuclear arsenals. The leadership to do this must come from the North, particularly from the US and Russia, the most dominant of the nuclear weapons states, which together possess over 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the nuclear weapons states don’t appear to recognize the imperative to end the nuclear weapons era, and continue to cling to their nuclear arms as instruments of dominance. Einstein recognized early in the Nuclear Age that these new weapons required a change in thinking. He famously said, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” That is the nature of our drift, toward catastrophe, but a catastrophe in which the likelihood of the dominant powers becoming the victims is as great as their further victimization and dominance of the South. Nuclear weapons give more power to the relatively weak than they do to the powerful. With nuclear weapons, the weak can destroy the powerful. The powerful, on the other hand, would certainly destroy their own souls by attacking the weak with nuclear weapons. In the end, nuclear weapons are equalizers and equal opportunity destroyers.

The question that the North needs to consider seriously is whether it wishes a world with many nuclear powers, including non-state actors, or a world with no nuclear weapons. What exists between these poles, including the current nuclear status quo, is not sustainable. It must tip in one direction or the other. If it tips toward many nuclear weapons powers, the price will be widespread annihilation. If it tips in the direction of eliminating nuclear weapons, humanity may save itself from destruction by its most powerful and cowardly tools of warfare.

In the Nuclear Age, the South has attempted to pull itself up by its bootstraps, while the North has wasted huge resources on the development of its weaponry in general and on its nuclear weaponry in particular. The United States alone has spent over $6 trillion on its nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems since the beginning of the Nuclear Age. It is worth contemplating how our world might have been different if these resources had been used instead to eradicate poverty and disease and provide education and hope in the far corners of the world. Would the North still be resented, as it is now, by the politically aware poor and dispossessed?

In analyzing the North-South divide in nuclear weaponry, one realizes that this divide has benefited neither the North nor the South, and is bound to end in disaster for all. But the same is true of the North-South divide absent nuclear weapons. A relationship of domination, enforced by any means – military, economic or political – is not sustainable. This divide is perhaps most dangerous when it could ignite a nuclear conflagration, but it is still dangerous when the divide breeds terrorism in response to structural violence. It is not only the nuclear divide that must be ended by the elimination of nuclear weapons, but the greater divide between the North and South that must be closed. The world cannot continue indefinitely half-slave and half-free, half mired in poverty and half indulged in abundance. Resources are not limitless and modern communications make each half aware of the status of the other half.

The Narrowing Nuclear Divide

Nuclear weapons, the ultimate weapon of cowardice, may be seen as a symbol of what separates rather than what unites the world. Nuclear weapons turn the North into cowards and bullies and the South into victims that may most effectively find their heroism and personhood in acts of resistance. Ending the nuclear threat by eliminating nuclear weapons will lead to finding more equitable and decent ways of settling differences between states of the North and South, ways that will in the end benefit both sides of this divide.

In 1955, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and nine other distinguished scientists issued an appeal, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. This appeal concluded with these thoughts: “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? We appeal as human beings to human beings: 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.”

More than fifty years later, the warning in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto rings true. Nuclear weapons confront humankind with the risk of universal death. We are challenged, North and South alike, to end this risk to humanity and to the human future. To effectively end this risk will require that peoples of North and South to join hands and form a bond rooted in their common humanity and their common concern with protecting and passing on the planet and all its natural and man-made treasures in tact to future generations.

The starting point for this effort, the elimination of nuclear weapons, may seem to some like a sacrifice on the part of the nuclear weapons states, but will, in fact, assure their own security as well and liberate their people from the soul-crushing burden of being complicit in threatening the massive annihilation of innocent people. The greatest challenge of our time, for North and South alike, is to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate humankind and to redirect the resources being spent to create, maintain and improve these weapons to programs that will uphold human dignity by assuring that basic needs are met and education provided for all of the world’s people.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is a leader in the global effort for a world free of nuclear weapons.