This article was originally published in Reaching Critical Will’s News In Review.
Organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and moderated by Rick Wayman, the panel consisted of five speakers who discussed the goal of shifting paradigms on nuclear weaponry and energy.
David Krieger, NAPF President, defined “omnicide,” as the ability to destroy humanity and other complex life forms, calling it the most compelling reason to abolish nuclear weapons. He argued that because of the possibility for total destruction, nuclear weapons are not useful for war, only for political uses such as dominance and prestige.
Mr. Krieger and fellow panelist Steven Starr both challenged nuclear deterrence in their statements. Mr. Starr pointed out that deterrence involves the assumption that leaders are rational, and Mr. Krieger added that omnicide was an incredibly high risk to take when tested against that assumption. Mr. Krieger also pointed out that there have been numerous near misses at nuclear war. Mr. Starr noted that deterrence has to work perfectly to justify nuclear weapons, and that it has to fail only once to cause a worldwide catastrophe.
Mr. Starr and Alice Slater also discussed the environmental effects of nuclear technology. Mr. Starr concentrated upon the effects of usage of nuclear weapons, noting that a scientific modeling of a possible nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan using only low-yield weapons found that atmospheric pollution would block sunlight, lowering temperatures in North America by 2.5-4 degrees Celsius; this would limit crop viability in Canada and the United States. Mr. Starr argued that even the low-yield weapons used would cause the starvation of nearly one billion people.
In addition to the 32 states with plutonium and highly-enriched uranium, states with nuclear power programs are also able to develop weapons in months without significant technological adaptation.
Ms. Slater quoted former CIA Director George Tenet, who noted that the difference between a power program and a weapons program is “time and intent, not technology.” Ms. Slater, who argued against nuclear energy altogether, noted that renewable energy sources were sufficient to power the planet without usage of nuclear, coal or oil-based power. She noted that while there was an “inalienable right” to nuclear power in Article IV of the NPT, it could be overruled in future agreements as renewable power arrangements such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) replaced nuclear power.
Panelist Rob Green, who served as a commander in the British Navy before authoring Security Without Nuclear Deterrence, focused on the ‘indoctrination’ of military personnel and diplomats into the fallacy of nuclear deterrence. Green turned away from military leaders as a pilot in the 1960s, when he carried nuclear weapons until he realized that he would “destroy myself if I dropped it […] I was ordered to become a suicide bomber.”
Multiple panelists noted the risk to democracy that nuclear weapons pose. Mr. Green warned that deference to leaders was a major obstacle to challenging the status quo and achieving total nuclear disarmament. Ms. Slater noted that the military and conservative allies in parliaments have provided universal “push-back” to disarmament, which limits debate and democratic decision-making.
The final panelist, Kate Dewes, focused on current initiatives. Ms. Dewes, the Co-Director of the Disarmament and Security Centre, highlighted the Secretary-General’s 5-Point Plan on elimination of nuclear weapons and called upon civil society to continue pressuring the UN to proceed on the plan, which includes negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) and creation of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones. Joining Ms. Dewes in calling for negotiations to create a NWC, Mr. Starr also recommended that nuclear weapon states conduct health and environmental assessments. Mr. Green called for openness in discussion of nuclear weapons as a way of continuing this discussion. All five of the panelists highlighted the present NPT Review Conference as one of many places to continue the discussion, including delegates of governments, civil society and peace activists in the process.