There’s a very simple reason for focusing on the nuclear issue. Many, many issues are of supreme importance in one way or another, but if we blow ourselves up with nuclear weapon no other issue is really going to matter. Quite possibly there would be no other human beings left to be concerned about anything else.
There are many obstacles to nuclear weapons abolition and many opportunities, too many to run through a laundry list. Let me just comment on a bare few. I think one of the major obstacles to advancing the cause of nuclear abolition lies in what Lee Butler calls the “nuclear priesthood,” people who have built their lives and their careers upon nuclear weapons or nuclear doctrine. They are spreading the gospel – and some of them are in very high and influential places – that we need nuclear weapons, and we need them forever.
A Failure of Leadership
Another obstacle lies in the present so-called “leadership.” Leaders today are under-creative, over-cautious, distracted by day-to-day demands. Their destinations are determined by polls that change and bounce around from day-to-day. Yes, polls do indicate that something like 85 percent of the American people and people in many other countries believe we should eliminate nuclear weapons. However, that is not a passionate conviction.
People pay more attention to immediate matters that concern them in their lives in one way or another. They’ve become a little bit complacent. The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union vanished from the face of the Earth. President Clinton and President Yeltsin announced, with considerable fanfare, that we no longer target each other, which is symbolically pleasant but substantively doesn’t mean very much because we can re-target in a matter of seconds. There’s more likelihood now than during the more stable days of the Cold War that nuclear weapons will be used. Bill Perry, the former Secretary of Defense, said that it’s not a matter of if – it is a matter of where and when – weapons of mass destruction will be used.
Ambassador Robert Gallucci negotiated nuclear weapons with North Korea and with Iraq. He is now the Dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, a very prestigious position. He recently made a speech – which got no attention anywhere – in which he flatly stated it is likely that a nuclear weapon will destroy an American city sometime in the next ten years.
He described how it might happen. He said a “rogue state” fabricates a couple of nuclear weapons and turns them over to a terrorist organization. The terrorist organization sends one into Baltimore on a ship and takes another down to Pittsburgh in a truck. Then a message arrives in the White House: “Alteryour Middle East policies or on Tuesday you lose Baltimore and on Wednesday you lose Pittsburgh.” On Tuesday we lose Baltimore. “What does America do?” Gallucci asks. What does any nation do?
Two hundred years ago in our country some giants emerged at a time that is very relevant to today. They did some remarkable things, achieved what most people felt was impossible. Their names were Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and a few others. Much more recently, also relevant to our time, a giant named Jean Monnet provided the leadership in Europe that has led to the development, now underway, of the European Union, and has brought peace to a part of Europe that was the origin of so many terrible, bloody wars.
Leadership from Civil Society
The world needs leaders like that on the world stage, but we can’t wait for them much longer. Perhaps they’re not in the wings. Perhaps it’s going to fall to civil society to provide the leadership and demand the leadership. Civil society should say to present leaders that they want them to truly lead and tell them the common people want uncommon acts. They are needed in our time.
Civil society, represented by gatherings like this one, includes some truly remarkable people banding together in the cause of nuclear abolition. It may well provide the leadership in an imperceptible and almost virtually unseen way. This is the way leadership sometimes works and the leaders sometimes emerge. That sort of leader was described 2,000 years ago by Lao Tsu in the following words: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; less good when they obey and acclaim him; worse when they fear and despise him. Fail to honor people and they fail to honor you; but a good leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say we did this ourselves.”
Reinvigorating Civil Society
Two thousand years after those words were written, that could be civil society coming to life in our country and in our endangered world and in our endangered species. The people, for the most part, seem to be slumbering, or cynical, or angry, or overwhelmed by a sense of futility, inability, irrelevance. They are waiting for the opportunity to live in a different world and to help to make that world. That opportunity exists in a civil society. I think it is represented in what quite clearly seems to be a growing yearning for a greater meaning in life, for spirituality, for morality in a world that seems bereft of those characteristics at the present time.
It is unworthy of what we call civilization to base today’s fleeting security needs on the threat of genocidal attacks, one upon another. This generation’s fleeting needs that put in jeopardy all generations waiting to come to their place on Earth is again unworthy of humanity. I believe that it’s going to take civil society, with emerging leaders like Lee Butler, to achieve what we must achieve. That’s the excitement of working in civil society.