This is a transcript of the 2010 Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity’s Future, delivered by Max Kampelman on February 25, 2010 at Santa Barbara City College.

It will take time, patience, pain and good fortune, but our welfare as human beings, indeed the survival for many, must be based on more than the threat of nuclear retaliation.  A balance of nuclear terror is not an adequate basis for our survival as human beings or as a country, or for our country’s strategic policy, although it did recently serve to permit the United States and Russia to substantially reduce the number of our strategic nuclear weapons.  What does remain and cannot be ignored, however, is the existence of active rogue and terrorist forces in the world seeking nuclear capabilities for their dangerous purposes.  I am convinced that zero nuclear weapons, urged by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and others, must be our immediate civilized goal.

Where are we heading?  Are democracy and liberty our human destiny, as suggested by Francis Fukiyama?  Or do we face an inevitable violent clash of civilizations on perhaps a worldwide scale, as suggested by Samuel Huntington?  

Let me point out that during my childhood, one lifetime, strange as it may appear to the young among us, there were no vitamin tablets, no antibiotics, no televisions, no dial telephones, no refrigerators, no FM radios, no synthetic fibers, no dishwashers, no electric blankets, no airmail, no transatlantic airlines, no instant coffee, no Xerox, no air conditioning, no frozen foods, no contact lenses, no birth control pills, no ballpoint pens, no transistors.  The list can go on.

In my lifetime, medical knowledge available to physicians has increased perhaps more than tenfold.  I am told that more than 80 percent of all scientists who ever lived are alive today.  The average life span of the human being keeps steadily increasing.  We now have complicated computers, new materials, new biotechnological processes and more, which are altering every phase of our lives, deaths, and even reproduction.  

We are living in a period of information power with the telefax, electronic mail, the super computer, high definition television, the laser printer, the cellular phone, the optical disc, video conferences, the satellite dish – instruments which still appear to my eyes to be near miracles.  No generation since the beginning of the human race has experienced or absorbed so much change so rapidly – and it is probably only the beginning.  As an indication of that, more than 100,000 scientific journals annually publish the flood of new knowledge that pours out of the world’s laboratories.

These developments are stretching our minds and our grasp of reality to the outermost dimensions of our capacity to understand them.  Moreover, as we look ahead we must agree that we have only the minutest glimpse of what our universe really is.  We also barely understand the human brain and its energy; and the endless horizons of space and the mysteries found in the great depths of our seas are still virtually unknown to us.  Our science today is indeed still a drop, and our ignorance remains an ocean.

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention.  I suggest the corollary is also true; invention is the mother of necessity.  Technology and communication are necessitating basic changes in our lives.  Information has become more accessible in all parts of our globe, putting authoritarian governments at a serious disadvantage.  The world is very much smaller.  There is no escaping the fact that the sound of a whisper or a whimper in one part of the world can immediately be heard in all parts of the world – and consequences follow.  And yet, the world body politic has not kept pace with the world of scientific and technological achievements.  Just as the individual human body must adjust to the climate in which it lives, so is it necessary for governments and administrations to examine the atmosphere in which they live as new directions and changes become apparent.

It is important for the human race to seek security without associating it with destruction.  Nuclear terror is not an adequate foundation for strategic policy.  President Obama has made that clear during his political campaign and in his later appearances at the United Nations where he and President Medvedev of Russia called for zero nuclear weapons.

It is increasingly evident that the developing constructive relationship between the United States and Russia should realistically reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons.  Indeed it provides the opportunity for more than prudent and even deep reductions.  The developing constructive relationship between the United States and Russia permits both of us to lead the world toward an enforceable United Nations General Assembly agreement that the development and possession of nuclear weapons is considered to be an international punishable crime.  The UN Security Council should then be charged by the UN General Assembly with the responsibility to eliminate nuclear cheating.  This could be accomplished by the creation of a UN Bank to purchase all active nuclear military materials and convert that material into civilian nuclear power for energy starved areas.  Violations of zero should result in political, economic and social world isolation.  

The task of the UN General Assembly is to establish a civilized “ought” for the world and the task of the UN Security Council is to create the machinery of civilization necessary to achieve the goal of zero, to prevent cheating and to provide for political, economic and social isolation as a price for cheating.  

The United Nations has been understandably disappointing to many, but it is alive and should be utilized.  At the opening session that created the United Nations, President Truman welcomed its presence in the United States, and in his formal greeting called for the abolition of nuclear weapons on behalf of the United States government.  He greeted the delegates from around the world and said that “there is nothing more urgent confronting the people of all nations than the banning of all nuclear weapons under a foolproof system of international control.”  It is time to remember that goal.

It is time once again for the United States to lead the world towards that goal and sanity.  It is also time to achieve that goal of zero and to demonstrate that the United Nations is alive, that its goals are civilized and clear and that it can begin to earn civilized respect.  

President Obama recently reminded us of the historic Truman message to the United Nations.  He was joined by our Russian colleague, President Medvedev, as they both declared a commitment to a nuclear free world.  In addressing the UN delegates from around the world, our President said: “there is nothing more urgent confronting the people of all nations than the banning of all nuclear weapons under an international set of agreements. . . .”

The President’s message is clear.  And yet we all appreciate that until that zero goal is reached, problems must be met and resolved.  This reality should not be permitted to replace or postpone the goal we have set for ourselves as a nation.  I note this here because of understandable reactions by our highly trained and committed officials who are inclined to emphasize reductions in nuclear weapons more clearly than those of us who aspire and call for zero nuclear weapons.  

The time for us to achieve our goal of zero is now!