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Source: UN Chronicle, Summer 2000 v37 i2 p67.

Title: Third Act of the Nuclear Era.(need to abolish nuclear weapons)
Author: Douglas Mattern

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2000 United Nations Publications

Some 20 years ago, I drafted two resolutions regarding the nuclear arms race which were accepted by the United Nations disarmament agency for the special sessions on disarmament in 1978 and 1982. A total of 51 Nobel Laureates endorsed these resolutions. The first, entitled "To End the Arms Race", emphasized the central task facing humanity--to stop the arms race and create a new economic order to provide a more equitable distribution of the world's wealth and resources. The second, entitled "Hiroshima Resolution", cited the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world and urged that dramatic action was required to halt the dangerous course of world events.

It is sad to realize that 20 years later, including 10 years after the end of the cold war, the nuclear danger remains intact. There are still some 30,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world. Moreover, the United States and Russia have over 5,000 strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, ready to launch in a few minutes notice. A decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the official defense doctrine of these two countries remains "mutual assured destruction", with the appropriate acronym of MAD.

Most ominous is that the nuclear danger is actually increasing. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved ahead the hands of its "Doomsday Clock" toward midnight. The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons has warned that the "risk of use (or nuclear weapons) has increased", and that "the proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never Used--accidentally or by decision--defies credibility".

In addition to the volatile situation between the new nuclear States of India and Pakistan, Russia's early warning system has deteriorated to the point where it is unable to detect United States missile launches for at least seven hours a day. Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies Russia's early warning system, says, "against submarines, they basically have no warning". Former Ambassador James Goodby of the United States, who negotiated an August report to the Congressional Budget Office says: "I think the chances of a nuclear mistake are rising ... the effect of a glitch would be cataclysmic."

Another major problem is the United States insistence on building a new anti-ballistic missile system called the National Missile Defense (NMD). The cost, according to the latest government estimate, is around $60 billion. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warns that if the United States proceeds with this anti-missile system and consequently alters the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), it would have to take full responsibility for unleashing an international arms race. Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian echoed the same sentiment, saying that such a system "will trigger a new arms race".

The United States also has embarked on a programme to modernize 6,000 United States strategic warheads. This does not conform to the spirit of the SALT II Treaty, which was ratified by Russia in April 2000 and calls for a reduction to 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads for both sides. Russian ratification of SALT II is encouraging, but full implementation is not until 2007, and Russia has said it will withdraw from the Treaty if the United States proceeds with its anti-ballistic system. The United States Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is also a disaster, resulting in several countries asking why they should refrain from testing or developing nuclear weapons when the leading nuclear superpower refuses.

Also, keep in mind that the detonation of even one of today's strategic nuclear warheads, which are far more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, would be a disaster without historical precedent. Moreover, even with the SALT II Treaty fully implemented, the nuclear arsenal would still equal more than 300,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Surely we have the intelligence and the will to progress from a MAD world to a sane and safer one without waiting for catastrophe? As General Lee Butler, former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Strategic Air Command, remarked: "We can do better than condone a world in which nuclear weapons are enshrined as the ultimate arbiter of conflict. The nuclear beast must be chained, its soul expunged, its lair laid waste. The task is daunting, but we cannot shrink from it."

The great playwright Anton Chekhov said that if a gun appears in the first act of a play, it will be fired by the third act. We are now in the third act of the nuclear era; thus time is critical to abolish the nuclear gun before the Doomsday Clock strikes midnight. Good-sounding statements by the nuclear powers must not deter us from this task. An example comes from the United Nations conference reviewing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held in May. Under pressure from some UN Member States, the five nuclear powers initially made a pledge of "unequivocal commitment" to eliminate atomic weapons. This was considered so weak that additional pressure produced a stronger pledge for an "unequivocal undertaking by nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals". While this is a welcome and encouraging statement, there was no set timetable or further meetings established to achieve this goal, thus the pledge could prove to be meaningless. Words alone will not suffice--we must have action.

In public talks, I usually refer to the Seville Statement that was adopted in 1989 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its twenty-fifth General Conference session in Paris. The statement has been formally endorsed by scientific organizations and published in journals around the world. It concludes: "Since war begins in the minds of men, so peace also begins in our minds. The same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace."

It follows that as humankind created nuclear weapons, so can we abolish them. And as humanity is responsible for the twentieth century's culture of violence, war and environmental degradation, so can we create a culture of peace with social and economic justice and a sustainable environment for the twenty-first century and beyond.

A crucial component in this historical task is for people to think and act as responsible "citizens of the world". Remember that world citizenship is not a replacement for national or regional citizenship duties. It is an additional responsibility, affirming that people must work together across national borders with their Governments, the United Nations and with other international institutions to resolve our common global problems and secure our common fate.

Let us stop the hands on the Doomsday Clock, realizing that striking midnight would be forever. Rather, let us begin this twenty-first century and new millennium with a brave new dawn of peace, hope and progress for humankind.

[Graphic omitted]The great German playwright Bertold Brecht wrote:

There are those who struggle for a day

And they are good

There are those who struggle for a year

And they are better

There are those who struggle all their lives

These are the indispensable ones.

Let us all be indispensable.

CD's 'Continued Paralysis'

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) on 6 July concluded the second part of its 2000 session with its President, Celso Amorim of Brazil, warning that the continued paralysis of the forum would erode confidence in the future of disarmament and non-proliferation.

He said that despite strenuous efforts to try and bridge the differences prevented it from agreeing on a programme of work, the Conference had been unable to embark on any substantive work after 16 weeks. The short number or absence of interventions in the meetings was testimony to the current mood in this forum. Although the Conference had lived through other "crises of identity", the present one appeared to be more serious. It was forum build upon recent steps which were particularly meaningful for the Conference. The important political message from Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons, in which the five nuclear-weapon States had assumed an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, had to be translated into urgent action.

The Conference on Disarmament would naturally continue to be influenced by developments in the international strategic scene, but it did not have only a passive role. If the Conference was capable of initiating meaningful work, it would, to some degree, have a positive influence on policies, decisions and developments outside its framework.

Ambassador Amorim said he was without any illusion as to the difficulties of reaching compromise solutions when vital security issues were involved. However, it was possible to "organize differences" in a way that did not prevent equally important goals, which were held in common, from being obtained. Although many concerns had been expressed on the paralysis of the Conference, a sense of crisis and therefore of urgency was not clearly perceptible. It was incumbent on members to act, if necessary, by raising the level of attention to the situation of the Conference in their own capitals.

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