“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our ways of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophes.”
“I don’t know what will be used in the next world war, but the 4th will be fought with stones.”
1 The erosion of ethical principles during World War II
When Hitler invaded Poland in September, 1939, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appealed to Great Britain, France, and Germany to spare innocent civilians from terror bombing. ”The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortiﬁed centers of population during the course of the hostilities”, Roosevelt said (referring to the use of air bombardment during World War I) “…has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.”
He urged “every Government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to aﬃrm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortiﬁed cities.” Two weeks later, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain responded to Roosevelt’s appeal with the words: ”Whatever the lengths to which others may go, His Majesty’s Government will never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children and other civilians for purposes of mere terrorism.” Much was destroyed during World War II, and among the casualties of the war were the ethical principles that Roosevelt and Chamberlain announced at its outset.
At the time of Roosevelt and Chamberlain’s declarations, terror bombing of civilians had already begun in the Far East. On 22 and 23 September, 1937, Japanese bombers attacked civilian populations in Nanjing and Canton. The attacks provoked widespread protests. The British Under Secretary of State for Foreign Aﬀairs, Lord Cranborne, wrote: “Words cannot express the feelings of profound horror with which the news of these raids has been received by the whole civilized world. They are often directed against places far from the actual area of hostilities. The military objective, where it exists, seems to take a completely second place. The main object seems to be to inspire terror by the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians…” On the 25th of September, 1939, Hitler’s air force began a series of intense attacks on Warsaw.
Civilian areas of the city, hospitals marked with the Red Cross symbol, and ﬂeeing refugees all were targeted in a eﬀort to force the surrender of the city through terror. On the 14th of May, 1940, Rotterdam was also devastated. Between the 7th of September 1940 and the 10th of May 1941, the German Luftwaﬀe carried out massive air attacks on targets in Britain. By May, 1941, 43,000 British civilians were killed and more than a million houses destroyed. Although they were not the ﬁrst to start it, by the end of the war the United States and Great Britain were bombing of civilians on a far greater scale than Japan and Germany had ever done. For example, on July 24-28, 1943, British and American bombers attacked Hamburg with an enormous incendiary raid whose oﬃcial intention ”the total destruction” of the city. The result was a ﬁrestorm that did, if fact, lead to the total destruction of the city. One airman recalled, that ”As far as I could see was one mass of ﬁre. ’A sea of ﬂame’ has been the description, and that’s an understatement.
It was so bright that I could read the target maps and adjust the bomb-sight.” Another pilot was ”…amazed at the awe-inspiring sight of the target area. It seemed as though the whole of Hamburg was on ﬁre from one end to the other and a huge column of smoke was towering well above us – and we were on 20,000 feet! It all seemed almost incredible and, when I realized that I was looking at a city with a population of two millions, or about that, it became almost frightening to think of what must be going on down there in Hamburg.”
Below, in the burning city, temperatures reached 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which lead and aluminum have long since liqueﬁed. Powerful winds sucked new air into the ﬁrestorm. There were reports of babies being torn by the high winds from their mothers’ arms and sucked into the ﬂames. Of the 45,000 people killed, it has been estimated that 50 percent were women and children and many of the men killed were elderly, above military age. For weeks after the raids, survivors were plagued by ”…droves of vicious rats, grown strong by feeding on the corpses that were left unburied within the rubble as well as the potatoes and other food supplies lost beneath the broken buildings.” The German cities Kassel, Pforzheim, Mainz, Dresden and Berlin were similarly destroyed, and in Japan, US bombing created ﬁrestorms in many cities, for example Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama. In Tokyo alone, incendiary bombing caused more than 100,000 civilian casualties.
2 The nuclear arms race
On August 6, 1945, at 8.15 in the morning, a nuclear ﬁssion bomb was exploded in the air over the civilian population of Hiroshima in an already virtually defeated Japan. The force of the explosion was equivalent to ﬁfteen thousand tons of TNT. Out of a city of two hundred and ﬁfty thousand, one hundred thousand were killed immediately, and another hundred thousand were hurt. Many of the injured died later from radiation sickness. A few days later, Nagasaki was similarly destroyed.
The tragic destruction of the two Japanese cities was horrible enough in itself, but it also marked the start of a nuclear arms race that continues to cast a very dark shadow over the future of civilization. Not long afterwards, the Soviet Union exploded its own atomic bomb, creating feelings of panic in the United States. President Truman authorized an all-out eﬀort to build superbombs based on thermonuclear reactions, the reactions that heat the sun and stars.
In March, 1954, the US tested a thermonuclear bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Paciﬁc Ocean. It was 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The Japanese ﬁshing boat, Lucky Dragon, was 135 kilometers from the Bikini explosion, but radioactive fallout from the explosion killed one crew member and made all the others seriously ill. The distance to the Marshall Islands was equally large, but even today, islanders continue to suﬀer from the eﬀects of fallout from the test, for example frequent birth defects.
Driven by the paranoia of the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons on both sides reached truly insane heights. At the worst point, there were 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with a total explosive power roughly a million times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. This was equivalent to 4 tons of TNT for every person on the planet – enough to destroy human civilization many times over – enough to threaten the existence of all life on earth.
Figure 1: Birth defects continue to be common on the Marshall Islands half a century after the Bikini tests
At the end of the Cold War, most people heaved a sigh of relief and pushed the problem of nuclear weapons away from their minds. It was a threat to life too horrible to think about. People felt that they could do nothing in any case, and they hoped that the problem had ﬁnally disappeared.
Today, however, many thoughtful people realize that the problem of nuclear weapons has by no means disappeared, and in some ways it is even more serious now than it was during the Cold War. There are still 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, many of them hydrogen bombs, many on hair-trigger alert, ready to be ﬁred with only a few minutes warning. The world has frequently come extremely close to accidental nuclear war. If nuclear weapons are allowed to exist for a long period of time, the probability for such a catastrophic accident to happen will grow into a certainty.
Current dangers also come from proliferation. Recently, more and more nations have come to possess nuclear weapons, and thus the danger that they will be used increases. For example, if Pakistan’s less-than-stable government should fall, its nuclear weapons might ﬁnd their way into the hands of terrorists, and against terrorism deterrence has no eﬀect.
Thus we live at a special time in history – a time of crisis for civilization. We did not ask to be born at a moment of crisis, but such is our fate. Every person now alive has a special responsibility: We owe it, both to our ancestors and to future generations, to build a stable and cooperative future world. It must be a war-free world, from which nuclear weapons have been completely abolished. No person can achieve these changes alone, but together we can build the world that we desire. This will not happen through inaction, but it can happen through the dedicated work of large numbers of citizens.
Civilians have for too long played the role of passive targets, hostages in the power struggles of politicians. It is time for civil society to make its will felt. If our leaders continue to enthusiastically support the institution of war, if they will not abolish nuclear weapons, then let us have new leaders.
3 Targeting civilians: The Geneva Conventions
In Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, Articles 51 and 54 outlaw indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, and destruction of food, water, and other materials needed for survival. Indiscriminate attacks include directly attacking civilian (non-military) targets, but also using technology such as biological weapons, nuclear weapons and land mines, whose scope of destruction cannot be limited. A total war that does not distinguish between civilian and military targets is considered a war crime.
Throughout history, military forces have frequently committed the crime of deliberately targeting civilian populations. An early example of this was the bombardment of neutral Copenhagen by British forces, which took place, without a declaration of war, from 2-5 September, 1807. The object of the bombardment was to terrorize the citizens of the city, so that they would persuade their government to surrender the Danish-Norwegian ﬂeet to the British. Besides exploding shells, incendiary rockets were used, and about a third of the city was destroyed. In England, news of the bombardment was greeted with mixed reactions. Canning wrote that “Nothing ever was more brilliant, more salutary or more eﬀectual than the success [at Copenhagen]”, but Lord Erskine condemned it by saying “if hell did not exist before, Providence would create it now to punish the ministers for that damnable measure.” Another instance of targeting of civilians was the 1937 Fascist and Nazi destruction of Guernica, made famous by Picasso’s painting. A report described the event as follows: “Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders.
The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful ﬂeet of aeroplanes consisting of three types [of] Junkers and Heinkel bombers, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000 lbs. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminum incendiary projectiles. The ﬁghters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the ﬁelds” The Nanking Massacre was an episode of mass murder, mass rape and looting committed by Japanese troops against civilians and unarmed prisoners of war in Nanking (Nanjing), during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The massacre occurred during a six-week period starting on December 13, 1937, the day that the city surrendered to the Japanese.
The International Tribunal of the Far East estimated in 1948 that over 200,000 people were killed in this incident. Neither pregnant women, babies, young girls, nor old people were spared. On the 25th of September, 1939, Hitler’s air force began a series of intense attacks on Warsaw. Civilian areas of the city, hospitals and ﬂeeing refugees all were targeted. On the 14th of May, 1940, Rotterdam was also devastated. The German Luftwaﬀe also carried out massive air attacks on targets in Britain. Although they were not the ﬁrst to start it, by the end of the war, the United States and Britain were bombing civilian populations on a far greater scale than Japan and Germany had ever done. We can think of the terrible ﬁre bombings of Hamburg, Kassel, Pforzheim, Mainz, Dresden and Berlin, as well as Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. General Curtis LeMay, under whose command many of the attacks on Japanese civilians were carried out, said later: “I suppose that if [we] had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.”
Among the most savage recent attacks on civilians were those that occurred during the Vietnam War. Besides conventional high explosives, chemical weapons were used, including the notorious Agent Orange. This was a defoliant which not only lastingly damaged the ecology of Vietnam, but also had terrible eﬀects on the health of the civilian population. According to Wikipedia, “The government of Vietnam says that 4 million of its citizens were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suﬀered illnesses because of it; these ﬁgures include the children of people who were exposed….Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been aﬀected, and have multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias and extra ﬁngers and toes. In the 1970’s high levels of dioxin were found in the breast milk of South-Vietnamese women, and in the blood of US military personnel who had served in Vietnam.” During the Vietnam war, the eﬀect of conventional high-explosive bombs was also enormous. According to a study by Edward Miguel and G˜ A c rard Roland of the University of California, “The United States Air Force dropped in Indochina, from 1964 to August 15, 1973, a total of 6,162,000 tons of bombs [in Indochina]…This tonnage far exceeded that expended in World War II.” Of this enormous quantity, more than million tons of bombs were dropped on the tiny country of Laos, making it, per capita, the most heavily bombed nation in history The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traﬃc along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the nine-year period.
Up to a third of the bombs did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance. 1 Genocides must also be included if we are to have a complete picture of the way inwhich governments attack civilian populations. These include the mass murder of Jews, Poles and Gypsies by the Nazis during World War II, Armenian Genocide, the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, the genocidal treatment of Palestinians by Israel, and many many other cases.
Do our “Defense Departments” really defend us?
What is the point of this long and gruesome list of crimes committed by military forces against civilians? What I am trying to show, is that the very name, “Department of Defense” is a fraud. The military-industrial complex sells itself by claiming to defend civilians. It justiﬁes vast and crippling budgets by the same claim. But it is a fraud. Soldiers do not “guard us while we sleep” as Kipling believed. They do not defend us. They do not care about civilian lives. What the generals, arms manufacturers and politicians are really defending is their own power, and their own proﬁts. Civilians are just hostages. They are expendable. We can see this most clearly if we think of nuclear war. Nations threaten each other with “Mutually Assured Destruction”, which has the very appropriate acronym MAD. What does this mean? Does it mean that civilians are being protected? Not at all. Instead they are threatened with complete destruction. Civilians here play the role of hostages in the power games of their leaders.
If a thermonuclear war occurs it will be the end of human civilization and much of the biosphere. This will deﬁnitely happen in the future unless the world rids itself of nuclear weapons since, in the long run, the ﬁnite chance of accidental nuclear war happening due to a technical or human failure during a given year will gradually build up into a certainty of disaster. Nevertheless, our leaders stubbornly hold onto their nuclear toys, which seem to give them a sense of god-like power. Civilians must stop being passive hostages. Civil society must make its will felt. Where democracy has decayed, it must be restored. If our leaders continue to enthusiastically support the institution of war, if they continue to cling to nuclear weapons, then let us have new leaders! Today, the greatest threats facing human civilization and the biosphere are catastrophic climate change and nuclear war. Each of these could potentially destroy our civilization, kill most humans, and make most of our planet uninhabitable for most species, including our own. The peoples of the world must unite and work with dedication to avoid these twin threats.
Figure 2: Saint Paul’s Cathedral during the London Blitz. Determined ﬁreﬁghting by citizens saved the cathedral from burning, (Wikipedia)
Figure 3: A view of Dresden after the ﬁrebombing with a statue of “Goodness” in the foreground. (Wikipedia)
4 Targeting civilians
The erosion of ethical principles during World War II
When Hitler invaded Poland in September, 1939, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appealed to Great Britain, France, and Germany to spare innocent civilians from terror bombing. “The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortiﬁed centers of population during the course of the hostilities”, Roosevelt said (referring to the use of air bombardment during World War I) “…has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.” He urged “every Government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to aﬃrm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortiﬁed cities.”
Two weeks later, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain responded to Roosevelts appeal with the words: “Whatever the lengths to which others may go, His Majesty’s Government will never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children and other civilians for purposes of mere terrorism.” Much was destroyed during World War II, and among the casualties of the war were the ethical principles that Roosevelt and Chamberlain announced at its outset. At the time of Roosevelt and Chamberlains declarations, terror bombing of civilians had already begun in the Far East. On 22 and 23 September, 1937, Japanese bombers attacked civilian populations in Nanjing and Canton.
The attacks provoked widespread protests. The British Under Secretary of State for Foreign Aﬀairs, Lord Cranborne, wrote: “Words cannot express the feelings of profound horror with which the news of these raids has been received by the whole civilized world. They are often directed against places far from the actual area of hostilities. The military objective, where it exists, seems to take a completely second place. The main object seems to be to inspire terror by the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians…” On the 25th of September, 1939, Hitlers air force began a series of intense attacks on Warsaw. Civilian areas of the city, hospitals marked with the Red Cross symbol, and ﬂeeing refugees all were targeted in a eﬀort to force the surrender of the city through terror. On the 14th of May, 1940, Rotterdam was also devastated. Between the 7th of September 1940 and the 10th of May 1941, the German Luftwaﬀe carried out massive air attacks on targets in Britain. By May, 1941, 43,000 British civilians were killed and more than a million houses destroyed. By the end of the war the United States and Great Britain were bombing of civilians on a far greater scale than Japan and Germany had ever done. For example, on July 24-28, 1943, British and American bombers attacked Hamburg with an enormous incendiary raid whose oﬃcial intention was “the total destruction” of the city. The result was a ﬁrestorm that did, if fact, lead to the total destruction of the city. One airman
recalled, that “As far as I could see was one mass of ﬁre. A sea of ﬂame has been the description, and thats an understatement. It was so bright that I could read the target maps and adjust the bomb-sight.” Another pilot was “…amazed at the awe-inspiring sight of the target area. It seemed as though the whole of Hamburg was on ﬁre from one end to the other and a huge column of smoke was towering well above us – and we were on 20,000 feet! It all seemed almost incredible and, when I realized that I was looking at a city with a population of two millions, or about that, it became almost frightening to think of what must be going on down there in Hamburg.” Below, in the burning city, temperatures reached 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which lead and aluminum have long since liqueﬁed. Powerful winds sucked new air into the ﬁrestorm. There were reports of babies being torn by the high winds from their mothers arms and sucked into the ﬂames. Of the 45,000 people killed, it has been estimated that 50 percent were women and children and many of the men killed were elderly, above military age.
For weeks after the raids, survivors were plagued by “…droves of vicious rats, grown strong by feeding on the corpses that were left unburied within the rubble as well as the potatoes and other food supplies lost beneath the broken buildings.” The German cities Kassel, Pforzheim, Mainz, Dresden and Berlin were similarly de stroyed, and in Japan, US bombing created ﬁrestorms in many cities, for example Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama. In Tokyo alone, incendiary bombing caused more than 100,000 civilian casualties.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, an atomic bomb was exploded in the air over Hiroshima. The force of the explosion was equivalent to twenty thousand tons of T.N.T.. Out of a city of two hundred and ﬁfty thousand people, almost one hundred thousand were killed by the bomb; and another hundred thousand were hurt. In some places, near the center of the city, people were completely vaporized, so that only their shadows on the pavement marked the places where they had been. Many people who were not killed by the blast or by burns from the explosion, were trapped under the wreckage of their houses. Unable to move, they were burned to death in the ﬁre which followed.
Some accounts of the destruction of Hiroshima, written by children who survived it, have been collected by Professor Arata Osada. Among them is the following account, written by a boy named Hisato Ito. He was 11 years old when the atomic bomb was exploded over the city: “On the morning of August 5th (we went) to Hiroshima to see my brother, who was at college there. My brother spent the night with us in a hotel… On the morning of the 6th, my mother was standing near the entrance, talking with the hotel proprietor before paying the bill, while I played with the cat. It was then that a violent ﬂash of blue-white light swept in through the doorway.” “I regained consciousness after a little while, but everything was dark. I had been ﬂung to the far end of the hall, and was lying under a pile of debris caused by the collapse of two ﬂoors of the hotel. Although I tried to crawl out of this, I could not move. The ﬁne central pillar, of which the proprietor was so proud, lay ﬂat in front of me. ” “I closed my eyes and was quite overcome, thinking that I was going to die, when I heard my mother calling my name. At the sound of her voice, I opened my eyes; and then I saw the ﬂames creeping close to me. I called frantically to my mother, for I knew that I should be burnt alive if I did not escape at once. My mother pulled away some burning boards and saved me. I shall never forget how happy I felt at that moment – like a bird let out of a cage.” “Everything was so altered that I felt bewildered. As far as my eyes could see, almost all the houses were destroyed and on ﬁre.
People passed by, their bodies red, as if they had been peeled. Their cries were pitiful. Others were dead. It was impossible to go farther along the street on account of the bodies, the ruined houses, and the badly wounded who lay about moaning. I did not know what to do; and as I turned to the west, I saw that the ﬂames were drawing nearer..” “At the waters edge, opposite the old Sentai gardens, I suddenly realized that I had become separated from my mother. The people who had been burned were plunging into the river Kobashi, and then were crying out: ‘Its hot! Its hot! They were too weak to swim, and they drowned while crying for help.” In 1951, shortly after writing this account, Hisato Ito died of radiation sickness. His mother died soon afterward from the same cause.
Figure 5: Hiroshima (duniverso.com.br)
The postwar nuclear arms race
When the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reached Albert Einstein, his sorrow and remorse were extreme. During the remainder of his life, he did his utmost to promote the cause of peace and to warn humanity against the dangers of nuclear warfare. Together with Bertrand Russell and Joseph Rotblat he helped to found Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Aﬀairs (Nobel Peace Prize 1995), an organization of scientists and other scholars devoted to world peace and to the abolition of nuclear weapons. When Otto Hahn, the discoverer of ﬁssion, heard the news of the destruction of Hiroshima, he and nine other German atomic scientists were being held prisoner at an English country house near Cambridge. Hahn became so depressed that his colleagues feared that he would take his own life.
Figure 6: Hiroshima. The greater absorption of thermal energy by dark colors resulted in the clothes pattern, in the tight-ﬁtting areas on this survivor, being burnt into the skin.(Public domain)
Figure 7: Nagasaki before the nuclear explosion and ﬁrestorm. (Public domain)
World public opinion was also greatly aﬀected by the indiscriminate destruction of human life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the bombings, the French existentialist author Albert Camus wrote: “Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientiﬁc conquests. Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging. This is no longer a prayer, but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose deﬁnitively between hell and reason.” Among the scientists who had worked at Chicago and Los Alamos, there was relief that the war was over; but as descriptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became
available there were also sharp feelings of guilt. Many scientists who had worked on the bomb project made great eﬀorts to persuade the governments of the United States, England and the Soviet Union to agree to international control of atomic energy; but these eﬀorts met with failure; and the nuclear arms race developed with increasing momentum. In 1946, the United States proposed the Baruch Plan to internationalize atomic energy, but the plan was rejected by the Soviet Union, which had been conducting its own secret nuclear weapons program since 1943. On August 29, 1949, the USSR exploded its ﬁrst nuclear bomb. It had a yield equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT, and had been constructed from Pu-239 produced in a nuclear reactor. Meanwhile the United Kingdom had begun to build its own nuclear weapons. The explosion of the Soviet nuclear bomb caused feelings of panic in the United States, and President Truman authorized an all-out eﬀort to build superbombs using thermonuclear reactions – the reactions that heat the sun and stars.
The idea of using a U-235 ﬁssion bomb to trigger a thermonuclear reaction in a mixture of light elements had ﬁrst been proposed by Enrico Fermi in a 1941 conversation with his Chicago colleague Edward Teller. After this conversation, Teller (perhaps the model for Stanley Kubrick’s character Dr. Strangelove) became a fanatical advocate of the superbomb. After Truman’s go-ahead, the American program to build thermonuclear weapons made rapid progress, and on October 31, 1952, the ﬁrst US thermonuclear device was exploded at Eniwetok Atoll in the Paciﬁc Ocean. It had a yield of 10.4 megatons, that is to say it had an explosive power equivalent to 10,400,000 tons of TNT. Thus the ﬁrst thermonuclear bomb was ﬁve hundred times as powerful as the bombs that had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lighter versions of the device were soon developed, and these could be dropped from aircraft or delivered by rockets. The Soviet Union and the United Kingdom were not far behind. In 1955 the Soviets exploded their ﬁrst thermonuclear device, followed in 1957 by the UK. In 1961 the USSR exploded a thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 58 megatons.
A bomb of this size, three thousand times the size of the Hiroshima bomb, would be able to totally destroy a city even if it missed it by 50 kilometers. Fall-out casualties would extend to a far greater distance. In the late 1950s General Gavin, Chief of Army Research and Development in the United States, was asked by the Symington Committee, “If we got into a nuclear war and our strategic air force made an assault in force against Russia with nuclear weapons exploded in a way where the prevailing winds would carry them south-east over Russia, what would be the eﬀect in the way of death?” General Gavin replied: “Current planning estimates run on the order of several hundred million deaths. That would be either way depending on which way the wind blew. If the wind blew to the south-east they would be mostly in the USSR, although they would extend into the Japanese area and perhaps down into the Philippine area. If the wind blew the other way, they would extend well back into Western Europe.” Between October 16 and October 28, 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, an incident in which the world came extremely close to a full-scale thermonuclear war.
During the crisis, President Kennedy and his advisers estimated that the chance of an all-out nuclear war with Russia was 50%. Recently-released documents indicate that the probability of war was even higher than Kennedy’s estimate. Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense at the time, wrote later, “We came within a hairbreadth of nuclear war without realizing it… Its no credit to us that we missed nuclear war…” In 1964 the ﬁrst Chinese nuclear weapon was tested, and this was followed in 1967 by a Chinese thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 3.3 megatons. France quickly followed suit testing a ﬁssion bomb in 1966 and a thermonuclear bomb in 1968. In all about thirty nations contemplated building nuclear weapons, and many made active eﬀorts to do so. Because the concept of deterrence required an attacked nation to be able to retaliate massively even though many of its weapons might be destroyed by a preemptive strike, the production of nuclear warheads reached insane heights, driven by the collective paranoia of the Cold War.
More than 50,000 nuclear warheads were produced worldwide, a large number of them thermonuclear. The collective explosive power of these warheads was equivalent to 20,000,000,000 tons of TNT, i.e. 4 tons for every man, woman and child on the planet, or, expressed diﬀerently, a million times the explosive power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
Figure 9: The United States exploded a hydrogen bomb near the island of Enewetak in the South Paciﬁc in 1952. The explosive force of the bomb was 500 times greater than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union tested its ﬁrst hydrogen bomb in 1953. In March, 1954, the US tested another hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the Paciﬁc Ocean. It was 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The Japanese ﬁshing boat, Lucky Dragon, was 130 kilometers from the Bikini explosion, but radioactive fallout from the test killed one crew member and made all the others seriously ill. (Public domain)
Figure 10: After discussing the Bikini test and its radioactive fallout with Joseph Rotblat, Lord Russell became concerned for the future of the human gene pool if large numbers of such bombs should ever be used in a war. To warn humanity of the danger, he wrote what came to be known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. On July 9, 1955, with Rotblat in the chair, Russell read the Manifesto to a packed press conference. The document contains the words: “Here then is the problem that we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?… 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.” Lord Russell devoted much of the remainder of his life to working for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Here he is seen in 1962 in Trafalgar Square, London, addressing a meeting of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. (Public domain)
Figure 11: Albert Einstein wrote: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophes.” He also said, “I don’t know what will be used in the next world war, but the 4th will be fought with stones.”(Wikimedia)
Figure 12: Joseph Rotblat devoted the remainder of his life to working for peace and for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He became the president and guiding spirit of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Aﬀairs, an organization of scientists and other scholars devoted to these goals. In his 1995 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Sir Joseph Rotblat (as he soon became) emphasized the same point that had been made in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto – that war itself must be eliminated in order to free civilization from the danger of nuclear destruction. (Pugwash Conferences)
The end of the Cold War
In 1985, Michael Gorbachev (1931- ) became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev had become convinced by his conversations with scientists that the policy of nuclear confrontation between the United States and the USSR was far too dangerous to be continued over a long period of time. If continued, sooner or later, through accident of miscalculation, it would result in a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Gorbachev also believed that the USSR was in need of reform, and he introduced two words to characterize what he felt was needed: glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction). In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. The two leaders hoped that they might ﬁnd ways of reducing the danger that a thermonuclear Third World War would be fought between their two countries. Donald Reagan, the White House Chief of Staﬀ, was present at the meeting, and he records the following conversation: “At one point in time Gorbachev said ‘I would like to do away with all nuclear weapons. And Reagan hit the table and said ‘Well why didn’t you say so in the ﬁrst place! Thats exactly what I want to do! And if you want to do away with all the weapons, Ill agree to do away with all the weapons. Of course well do away with all the weapons. ‘Good, [said Gorbachev] ‘Thats great, but you must conﬁne SDI to the laboratory. ‘No I wont, said Reagan. ‘No way. SDI continues. I told you that I am never going to give up SDI.” The SDI program, which seemingly prevented Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev from reaching an agreement to completely eliminate their nuclear weapons was Reagan’s “Star Wars” program which (in violation of the ABM Treaty) proposed to set up a system of of radar, satellites and missiles to shoot down attacking missiles.
Gorbachev s reforms eﬀectively granted self-government to the various parts of the Soviet Union, and he himself soon resigned from his post as its leader, since the oﬃce was no longer meaningful. Most of the newly-independent parts of the old USSR began to introduce market economies, and an astonished world witnessed a series of unexpected and rapid changes: On September 10, 1989 Hungarian government opened its border for East German refugees; on November 9, 1989 Berlin Wall was reopened; on December 22, 1989 Brandenburg Gate was opened; and on October 3, 1990 Germany was reunited. The Cold Warwas over!
The Non-Proliferation Treaty
During the Cold War, a number of international treaties attempting to reduce the global nuclear peril had been achieved after much struggle. Among these, the 1968 Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) has special importance. The NPT was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the ﬁve nations that already had them; to provide assurance that “peaceful” nuclear activities of non-nuclear-weapon states would not be used to produce such weapons; to promote peaceful use of nuclear energy to the greatest extent consistent with non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; and ﬁnally, to ensure that deﬁnite steps towards complete nuclear disarmament would be taken by all states, as well steps towards comprehensive control of conventional armaments (Article VI). The non-nuclear-weapon states insisted that Article VI be included in the treaty as a price for giving up their own ambitions. The full text of Article VI is as follows: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on eﬀective measures relating cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict international control.” The NPT has now been signed by 187 countries and has been in force as international
law since 1970.
However, Israel, India, Pakistan, and Cuba have refused to sign, and North Korea, after signing the treaty, withdrew from it in 1993. Israel began producing nuclear weapons in the late 1960s (with the help of a reactor provided by France) and the country is now believed to possess 100-150 of them, including neutron bombs. Israels policy is one of “nuclear opacity” – i.e., visibly possessing nuclear weapons while denying their existence. South Africa, with the help of Israel and France, also produced nuclear weapons, which it tested in the Indian Ocean in 1979. In 1991 however, South Africa signed the NPT and destroyed its nuclear weapons. India produced what it described as a “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974. By 1989 Indian scientists were making eﬀorts to purify the lithium-6 isotope, a key component of the much more powerful thermonuclear bombs. In 1998, India conducted underground tests of nuclear weapons, and is now believed to have roughly 60 warheads, constructed from Pu-239 produced in “peaceful” reactors. Pakistan’s eﬀorts to obtain nuclear weapons were spurred by India’s 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion”.
Zulﬁquar Ali Bhutto, who initiated Pakistan’s program, ﬁrst as Minister of Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, and later as President and Prime Minister, declared: “There is a Christian Bomb, a Jewish Bomb and a Hindu Bomb. There must be an Islamic Bomb! We will get it even if we have to starve – even if we have to eat grass!” As early as 1970, the laboratory of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, (a metallurgist who was to become Pakistan’s leading nuclear bomb maker) had been able to obtain from a Dutch ﬁrm the high-speed ultracentrafuges needed for uranium enrichment. With unlimited ﬁnancial support and freedom from auditing requirements, Dr. Khan purchased restricted items needed for nuclear weapon construction from companies in Europe and the United States. In the process, Dr. Khan became an extremely wealthy man. With additional help from China, Pakistan was ready to test ﬁve nuclear weapons in 1998. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear bomb tests, conducted in rapid succession, presented the world with the danger that these devastating bombs would be used in the conﬂict over Kashmir. Indeed, Pakistan announced that if a war broke out using conventional weapons, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be used “at an early stage”.
In Pakistan, Dr. A.Q. Khan became a great national hero. He was presented as the person who had saved Pakistan from attack by India by creating Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons. In a Washington Post article2 Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote: “Nuclear nationalism was the order of the day as governments vigorously promoted the bomb as the symbol of Pakistan’s high scientiﬁc achievement and self-respect, and as the harbinger of a new Muslim era.” Similar manifestations of nuclear nationalism could also be seen in India after India’s 1998 bomb tests. Early in 2004, it was revealed that Dr. Khan had for years been selling nuclear secrets and equipment to Lybia, Iran and North Korea. However, observers considered that it was unlikely that Khan would be tried for these oﬀenses, since a trial might implicate Pakistan’s army as well as two of its former prime ministers. Furthermore, Dr. Khan has the strong support of Pakistan’s Islamic fundamentalists.
Recent assassinations emphasize the precariousness of Pakistan’s government. There is a danger that it may be overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists, who would give Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations. This type of danger is a general one associated with nuclear proliferation. As more and more countries obtain nuclear weapons, it becomes increasingly likely that one of them will undergo a revolution, during the course of which nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of subnational organizations. Article VIII of the Non-Proliferation Treaty provides for a conference to be held every ﬁve years to make sure that the NPT is operating as intended. In the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the lifetime of the treaty was extended indeﬁnitely, despite the general dissatisfaction with the bad faith of the nuclear weapon states: They had dismantled some of their warheads but had taken no signiﬁcant steps towards complete nuclear disarmament. The 2000 NPT Review Conference made it clear that the nuclear weapons states could not postpone indeﬁnitely their commitment to nuclear disarmament by linking it to general and complete disarmament, since these are separate and independent goals of Article VI.
The Final Document of the conference also contained 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, including ratiﬁcation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), negotiations on a Fissile Materials Cutoﬀ Treaty, the preservation and strengthening of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, greater transparency with regard to nuclear arsenals, and making irreversability a principle of nuclear reductions. Another review conference is scheduled for 2010, a year that marks the 55th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Something must be said about the concept of irreversability mentioned in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.
Nuclear weapons can be destroyed in a completely irreversible way by getting rid of the special isotopes which they use. In the case of highly enriched uranium (HEU), this can be done by mixing it thoroughly with ordinary unenriched uranium. In natural uranium, the rare ﬁssile isotope U-235 is only 0.7%. The remaining 99.3% consists of the common isotope, U-238, which under ordinary circumstances cannot undergo ﬁssion. If HEU is mixed with a suﬃcient quantity of natural uranium, so that the concentration of U-235 falls below 20%, it can no longer be used in nuclear weapons. Getting rid of plutonium irreversibly is more diﬃcult, but it could be cast into large concrete blocks and dumped into extremely deep parts of the ocean (e.g. the Japan Trench) where recovery would be almost impossible. Alternatively, it could be placed in the bottom of very deep mine shafts, which could afterwards be destroyed by means of conventional explosives. None of the strategic arms reduction treaties, neither the SALT treaties nor the 2002 Moscow Treaty, incorporate irreversability. The recent recommendation by four distinguished German statesmen that all shortrange nuclear weapons be destroyed is particularly interesting . The strongest argument for the removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe is the danger of collapse of the NPT. The 2005 NPT Review Conference was a disaster, and there is a danger that at the 2010 Review Conference, the NPT will collapse entirely because of the discriminatory position of the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and their failure to honor their commitments under Article VI. NATOs present nuclear weapon policy also violates the NPT, and correcting this violation would help to save the 2010 Review Conference from failure. At present, the air forces of the European countries in which the US nuclear weapons are stationed perform regular training exercises in which they learn how to deliver the weapons.
This violates the spirit, and probably also the letter, of Article IV, which prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons from an NWS to a non-NWS. The “nuclear sharing” proponents maintain that such transfers would only happen in an emergency; but there is nothing in the NPT saying that the treaty would not hold under all circumstances. Furthermore, NATO would be improved, rather than damaged, by giving up “nuclear sharing”. If President Obama wishes to fulﬁll his campaign promises  – if he wishes to save the NPT – a logical ﬁrst step would be to remove US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.
Flaws in the concept of nuclear deterrence
Before discussing other defects in the concept of deterrence, it must be said very clearly that the idea of “massive nuclear retaliation” is completely unacceptable from an ethical point of view. The doctrine of retaliation, performed on a massive scale, violates not only the principles of common human decency and common sense, but also the ethical principles of every major religion. Retaliation is especially contrary to the central commandment of Christianity which tells us to love our neighbor, even if he or she is far away from us, belonging to a diﬀerent ethnic or political group, and even if our distant neighbor has seriously injured us. This principle has a fundamental place not only in in Christianity but also in Buddhism. “Massive retaliation” completely violates these very central ethical principles, which are not only clearly stated and fundamental but also very practical, since they prevent escalatory cycles of revenge and counter-revenge.
Contrast Christian ethics with estimates of the number of deaths that would follow a US nuclear strike against Russia: Several hundred million deaths. These horrifying estimates shock us not only because of the enormous magnitude of the expected mortality, but also because the victims would include people of every kind: women, men, old people, children and infants, completely irrespective of any degree of guilt that they might have. As a result of such an attack, many millions of people in neutral countries would also die. This type of killing has to be classiﬁed as genocide. When a suspected criminal is tried for a wrongdoing, great eﬀorts are devoted to clarifying the question of guilt or innocence.
Punishment only follows if guilt can be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. Contrast this with the totally indiscriminate mass slaughter that results from a nuclear attack! It might be objected that disregard for the guilt or innocence of victims is a universal characteristic of modern war, since statistics show that, with time, a larger and larger percentage of the victims have been civilians, and especially children. For example, the air attacks on Coventry during World War II, or the ﬁre bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, produced massive casualties which involved all segments of the population with complete disregard for the question of guilt or innocence. The answer, I think, is that modern war has become generally unacceptable from an ethical point of view, and this unacceptability is epitomized in nuclear weapons.
The enormous and indiscriminate destruction produced by nuclear weapons formed the background for an historic 1996 decision by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. In response to questions put to it by WHO and the UN General Assembly, the Court ruled that “the threat and use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conﬂict, and particularly the principles and rules of humanitarian law.” The only possible exception to this general rule might be “an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake”. But the Court refused to say that even in this extreme circumstance the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be legal. It left the exceptional case undecided. In addition, the World Court added unanimously that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict international control.” This landmark decision has been criticized by the nuclear weapon states as being decided “by a narrow margin”, but the structuring of the vote made the margin seem more narrow than it actually was. Seven judges voted against Paragraph 2E of the decision (the paragraph which states that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be generally illegal, but which mentions as a possible exception the case where a nation might be defending itself from an attack that threatened its very existence.)
Seven judges voted for the paragraph, with the President of the Court, Muhammad Bedjaoui of Algeria casting the deciding vote. Thus the Court adopted it, seemingly by a narrow margin. But three of the judges who voted against 2E did so because they believed that no possible exception should be mentioned! Thus, if the vote had been slightly diﬀerently structured, the result would have be ten to four. Of the remaining four judges who cast dissenting votes, three represented nuclear weapons states, while the fourth thought that the Court ought not to have accepted the questions from WHO and the UN. However Judge Schwebel from the United States, who voted against Paragraph 2E, nevertheless added, in a separate opinion, “It cannot be accepted that the use of nuclear weapons on a scale which would – or could – result in the deaths of many millions in indiscriminate inferno and by far-reaching fallout, have pernicious eﬀects in space and time, and render uninhabitable much of the earth, could be lawful.” Judge Higgins from the UK, the ﬁrst woman judge in the history of the Court, had problems with the word “generally” in Paragraph 2E and therefore voted against it, but she thought that a more profound analysis might have led the Court to conclude in favor of illegality in all circumstances. Judge Fleischhauer of Germany said in his separate opinion, “The nuclear weapon is, in many ways, the negation of the humanitarian considerations underlying the law applicable in armed conﬂict and the principle of neutrality. The nuclear weapon cannot distinguish between civilian and military targets. It causes immeasurable suﬀering. The radiation released by it is unable to respect the territorial integrity of neutral States.” President Bedjaoui, summarizing the majority opinion, called nuclear weapons “the ultimate evil”, and said “By its nature, the nuclear weapon, this blind weapon, destabilizes humanitarian law, the law of discrimination in the use of weapons…
The ultimate aim of every action in the ﬁeld of nuclear arms will always be nuclear disarmament, an aim which is no longer utopian and which all have a duty to pursue more actively than ever.” Thus the concept of nuclear deterrence is not only unacceptable from the standpoint of ethics; it is also contrary to international law. The World Courts 1996 advisory Opinion unquestionably also represents the opinion of the majority of the worlds peoples. Although no formal plebiscite has been taken, the votes in numerous resolutions of the UN General Assembly speak very clearly on this question. For example the New Agenda Resolution (53/77Y) was adopted by the General Assembly on 4 December 1998 by a massively aﬃrmative vote, in which only 18 out of the 170 member states voted against the resolution.3 The New Agenda Resolution proposes numerous practical steps towards complete nuclear disarmament, and it calls on the Nuclear-Weapon States “to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear weapons and without delay to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to the elimination of these weapons, thereby fulﬁlling their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)”.
Thus, in addition to being ethically unacceptable and contrary to international law, nuclear weapons also contrary to the principles of democracy. Having said these important things, we can now turn to some of the other defects in the concept of nuclear deterrence. One important defect is that nuclear war may occur through accident or miscalculation – through technical defects or human failings. This possibility is made greater by the fact that despite the end of the Cold War, thousands of missiles carrying nuclear warheads are still kept on a “hair-trigger” state of alert with a quasi-automatic reaction time measured in minutes. There is a constant danger that a nuclear war will be triggered by error in evaluating the signal on a radar screen. For example, the BBC reported recently that a group of scientists and military leaders are worried that a small asteroid entering the earths atmosphere and exploding could trigger a nuclear war if mistaken for a missile strike.
A number of prominent political and military ﬁgures (many of whom have ample knowledge of the system of deterrence, having been part of it) have expressed concern about the danger of accidental nuclear war. Colin S. Grey4 expressed this concern as follows: “The problem, indeed the enduring problem, is that we are resting our future upon a nuclear deterrence system concerning which we cannot tolerate even a single malfunction.” General Curtis E. LeMay5 has written, “In my opinion a general war will grow through a series of political miscalculations and accidents rather than through any deliberate attack by either side.” Bruce G. Blair6 has remarked that “It is obvious that the rushed nature of the process, from warning to decision to action, risks causing a catastrophic mistake.”… “This system is an accident waiting to happen.” Today, the system that is supposed to give us security is called Mutually Assured
3Of the 18 countries that voted against the New Agenda resolution, 10 were Eastern European countries hoping for acceptance into NATO, whose votes seem to have been traded for increased probability of acceptance.
Chairman, National Institute for Public Policy 5Founder and former Commander in Chief of the United States Strategic Air Command Brookings Institute Destruction, appropriately abbreviated as MAD. It is based on the idea of deterrence, which maintains that because of the threat of massive retaliation, no sane leader would start a nuclear war. Before discussing other defects in the concept of deterrence, it must be said very clearly that the idea of “massive nuclear retaliation” is a form of genocide and is completely unacceptable from an ethical point of view. It violates not only the principles of common human decency and common sense, but also the ethical principles of every major religion. Having said this, we can now turn to some of the other faults in the concept of nuclear deterrence. One important defect is that nuclear war may occur through accident or miscalculation, through technical defects or human failings, or by terrorism. This possibility is made greater by the fact that despite the end of the Cold War, thousands of missiles carrying nuclear warheads are still kept on “hair-trigger alert” with a quasi-automatic reaction time measured in minutes. There is a constant danger that a nuclear war will be triggered by error in evaluating the signal on a radar screen. Incidents in which global disaster is avoided by a hair’s breadth are constantly occurring. For example, on the night of 26 September, 1983, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, a young software engineer, was on duty at a surveillance center near Moscow.
Suddenly the screen in front of him turned bright red. An alarm went oﬀ. It’s enormous piercing sound ﬁlled the room. A second alarm followed, and then a third, fourth and ﬁfth. “The computer showed that the Americans had launched a strike against us”, Petrov remembered later. His orders were to pass the information up the chain of command to Secretary General Yuri Andropov. Within minutes, a nuclear counterattack would be launched. However, because of certain inconsistent features of the alarm, Petrov disobeyed orders and reported it as a computer error, which indeed it was. Most of us probably owe our lives to his coolheaded decision and knowledge of software systems. The narrowness of this escape is compounded by the fact that Petrov was on duty only because of the illness of another oﬃcer with less knowledge of software, who would have accepted the alarm as real.
Narrow escapes such as this show us clearly that in the long run, the combination of space-age science and stone-age politics will destroy us. We urgently need new political structures and new ethics to match our advanced technology. Modern science has, for the ﬁrst time in history, oﬀered humankind the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger and cold, and free from the constant threat of death through infectious disease. At the same time, science has given humans the power to obliterate their civilization with nuclear weapons, or to make the earth uninhabitable through overpopulation and pollution.
The question of which of these paths we choose is literally a matter of life or death for ourselves and our children. Will we use the discoveries of modern science constructively, and thus choose the path leading towards life? Or will we use science to produce more and more lethal weapons, which sooner or later, through a technical or human failure, will result in a catastrophic nuclear war? Will we thoughtlessly destroy our beautiful planet through unlimited growth of population and industry? The choice among these alternatives is ours to make. We live at a critical moment of history, a moment of crisis for civilization. No one alive today asked to be born at a time of crisis, but history has given each of us an enormous responsibility. Of course we have our ordinary jobs, which we need to do in order to stay alive; but besides that, each of us has a second job, the duty to devote both time and eﬀort to solving the serious problems that face civilization during the 21st century. We cannot rely on our politicians to do this for us. Many politicians are under the inﬂuence of powerful lobbies. Others are waiting for a clear expression of popular will. It is the people of the world themselves who must choose their own future and work hard to build it. No single person can achieve the changes that we need, but together we can do it. The problem of building a stable, just, and war-free world is diﬃcult, but it is not impossible. The large regions of our present-day world within which war has been eliminated can serve as models. There are a number of large countries with heterogeneous populations within which it has been possible to achieve internal peace and social cohesion, and if this is possible within such extremely large regions, it must also be possible globally. We must replace the old world of international anarchy, chronic war, and institutionalized injustice by a new world of law.
The United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court are steps in the right direction. These institutions need to be greatly strengthened and reformed. We also need a new global ethic, where loyalty to one’s family and nation will be supplemented by a higher loyalty to humanity as a whole. Tipping points in public opinion can occur suddenly. We can think, for example, of the Civil Rights Movement, or the rapid fall of the Berlin Wall, or the sudden change that turned public opinion against smoking, or the sudden movement for freedom and democracy in the Arab world. A similar sudden change can occur soon regarding war and nuclear weapons. We know that war is madness. We know that it is responsible for much of the suﬀering that humans experience. We know that war pollutes our planet and that the almost unimaginable sums wasted on war prevent the happiness and prosperity of mankind. We know that nuclear weapons are insane, and that the precariously balanced deterrence system can break down at any time through human error or computer errors or through terrorist actions, and that it deﬁnitely will break down within our lifetimes unless we abolish it.
We know that nuclear war threatens to destroy civilization and much of the biosphere. The logic is there. We must translate into popular action which will put an end to the undemocratic, money-driven, power-lust-driven war machine. The peoples of the world must say very clearly that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil; that their possession does not increase anyone’s security; that their continued existence is a threat to the life of every person on the planet; and that these genocidal and potentially omnicidal weapons have no place in a civilized society. Modern science has abolished time and distance as factors separating nations.
On our shrunken globe today, there is room for one group only: the family of humankind. We must embrace all other humans as our brothers and sisters. More than that, we must feel that all of nature is part of the same sacred family; meadow ﬂowers, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals, and other humans, all these are our brothers and sisters, deserving our care and protection. Only in this way can we survive together. Only in this way can we build a happy future. “But nobody can predict that the fatal accident or unauthorized act will never happen”, Fred Ikle of the Rand Corporation has written, “Given the huge and far-ﬂung missile forces, ready to be launched from land and sea on on both sides, the scope for disaster by accident is immense… In a matter of seconds – through technical accident or human failure – mutual deterrence might thus collapse.” Another serious failure of the concept of nuclear deterrence is that it does not take into account the possibility that atomic bombs may be used by terrorists. Indeed, the threat of nuclear terrorism has today become one of the most pressing dangers that the world faces, a danger that is particularly acute in the United States.
Since 1945, more than 3,000 metric tons (3,000,000 kilograms) of highly enriched uranium and plutonium have been produced – enough for several hundred thousand nuclear weapons. Of this, roughly a million kilograms are in Russia, inadequately guarded, in establishments where the technicians are poorly paid and vulnerable to the temptations of bribery. There is a continuing danger that these ﬁssile materials will fall into the hands of terrorists, or organized criminals, or irresponsible governments. Also, an extensive black market for ﬁssile materials, nuclear weapons components etc. has recently been revealed in connection with the confessions of Pakistan’s bomb-maker, Dr. A.Q. Khan. Furthermore, if Pakistan’s less-than-stable government should be overthrown, complete nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. On November 3, 2003,
Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made a speech to the United Nations in which he called for “limiting the processing of weapons-usable material (separated plutonium and high enriched uranium) in civilian nuclear programmes – as well as the production of new material through reprocessing and enrichment – by agreeing to restrict these operations to facilities exclusively under international control.” It is almost incredible, considering the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, that such restrictions were not imposed long ago. Nuclear reactors used for “peaceful” purposes unfortunately also generate ﬁssionable isotopes of plutonium, neptunium and americium. Thus all nuclear reactors must be regarded as ambiguous in function, and all must be put under strict international control. One might ask, in fact, whether globally widespread use of nuclear energy is worth the danger that it entails. The Italian nuclear physicist Francesco Calogero, who has studied the matter closely, believes that terrorists could easily construct a simple gun-type nuclear bomb if they were in possession of a critical mass of highly enriched uranium.
In such a simple atomic bomb, two grapefruit-sized subcritical portions of HEU are placed at opposite ends of the barrel of an artillery piece and are driven together by means of a conventional explosive. Prof. Calogero estimates that the fatalities produced by the explosion of such a device in the center of a large city could exceed 100,000. We must remember the remark of U.N. Secretary General Koﬁ Annan after the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. He said, “This time it was not a nuclear explosion”. The meaning of his remark is clear: If the world does not take strong steps to eliminate ﬁssionable materials and nuclear weapons, it will only be a matter of time before they will be used in terrorist attacks on major cities. Neither terrorists nor organized criminals can be deterred by the threat of nuclear retaliation, since they have no territory against which such retaliation could be directed. They blend invisibly into the general population. Nor can a “missile defense system” prevent terrorists from using nuclear weapons, since the weapons can be brought into a port in any one of the hundreds of thousands of containers that enter on ships each year, a number far too large to be checked exhaustively. In this dangerous situation, the only logical thing for the world to do is to get rid of both ﬁssile materials and nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible. We must acknowledge that the idea of nuclear deterrence is a dangerous fallacy, and acknowledge that the development of military systems based on nuclear weapons has been a terrible mistake, a false step that needs to be reversed. If the most prestigious of the nuclear weapons states can sincerely acknowledge their mistakes and begin to reverse them, nuclear weapons will seem less glamorous to countries like India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, where they now are symbols of national pride and modernism. Civilians have for too long played the role of passive targets, hostages in the power struggles of politicians. It is time for civil society to make its will felt. If our leaders continue to enthusiastically support the institution of war, if they will not abolish nuclear weapons, then let us have new leaders.
Establishment opinion shifts towards nuclear abolition
Today there are indications that the establishment is moving towards the point of view that the peace movement has always held: – that nuclear weapons are essentially genocidal, illegal and unworthy of civilization; and that they must be completely abolished as quickly as possible. There is a rapidly-growing global consensus that a nuclear-weapon-free world can and must be achieved in the very near future. One of the ﬁrst indications of the change was the famous Wall Street Journal article by Schultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn advocating complete abolition of nuclear arms . This was followed quickly by Mikhail Gorbachev’s supporting article, published in the same journal, and a statement by distinguished Italian statesmen . Meanwhile, in October 2007, the Hoover Institution had arranged a symposium entitled “Reykjavik Revisited; Steps Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” . In Britain, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Hurd and Lord Owen (all former Foreign Secretaries) joined the former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson as authors of an article in The Times advocating complete abolition of nuclear weapons .
The UK’s Secretary of State for Defense, Des Brown, speaking at a disarmament conference in Geneva, proposed that the UK “host a technical conference of P5 nuclear laboratories on the veriﬁcation of nuclear disarmament before the next NPT Review Conference in 2010” to enable the nuclear weapon states to work together on technical issues. In February, 2008, the Government of Norway hosted an international conference on “Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” .
A week later, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, reported the results of the conference to a disarmament meeting in Geneva . On July 11, 2008 , speaking at a Pugwash Conference in Canada, Norway’s Defense Minister, Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, reiterated her country’s strong support for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons . I
n July 2008, Barack Obama said in his Berlin speech, “It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.” Later that year, in September, Vladimir Putin said, “Had I been told just two or three years ago I wouldn’t believe that it would be possible, but I believe that it is now quite possible to liberate humanity from nuclear weapons…”
Other highly-placed statesmen added their voices to the growing consensus: Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, visited the Peace Museum at Hiroshima, where he made a strong speech advocating nuclear abolition. He later set up an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament co-chaired by Australia and Japan . On January 9, 2009, four distinguished German statesmen (Richard von Weiza¨cker, Helmut Schmidt, Egon Bahr and Hans-Dietrich Genscher) published an article entitled “Towards a Nuclear-Free World: a German View” in the International Herald Tribune .
Among the immediate steps recommended in the article are the following:
• The vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world… must be rekindled.
• Negotiations aimed at drastically reducing the number of nuclear weapons must begin…
• The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must be greatly reinforced.
• America should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.
• All short-range nuclear weapons must be destroyed.
• The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty must be restored. Outer space may only be used for peaceful purposes.
Going to zero
On December 8-9, 2008, approximately 100 international leaders met in Paris to launch the Global Zero Campaign . They included Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, Norway’s former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, former UK Foreign Secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Margaret Beckett and David Owen, Ireland’s former Prime Minister Mary Robinson, UK philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, former UN Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala, and Nobel Peace Prize winners President Jimmy Carter, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prof. Muhammad Yunus. The concrete steps advocated by Global Zero include:
• Deep reductions to Russian-US arsenals, which comprise 96% of the worlds 27,000 nuclear weapons.
• Russia and the United States, joined by other nuclear weapons states, cutting arsenals to zero in phased and veriﬁed reductions.
• Establishing veriﬁcation systems and international management of the fuel cycle to prevent future development of nuclear weapons.
The Global Zero website ] contains a report on a new public opinion poll covering 21 nations, including all of the nuclear weapons states.The poll showed that public opinion overwhelmingly favors an international agreement for eliminating all nuclear weapons according to a timetable. It was speciﬁed that the agreement would include monitoring. The average in all countries of the percent favoring such an agreement was 76%.
A few results of special interest mentioned in the report are Russia 69%; the United States, 77%; China, 83%; France, 86%, and Great Britain, 81%. In his April 5, 2009 speech in Prague the newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama said: “To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year. President Medvedev and I will begin this process in London, and we will seek an agreement by the end of the year that is suﬃciently bold. This will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to involve all nuclear weapon states in this endeavor… To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratiﬁcation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”
A few days later, on April 24, 2009, the European Parliament recommended complete nuclear disarmament by 2020. An amendment introducing the “Model Nuclear Weapons Convention” and the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol” as concrete tools to achieve a nuclear weapons free world by 2020 was approved with a majority of 177 votes against 130. The Nuclear Weapons Convention is analogous to the conventions that have successfully banned chemical and biological weapons.
The role of public opinion
Public opinion is extremely important for the actual achievement of complete nuclear abolition. In the ﬁrst place, the fact that the public is overwhelmingly against the retention of nuclear weapons means that the continuation of nuclear arsenals violates democratic principles. Secondly, the weapons are small enough to be easily hidden. Therefore the help of “whistle-blowers” will be needed to help inspection teams to make sure that no country violates its agreement to irreversibly destroy every atomic bomb.
What is needed is a universal recognition that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil, and that their continued existence is a threat to human civilization and to the life of every person on the planet. Our aim must be to delegitimize nuclear weapons, in much the same way that unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions have recently been delegitimized, or cigarette smoking delegitimized, or racism delegitimized. This should be an easy task because of the essentially genocidal nature of nuclear weapons. For half a century, ordinary people have been held as hostages, never knowing from day to day whether their own lives and the lives of those they love would suddenly be sacriﬁced on the alter of thermonuclear nationalism and power politics. We must let the politicians know that we are no longer willing to be hostages; and we must also accept individual responsibility for reporting violations of international treaties, although our own nation might be the violator.
Most of us grew up in schools where we were taught that duty to our nation was the highest duty; but the times we live in today demand a change of heart, a higher loyalty to humanity as a whole. If the mass media cooperate in delegitimizing nuclear weapons, if educational systems cooperate and if religions 7 cooperate, the change of heart that we need – the global ethic that we need – can quickly be achieved.
Figure 15: Women Strike for Peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.(Public domain)
Complete abolition of nuclear weapons
Although the Cold War has ended, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than ever before. There are almost 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, of which more than 90 percent are in the hands of Russia and the United States. About 2,000 of these weapons are on hair-trigger alert, meaning that whoever is in charge of them has only a few minutes to decide whether the signal indicating an attack is real, or an error.
The most important single step in reducing the danger of a disaster would be to take all weapons oﬀ hair-trigger alert. Bruce G. Blair, Brookings Institute, has remarked “It is obvious that the rushed nature of the process, from warning to decision to action, risks causing a catastrophic mistake… This system is an accident waiting to happen.” Fred Ikle of the Rand Corporation has written,‘ ‘But nobody can predict that the fatal accident or unauthorized act will never happen. Given the huge and far-ﬂung missile forces, ready to be launched from land and sea on on both sides, the scope for disaster by accident is immense… In a matter of seconds, through technical accident or human failure, mutual deterrence might thus collapse.”
Although their number has been substantially reduced from its Cold War maximum, the total explosive power of todays weapons is equivalent to roughly half a million Hiroshima bombs. To multiply the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by a factor of half a million changes the danger qualitatively. What is threatened today is the complete breakdown of human society. There is no defense against nuclear terrorism. We must remember the remark of U.N. Secretary General Koﬁ Annan after the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. He said, ‘ ‘This time it was not a nuclear explosion”.
The meaning of his remark is clear: If the world does not take strong steps to eliminate ﬁssionable materials and nuclear weapons, it will only be a matter of time before they will be used in terrorist attacks on major cities. Neither terrorists nor organized criminals can be deterred by the threat of nuclear retaliation, since they have no territory against which such retaliation could be directed. They blend invisibly into the general population. Nor can a “missile defense system” prevent terrorists from using nuclear weapons, since the weapons can be brought into a port in any one of the hundreds of thousands of containers that enter on ships each year, a number far too large to be checked exhaustively. As the number of nuclear weapon states grows larger, there is an increasing chance that a revolution will occur in one of them, putting nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorist groups or organized criminals.
Today, for example, Pakistans less-than-stable government might be overthrown, and Pakistans nuclear weapons might end in the hands of terrorists. The weapons might then be used to destroy one of the worlds large coastal cities, having been brought into the port by one of numerous container ships that dock every day. Such an event might trigger a large-scale nuclear conﬂagration. Today, the world is facing a grave danger from the reckless behavior of the government of the United States, which recently arranged a coup that overthrew the elected government of Ukraine. Although Victoria Nulands December 13, 2013 speech talks much about democracy, the people who carried out the coup in Kiev can hardly be said to be democracy’s best representatives. Many belong to the Svoboda Party, which had its roots in the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU).
The name was an intentional reference to the Nazi Party in Germany. It seems to be the intention of the US to establish NATO bases in Ukraine, no doubt armed with nuclear weapons. In trying to imagine how the Russians feel about this, we might think of the US reaction when a ﬂeet of ships sailed to Cuba in 1962, bringing Soviet nuclear weapons. In the confrontation that followed, the world was bought very close indeed to an all-destroying nuclear war. Does not Russia feel similarly threatened by the thought of hostile nuclear weapons on its very doorstep? Can we not learn from the past, and avoid the extremely high risks associated with the similar confrontation in Ukraine today? In general, aggressive interventions, in Iran, Syria, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere, all present dangers for uncontrollable escalation into large and disastrous conﬂicts, which might potentially threaten the survival of human civilization. Few politicians or military ﬁgures today have any imaginative understanding of what a war with thermonuclear weapons would be like. Recent studies have shown that in a nuclear war, the smoke from ﬁrestorms in burning cities would rise to the stratosphere where it would remain for a decade, spreading throughout the world, blocking sunlight, blocking the hydrological cycle and destroying the ozone layer.
The eﬀect on global agriculture would be devastating, and the billion people who are chronically undernourished today would be at risk. Furthermore, the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima remind us that a nuclear war would make large areas of the world permanently uninhabitable because of radioactive contamination. A full-scale thermonuclear war would be the ultimate ecological catastrophe. It would destroy human civilization and much of the biosphere. One can gain a small idea of the terrible ecological consequences of a nuclear war by thinking of the radioactive contamination that has made large areas near to Chernobyl and Fukushima uninhabitable, or the testing of hydrogen bombs in the Paciﬁc, which continues to cause cancer, leukemia and birth defects in the Marshall Islands more than half a century later. The United States tested a hydrogen bomb at Bikini in 1954.
Fallout from the bomb contaminated the island of Rongelap, one of the Marshall Islands 120 kilometers from Bikini. The islanders experienced radiation illness, and many died from cancer. Even today, half a century later, both people and animals on Rongelap and other nearby islands suﬀer from birth defects. The most common defects have been ‘ ‘jelly ﬁsh babies”, born with no bones and with transparent skin. Their brains and beating hearts can be seen. The babies usually live a day or two before they stop breathing. A girl from Rongelap describes the situation in the following words: ‘ ‘I cannot have children. I have had miscarriages on seven occasions… Our culture and religion teach us that reproductive abnormalities are a sign that women have been unfaithful.
For this reason, many of my friends keep quiet about the strange births that they have had. In privacy they give birth, not to children as we like to think of them, but to things we could only describe as octopuses, apples, turtles and other things in our experience. We do not have Marshallese words for these kinds of babies, because they were never born before the radiation came.” The Republic of the Marshall Islands is suing the nine countries with nuclear weapons at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, arguing they have violated their legal obligation to disarm. The Guardian reports that ‘ ‘In the unprecedented legal action, comprising nine separate cases brought before the ICJ on Thursday, the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons states of a ‘ﬂagrant denial of human justice. It argues it is justiﬁed in taking the action because of the harm it suﬀered as a result of the nuclear arms race.
The Paciﬁc chain of islands, including Bikini Atoll and Enewetak, was the site of 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958, including the Bravo shot, a 15-megaton device equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima blasts, detonated in 1954. The Marshallese islanders say they have been suﬀering serious health and environmental eﬀects ever since. The island republic is suing the ﬁve ‘established nuclear weapons states recognized in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the US, Russia (which inherited the Soviet arsenal), China, France and the UK, as well as the three countries outside the NPT who have declared nuclear arsenals: India, Pakistan and North Korea, and the one undeclared nuclear weapons state, Israel.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is not seeking monetary compensation, but instead it seeks to make the nuclear weapon states comply with their legal obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1996 ruling of the International Court of Justice. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) is a consultant to the Marshall Islands on the legal and moral issues involved in bringing this case. David Krieger, President of NAPF, upon hearing of the motion to dismiss the case by the U.S. responded, ‘ ‘The U.S. government is sending a terrible message to the world, that is, that U.S. courts are an improper venue for resolving disputes with other countries on U.S. treaty obligations. The U.S. is, in eﬀect, saying that whatever breaches it commits are all right if it says so.
That is bad for the law, bad for relations among nations, bad for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and not only bad, but extremely dangerous for U.S. citizens and all humanity.” The RMI has appealed the U.S. attempt to reject its suit in the U.S, Federal Court, and it will continue to sue the nine nuclear nations in the International Court of Justice. Whether or not the suits succeed in making the nuclear nations comply with international law, attention will be called to the fact the nine countries are outlaws. In vote after vote in the United Nations General Assembly, the peoples of the world have shown how deeply they long to be free from the menace of nuclear weapons.
Ultimately, the tiny group of power-hungry politicians must yield to the will of the citizens whom they are at present holding as hostages. It is a life-or-death question. We can see this most clearly when we look far ahead. Suppose that each year there is a certain ﬁnite chance of a nuclear catastrophe, let us say 2 percent. Then in a century the chance of survival will be 13.5 percent, and in two centuries, 1.8 percent, in three centuries, 0.25 percent, in 4 centuries, there would only be a 0.034 percent chance of survival and so on. Over many centuries, the chance of survival would shrink almost to zero.
Thus by looking at the long-term future, we can clearly see that if nuclear weapons are not entirely eliminated, civilization will not survive. Civil society must make its will felt. A thermonuclear war today would be not only genocidal but also omnicidal. It would kill people of all ages, babies, children, young people, mothers, fathers and grandparents, without any regard whatever for guilt or innocence. Such a war would be the ultimate ecological catastrophe, destroying not only human civilization but also much of the biosphere. Each of us has a duty to work with dedication to prevent it.
One important possibility for progress on the seemingly intractable issue of nuclear disarmament would be for a nation or group of nations to put forward a proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention for direct vote on the ﬂoor of the UN General Assembly. It would almost certainly be adopted by a massive majority. I believe that such a step would be a great achievement, even if bitterly opposed by some of the nuclear weapons states. When the will of the majority of the worlds peoples is clearly expressed in an international treaty, even if the treaty functions imperfectly, the question of legality is clear. Everyone can see which states are violating international law. In time, world public opinion will force the criminal states to conform with international law. In the case of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, world public opinion would have especially great force.
It is generally agreed that a full-scale nuclear war would have disastrous eﬀects, not only on belligerent nations but also on neutral countries. Mr. Javier P´erez de Cu´ellar , former Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasized this point in one of his speeches: “I feel”, he said, ‘ ‘that the question may justiﬁably be put to the leading nuclear powers: by what right do they decide the fate of humanity? From Scandinavia to Latin America, from Europe and Africa to the Far East, the destiny of every man and woman is aﬀected by their actions. No one can expect to escape from the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war on the fragile structure of this planet. …” ‘ ‘No ideological confrontation can be allowed to jeopardize the future of humanity. Nothing less is at stake: todays decisions aﬀect not only the present; they also put at risk succeeding generations. Like supreme arbiters, with our disputes of the moment, we threaten to cut oﬀ the future and to extinguish the lives of innocent millions yet unborn.
There can be no greater arrogance. At the same time, the lives of all those who lived before us may be rendered meaningless; for we have the power to dissolve in a conﬂict of hours or minutes the entire work of civilization, with all the brilliant cultural heritage of humankind. “…In a nuclear age, decisions aﬀecting war and peace cannot be left to military strategists or even to governments. They are indeed the responsibility of every man and woman. And it is therefore the responsibility of all of us… to break the cycle of mistrust and insecurity and to respond to humanity’s yearning for peace.” The eloquent words of Javier P´erez de Cu´ellar express the situation in which we now ﬁnd ourselves: Accidental nuclear war, nuclear terrorism, insanity of a person in a position of power, or unintended escalation of a conﬂict, could at any moment plunge our beautiful world into a catastrophic thermonuclear war which might destroy not only human civilization but also much of the biosphere.
A model Nuclear Weapons Convention already exists. It was drafted in 1996 and updated in 2007 by three NGOs: International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Nuclear Proliferation and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) can be downloaded in many languages from the website of Unfold Zero. It could be put to a direct vote at the present session of the UN General Assembly.
The mechanism for doing this could exactly parallel the method by which the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted in 2013. The UN Ambassador of Costa Rica could send a copy of the NWC to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking him, on behalf of Costa Rica, Mexico and Austria to put it to a swift vote in the General Assembly. There is strong evidence that the NWC would be passed by a large majority. For example, Humanitarian Initiative Joint Statement of 2015 was endorsed by 159 governments. Furthermore, the consensus document of the NPT Review Conference of 2010, endorsed by 188 state parties, contains the following sentence: ‘ ‘The Conference expresses its deep concern at the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaﬃrms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law”. We can expect that the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention will be opposed by the states that currently possess these weapons. One reason for this is the immense proﬁts that suppliers make by ‘ ‘modernizing” nuclear arsenals. For example, the Arms Control Association states ‘ ‘The U.S. military is in the process of modernizing all of its existing strategic delivery systems and refurbishing the warheads they carry to last for the next 30-50 years.” It adds ‘ ‘Three independent estimates put the expected total cost over the next 30 years at as much as $1 trillion.” We should notice that these plans for long-term retention of nuclear weapons are blatant violations of Article VI of the NPT. Money is often the motive for crimes, and in this case, a vast river of money is driving us in the direction of a catastrophic nuclear war.
If we wait for the approval of the nuclear weapon states, we will have to wait forever, and the general public, whose active help we need in abolishing nuclear weapons, will feel more and more helpless and powerless. To prevent this, we need concrete progress rather than endless delay. There are strong precedents for the adoption of the NWC against the opposition of powerful states. The Arms Trade Treaty is one precedent, the International Criminal Court is another and the Ottawa Treaty is a third.
The adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty is a great step forward; the adoption of the ICC, although its operation is imperfect, is also a great step forward, and likewise, the Antipersonnel Land-Mine Convention is a great step forward. In my opinion, the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, even in the face of powerful opposition, would also be a great step forward. When the will of the majority of the worlds peoples is clearly expressed in an international treaty, even if the treaty functions imperfectly, the question of legality is clear. Everyone can see which states are violating international law. In time, world public opinion will force the criminal states to conform to the law.
Figure 16: Fireball of the Tsar Bomba (RDS-220), the largest weapon ever detonated (1961). Fission-fusion-ﬁssion bombs of almost unlimited power can be constructed by adding a layer of inexpensive ordinary uranium outside a core containing a ﬁssion-fusion bomb. Such a bomb would completely destroy a city even if it missed the target by 50 kilometers. (Fair use: “Tsar Bomba”, Wikipedia)
5 The Nuclear Weapons Convention
On July 7, 2017, a treaty banning nuclear weapons was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the United Nations General Assembly . Although opposed by all of the nuclear weapon states, the treaty is a great achievement. Here are the ﬁrst few articles:
Article 1: Prohibitions
- Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:
(a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
(b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices, directly or indirectly.
(c) Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly.
(d) Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. (e) Assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party.
6 ICAN receives the Nobel Peace Prize
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, abbreviated ICAN, is a coalition of 468 NGO’s in 101 countries. The purpose of ICAN is to change the focus in the disarmament debate to “the the humanitarian threat posed by nuclear weapons, drawing attention to their unique destructive capacity, their catastrophic health and environmental consequences, their indiscriminate targeting, the debilitating impact of a detonation on medical infrastructure and relief measures, and the long-lasting eﬀects of radiation on the surrounding area.”
ICAN was founded in 2007 by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization which itself received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. IPPNW was inspired by the success of the campaign that achieved the Ottawa Treaty in 1997, a treaty which banned antipersonnel land-mines against bitter opposition from the worst oﬀenders. Thus, from the start. ICAN envisioned a treaty passed and without the participation or signatures of the nuclear weapons states.
ICAN believed that such a treaty would have the great value of unambiguously underlining the illegality, immorality and omnicidal nature of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons states would eventually be forced to yield to the will of the vast majority of humankind. On July 7, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by an overwhelming majority, 122 to 1, by the United Nations General Assembly. The adoption of the treaty, a milestone in humanity’s eﬀorts to rid itself of nuclear insanity, was to a large extent due to the eﬀorts of ICAN’s participating organizations. On December 10, 2017 ICAN’s eﬀorts were recognized by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. Part of the motivation for the award was the fact that the threat of a thermonuclear global catastrophe is higher today than it has been at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because of the belligerent attitudes and mental instability of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the end of human civilization and much of the biosphere is, in the words of Beatrice Fihn, “only a tantrum away”.
Figure 17: From left to right: Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn.
Figure 18: Celebrating the award.
7 The ICAN Nobel Lecture by Beatrice Fihn
Your Majesties, Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Esteemed guests,
Today, it is a great honour to accept the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of thousands of inspirational people who make up the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Together we have brought democracy to disarmament and are reshaping international law. We most humbly thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee for recognizing our work and giving momentum to our crucial cause.
We want to recognize those who have so generously donated their time and energy to this campaign. We thank the courageous foreign ministers, diplomats, Red Cross and Red Crescent staﬀ, UN oﬃcials, academics and experts with whom we have worked in partnership to advance our common goal. And we thank all who are committed to ridding the world of this terrible threat.
At dozens of locations around the world – in missile silos buried in our earth, on submarines navigating through our oceans, and aboard planes ﬂying high in our sky – lie 15,000 objects of humankind’s destruction.
Perhaps it is the enormity of this fact, perhaps it is the unimaginable scale of the consequences, that leads many to simply accept this grim reality.
To go about our daily lives with no thought to the instruments of insanity all around us. For it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons.
Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones, the idealists with no grounding in reality.
That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons. But we represent the only rational choice.
We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a ﬁxture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code. Ours is the only reality that is possible.
The alternative is unthinkable. The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.
Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us? One of these things will happen.
The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away. Today I want to talk of three things: fear, freedom, and the future.
By the very admission of those who possess them, the real utility of nuclear weapons is in their ability to provoke fear.
When they refer to their ”deterrent” eﬀect, proponents of nuclear weapons are celebrating fear as a weapon of war.
They are puﬃng their chests by declaring their preparedness to exterminate, in a ﬂash, countless thousands of human lives. Nobel Laureate William Faulkner said when accepting his prize in 1950, that ”There is only the question of ’when will I be blown up?’” But since then, this universal fear has given way to something even more dangerous: denial.
Gone is the fear of Armageddon in an instant, gone is the equilibrium between two blocs that was used as the justiﬁcation for deterrence, gone are the fallout shelters. But one thing remains: the thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads that ﬁlled us up with that fear.
The risk for nuclear weapons use is even greater today than at the end of the Cold War. But unlike the Cold War, today we face many more nuclear armed states, terrorists, and cyber warfare. All of this makes us less safe.
Learning to live with these weapons in blind acceptance has been our next great mistake. Fear is rational. The threat is real. We have avoided nuclear war not through prudent leadership but good fortune.
Sooner or later, if we fail to act, our luck will run out. A moment of panic or carelessness, a misconstrued comment or bruised ego, could easily lead us unavoidably to the destruction of entire cities.
A calculated military escalation could lead to the indiscriminate mass murder of civilians. If only a small fraction of today’s nuclear weapons were used, soot and smoke from the ﬁrestorms would loft high into the atmosphere – cooling, darkening and drying the Earth’s surface for more than a decade. It would obliterate food crops, putting billions at risk of starvation.
Yet we continue to live in denial of this existential threat. But Faulkner in his Nobel speech also issued a challenge to those who came after him. Only by being the voice of humanity, he said, can we defeat fear; can we help humanity endure. ICAN’s duty is to be that voice. The voice of humanity and humanitarian law; to speak up on behalf of civilians. Giving voice to that humanitarian perspective is how we will create the end of fear, the end of denial. And ultimately, the end of nuclear weapons.
That brings me to my second point: freedom. As the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the ﬁrst ever antinuclear weapons organization to win this prize, said on this stage in 1985: ”We physicians protest the outrage of holding the entire world hostage.
We protest the moral obscenity that each of us is being continuously targeted for extinction.” Those words still ring true in 2017. We must reclaim the freedom to not live our lives as hostages to imminent annihilation.
Man – not woman! – made nuclear weapons to control others, but instead we are controlled by them. They made us false promises. That by making the consequences of using these weapons so unthinkable it would make any conﬂict unpalatable.
That it would keep us free from war. But far from preventing war, these weapons brought us to the brink multiple times throughout the Cold War. And in this century, these weapons continue to escalate us towards war and conﬂict. In Iraq, in Iran, in Kashmir, in North Korea. Their existence propels others to join the nuclear race.
They don’t keep us safe, they cause conﬂict. As fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, Martin Luther King Jr, called them from this very stage in 1964, these weapons are “both genocidal and suicidal”.
They are the madman’s gun held permanently to our temple. These weapons were supposed to keep us free, but they deny us our freedoms. It’s an aﬀront to democracy to be ruled by these weapons. But they are just weapons.
They are just tools. And just as they were created by geopolitical context, they can just as easily be destroyed by placing them in a humanitarian context. That is the task ICAN has set itself – and my third point I wish to talk about, the future.
I have the honour of sharing this stage today with Setsuko Thurlow, who has made it her life’s purpose to bear witness to the horror of nuclear war. She and the hibakusha were at the beginning of the story, and it is our collective challenge to ensure they will also witness the end of it. They relive the painful past, over and over again, so that we may create a better future.
There are hundreds of organizations that together as ICAN are making great strides towards that future.
There are thousands of tireless campaigners around the world who work each day to rise to that challenge.
There are millions of people across the globe who have stood shoulder to shoulder with those campaigners to show hundreds of millions more that a diﬀerent future is truly possible.
Those who say that future is not possible need to get out of the way of those making it a reality. As the culmination of this grassroots eﬀort, through the action of ordinary people, this year the hypothetical marched forward towards the actual as 122 nations negotiated and concluded a UN treaty to outlaw these weapons of mass destruction.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons provides the pathway forward at a moment of great global crisis. It is a light in a dark time. And more than that, it provides a choice. A choice between the two endings: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us. It is not naive to believe in the ﬁrst choice.
It is not irrational to think nuclear states can disarm. It is not idealistic to believe in life over fear and destruction; it is a necessity. All of us face that choice. And I call on every nation to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The United States, choose freedom over fear. Russia, choose disarmament over destruction.
Britain, choose the rule of law over oppression. France, choose human rights over terror. China, choose reason over irrationality. India, choose sense over senselessness. Pakistan, choose logic over Armageddon. Israel, choose common sense over obliteration. North Korea, choose wisdom over ruin.
To the nations who believe they are sheltered under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, will you be complicity in your own destruction and the destruction of others in your name? To all nations: choose the end of nuclear weapons over the end of us!
This is the choice that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons represents. Join this Treaty. We citizens are living under the umbrella of falsehoods. These weapons are not keeping us safe, they are contaminating our land and water, poisoning our bodies and holding hostage our right to life.
To all citizens of the world: Stand with us and demand your government side with humanity and sign this treaty. We will not rest until all States have joined, on the side of reason. No nation today boasts of being a chemical weapon state.
No nation argues that it is acceptable, in extreme circumstances, to use sarin nerve agent. No nation proclaims the right to unleash on its enemy the plague or polio.
That is because international norms have been set, perceptions have been changed. And now, at last, we have an unequivocal norm against nuclear weapons. Monumental strides forward never begin with universal agreement.
With every new signatory and every passing year, this new reality will take hold. This is the way forward. There is only one way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons: prohibit and eliminate them. Nuclear weapons, like chemical weapons, biological weapons, cluster munitions and land mines before them, are now illegal.
Their existence is immoral. Their abolishment is in our hands. The end is inevitable. But will that end be the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us? We must choose one. We are a movement for rationality. For democracy. For freedom from fear. We are campaigners from 468 organizations who are working to safeguard the future, and we are representative of the moral majority: the billions of people who choose life over death, who together will see the end of nuclear weapons. Thank you.
8 The Nobel Lecture continued by Setsuko Thurlow
Your Majesties, Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, My fellow campaigners, here and throughout the world, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great privilege to accept this award, together with Beatrice, on behalf of all the remarkable human beings who form the ICAN movement. You each give me such tremendous hope that we can – and will – bring the era of nuclear weapons to an end.
I speak as a member of the family of hibakusha – those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For more than seven decades, we have worked for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
We have stood in solidarity with those harmed by the production and testing of these horriﬁc weapons around the world. People from places with long-forgotten names, like Moruroa, Ekker, Semipalatinsk, Maralinga, Bikini. People whose lands and seas were irradiated, whose bodies were experimented upon, whose cultures were forever disrupted.
We were not content to be victims. We refused to wait for an immediate ﬁery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers took us past nuclear dusk and brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival.
We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist. Today, I want you to feel in this hall the presence of all those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I want you to feel, above and around us, a great cloud of a quarter million souls. Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain. I was just 13 years old when the United States dropped the ﬁrst atomic bomb, on my city Hiroshima. I still vividly remember that morning.
At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white ﬂash from the window. I remember having the sensation of ﬂoating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and darkness, I found myself pinned by the collapsed building.
I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries: ”Mother, help me. God, help me.” Then, suddenly, I felt hands touching my left shoulder, and heard a man saying: ”Don’t give up! Keep pushing! I am trying to free you. See the light coming through that opening? Crawl towards it as quickly as you can.”
As I crawled out, the ruins were on ﬁre. Most of my classmates in that building were burned to death alive. I saw all around me utter, unimaginable devastation. Processions of ghostly ﬁgures shuﬄed by. Grotesquely wounded people, they were bleeding, burnt, blackened and swollen. Parts of their bodies were missing.
Flesh and skin hung from their bones. Some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands. Some with their bellies burst open, their intestines hanging out. The foul stench of burnt human ﬂesh ﬁlled the air.
Thus, with one bomb my beloved city was obliterated. Most of its residents were civilians who were incinerated, vaporized, carbonized – among them, members of my own family and 351 of my schoolmates. In the weeks, months and years that followed, many thousands more would die, often in random and mysterious ways, from the delayed eﬀects of radiation. Still to this day, radiation is killing survivors.
Whenever I remember Hiroshima, the ﬁrst image that comes to mind is of my fouryear-old nephew, Eiji – his little body transformed into an unrecognizable melted chunk of ﬂesh. He kept begging for water in a faint voice until his death released him from agony.
To me, he came to represent all the innocent children of the world, threatened as they are at this very moment by nuclear weapons. Every second of every day, nuclear weapons endanger everyone we love and everything we hold dear.
We must not tolerate this insanity any longer. Through our agony and the sheer struggle to survive – and to rebuild our lives from the ashes – we hibakusha became convinced that we must warn the world about these apocalyptic weapons. Time and again, we shared our testimonies. But still some refused to see Hiroshima and Nagasaki as atrocities – as war crimes. They accepted the propaganda that these were ”good bombs” that had ended a ”just war”.
It was this myth that led to the disastrous nuclear arms race – a race that continues to this day. Nine nations still threaten to incinerate entire cities, to destroy life on earth, to make our beautiful world uninhabitable for future generations.
The development of nuclear weapons signiﬁes not a country’s elevation to greatness, but its descent to the darkest depths of depravity. These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil. On the seventh of July this year, I was overwhelmed with joy when a great majority of the world’s nations voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Having witnessed humanity at its worst, I witnessed, that day, humanity at its best. We hibakusha had been waiting for the ban for seventy-two years. Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.
All responsible leaders will sign this treaty. And history will judge harshly those who reject it. No longer shall their abstract theories mask the genocidal reality of their practices. No longer shall ”deterrence” be viewed as anything but a deterrent to disarmament. No longer shall we live under a mushroom cloud of fear.
To the oﬃcials of nuclear-armed nations – and to their accomplices under the so-called ”nuclear umbrella” – I say this: Listen to our testimony. Heed our warning. And know that your actions are consequential. You are each an integral part of a system of violence that is endangering humankind.
Let us all be alert to the banality of evil. To every president and prime minister of every nation of the world, I beseech you: Join this treaty; forever eradicate the threat of nuclear annihilation. When I was a 13-year-old girl, trapped in the smouldering rubble, I kept pushing. I kept moving toward the light.
And I survived. Our light now is the ban treaty. To all in this hall and all listening around the world, I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: ”Don’t give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it.” Tonight, as we march through the streets of Oslo with torches aﬂame, let us follow each other out of the dark night of nuclear terror. No matter what obstacles we face, we will keep moving and keep pushing and keep sharing this light with others. This is our passion and commitment for our one precious world to survive.
Suggestions for further reading
- A. Robock, L. Oman, G. L. Stenchikov, O. B. Toon, C. Bardeen, and R. Turco, “Climatic consequences of regional nuclear con?icts”, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Vol. 7, p. 2003-2012, 2007.
M. Mills, O. Toon, R. Turco, D. Kinnison, R. Garcia, “Massive global ozone loss predicted following regional nuclear con?ict”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), vol. 105(14), pp. 5307-12, Apr 8, 2008.
O. Toon , A. Robock, and R. Turco, “The Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War”, Physics Today, vol. 61, No. 12, p. 37-42, 2008.
R. Turco, O. Toon, T. Ackermann, J. Pollack, and C. Sagan, “Nuclear Winter: Global consequences of multiple nuclear explosions”, Science, Vol. 222, No. 4630, pp. 1283-1292, December 1983.
A. Robock, L. Oman, G. Stenchikov, “Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences”, Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, Vol. 112, No. D13, p. 4 of 14, 2007.
I. Helfand, “An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting From Limited, Regional Nuclear War”, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Leeds, MA, 2007.
George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, page A15 and January 15, 2008, page A15.
Mikhail Gorbachev, “The Nuclear Threat”, The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2007, page A15.
Massimo DAlema, Gianfranco Fini, Giorgio La Malfa, Arturo Parisi and Francesco Calogero, “For a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, Corriere Della Sera, July 24, 2008.
Hoover Institution, “Reykjavik Revisited; Steps Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, October, 2007.
Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen and George Robertson, “Start Worrying and Learn to Ditch the Bomb”, The Times, June 30, 2008.
Des Brown, Secretary of State for Defense, UK, “Laying the Foundations for Multilateral Disarmament”, Geneva Conference on Disarmament, February 5, 2008.
Government of Norway, International Conference on “Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, Oslo, Norway, February 26-27, 2008.
Jonas Gahr Støre, Foreign Minister, Norway, “Statement at the Conference on Disarmament”, Geneva, March 4, 2008.
Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, Defense Minister, Norway, “Emerging Opportunities for Nuclear Disarmament”, Pugwash Conference, Canada, July 11, 2008.
Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, Australia, “International Commission on Nuclear NonProliferation and Disarmament”, Media Release, July 9, 2008.
Global Zero, www.globalzero.org/paris-conference
Helmut Schmidt, Richard von Weiz¨acker, Egon Bahr and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, “Towards a Nuclear-Free World: a German View”, International Herald Tribune, January 9, 2009.
Hans M. Kristensen and Elliot Negin, “Support Growing for Removal of U.S. Nuclear Weapons from Europe”, Common Dreams Newscenter, ?rst posted May 6, 2005.
David Krieger, “President-elect Obama and a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Website, 2008.
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R. Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Simon and Schuster, New York, (1988).
D.V. Babst et al., Accidental Nuclear War: The Growing Peril, Peace Research Institute, Dundas, Ontario, (1984).
S. Britten, The Invisible Event: An Assessment of the Risk of Accidental or Unauthorized Detonation of Nuclear Weapons and of War by Miscalculation, Menard Press, London, (1983).
M. Dando and P. Rogers, The Death of Deterrence, CND Publications, London, (1984).
N.F. Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Futura, London, (1976).
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J. Schear, ed., Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Nuclear Risk, Gower, London, (1984).
D.P. Barash and J.E. Lipton, Stop Nuclear War! A Handbook, Grove Press, New York, (1982).
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W. Epstein and T. Toyoda, eds., A New Design for Nuclear Disarmament, Spokesman, Nottingham, (1975).
G.F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion, Pantheon, New York, (1983).
R.J. Lifton and R. Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism, Basic Books, New York, (1982).
J.R. Macy, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, PA, (1983).
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A freely downloadable book
A new 418-page book entitled “A World Federation” may be downloaded and circulated gratis from the following link:
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. During his tenure The Pugwash Movement won a nobel peace prize. Between 2004 and 2015 he also served as Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy. He founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and was for many years its Managing Editor. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988-1997).