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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way | The Nation

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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way

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Symbols of Sovereignty

About the Author

George Perkovich
George Perkovich is Vice-President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is the author of...
Randall Caroline Forsberg
Randall Caroline Forsberg is Ann and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York....
Mary Kaldor
Mary Kaldor is professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of...
Richard Falk
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human...

Also by the Author

A DECADE after the end of the cold war, the peril of nuclear destruction
is mounting. The great powers have refused to give up nuclear arms,
other countries are producing them and terrorist groups are trying to
acquire them.

POORLY GUARDED warheads and nuclear material in the former Soviet Union
may fall into the hands of terrorists. The Bush Administration is
developing nuclear "bunker busters" and threatening to use them against
nonnuclear countries. The risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan
is grave.

DESPITE THE END of the cold war, the United States plans to keep large
numbers of nuclear weapons indefinitely. The latest US-Russian treaty,
which will cut deployed strategic warheads to 2,200, leaves both nations
facing "assured destruction" and lets them keep total arsenals (active
and inactive, strategic and tactical) of more than 10,000 warheads each.

THE DANGERS POSED by huge arsenals, threats of use, proliferation and
terrorism are linked: The nuclear powers' refusal to disarm fuels
proliferation, and proliferation makes nuclear materials more accessible
to terrorists.

THE EVENTS of September 11 brought home to Americans what it means to
experience a catastrophic attack. Yet the horrifying losses that day
were only a fraction of what any nation would suffer if a single nuclear
weapon were used on a city.

THE DRIFT TOWARD catastrophe must be reversed. Safety from nuclear
destruction must be our goal. We can reach it only by reducing and then
eliminating nuclear arms under binding agreements.

WE THEREFORE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES AND RUSSIA TO FULFILL THEIR
COMMITMENTS UNDER THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY TO MOVE TOGETHER WITH THE
OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS, STEP BY CAREFULLY INSPECTED AND VERIFIED STEP, TO
THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AS KEY STEPS TOWARD THIS GOAL, WE CALL
ON THE UNITED STATES TO:

§  RENOUNCE the first use of nuclear weapons.

§  Permanently END the development, testing and production of nuclear warheads.

§  SEEK AGREEMENT with Russia on the mutual and verified destruction of nuclear weapons withdrawn under treaties, and increase the resources available here and in the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear warheads and material and to implement destruction.

§  STRENGTHEN nonproliferation efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, finalizing a missile ban in North Korea, supporting UN inspections in Iraq, locating and reducing fissile material worldwide and negotiating a ban on its production.

§  TAKE nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert in concert with the other nuclear powers (the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel) in order to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.

§  INITIATE talks on further nuclear cuts, beginning with US and Russian reductions to 1,000 warheads each.

TO SIGN THE STATEMENT, GO TO URGENTCALL.ORG OR SEND NAME,
ORGANIZATION/PROFESSION (FOR ID ONLY) AND CONTACT INFORMATION TO URGENT
CALL, C/O FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM, 11 DUPONT CIRCLE NW, 9TH FLOOR,
WASHINGTON, DC 20036. WE NEED TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS, MADE TO URGENT
CALL, TO DISSEMINATE THIS CALL. PLEASE MAIL TO THE SAME ADDRESS.

THIS CALL WAS DRAFTED BY JONATHAN SCHELL, THE HAROLD WILLENS PEACE
FELLOW OF THE NATION INSTITUTE AND THE AUTHOR OF THE FATE OF THE
EARTH
; RANDALL CAROLINE (RANDY) FORSBERG, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE
FOR DEFENSE AND DISARMAMENT STUDIES AND AUTHOR OF THE "CALL TO HALT THE
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE," THE MANIFESTO OF THE 1980s NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE
CAMPAIGN; AND DAVID CORTRIGHT, PRESIDENT OF THE FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM AND
FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SANE.

Also by the Author

We must contain terror and protect its victims through extending human rights law.

New types of violence are on the rise, and the only exit route is political.

Also by the Author

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, inspired by the 1967 inquiry into American war crimes in Vietnam, examined the case.

By ignoring the UN Security Council resolution’s mandate authorizing intervention, NATO may have destroyed the prospects for future legitimate uses of the principle of “responsibility to protect.”

As long as nuclear weapons are viewed as symbols of sovereignty, proliferation is inevitable.

MARY KALDOR

Movements that campaign against weapons are usually campaigning against particular wars. The movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s was a movement against the cold war--the last great conflict between states. Nowadays we are much concerned about new types of violence--terrorism, wars of ethnic cleansing and genocide, or so-called wars against terror--which involve both states and nonstate actors. The weapons used in these new types of violence are small arms, homemade bombs or even civilian airliners, on the one side, and supposedly discriminate conventional air strikes, on the other. In campaigning against these new types of violence, we put the emphasis on international law--humanitarian law, human rights law--and occasionally on the weapons used in those wars, like land mines or cluster munitions. We are appalled by attacks on civilians and invoke the language of crimes against humanity, violations of human rights or the concept of "proportionality." In the recent war in Lebanon, all of these terms were used to describe Israeli air attacks.

Discussions about nuclear weapons remain curiously bound up in the language of national security. And proposals for dealing with nuclear weapons remain in the realm of the seemingly sanitized language of arms control and nonproliferation. Although there are fears about nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists, it is generally agreed that terrorists do not have the infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons, and that they could only acquire them as a result of state sponsorship.

Nuclear weapons states justify their weapons in terms of potential war with other states; the main argument is deterrence against a threat from other states using weapons of mass destruction. One reason for the Bush Administration's preoccupation with "counterproliferation"--the idea of using forces to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons--is the argument that deterrence no longer works if states are unstable. Deterrence as a doctrine, the argument goes, only works when states possessing nuclear weapons are relatively stable and control their own territory. By contrast, unstable states, it is argued, may sponsor terrorism, or may let nuclear weapons fall into the hands of nonstate actors, or may possess leaders who do not care about the welfare of their population and thus may not be deterred by the threat of retaliation. But if the states that are allowed to possess nuclear weapons are relatively stable, why would they ever threaten to use nuclear weapons? So why is deterrence necessary at all?

Nuclear weapons are the last-ditch defense of absolute sovereignty. They are supposed to symbolize the awesome power of the state. Yet the lesson of recent wars in Iraq, Lebanon and Chechnya is that even sophisticated conventional weapons are not very effective at what the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling called "compellance." They can be very destructive but they do not augment power, if power is understood as the ability to get others to do what you want. Indeed, their very destructiveness undermines power by reducing legitimacy. Israel's prospects for peace and stability have been weakened rather than strengthened by the recent war in Lebanon. If this is true of conventional military power, how much more true is it of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are immensely dangerous, but what possible goal could be achieved by their use?

As long as nuclear weapons are viewed as symbols of sovereignty, proliferation in a globalizing world is inevitable. And sooner or later they will be used, whether because a failing state, like Pakistan, is involved in illegal trade and has links with extremist militants or because of a misinformed or fanatic leader. After all, the Bush Administration ignored much advice and intelligence when going to war in Iraq and seems to believe that mini-nukes or bunker-busters are usable. If we are horrified by "collateral damage" when American and Israeli leaders are claiming to be discriminate by the standards of war, how much more horrifying would be the possible use of nuclear weapons?

There is a need for a new approach to nuclear weapons based on international humanitarian and human rights law, and on the protection of individual human beings rather than states. Nuclear weapons are clearly terror weapons. The threat or use of nuclear weapons would be a crime against humanity. In a recent legal opinion on the replacement of the British Trident nuclear system, two eminent international lawyers argued that the use of nuclear weapons would infringe the "intransgressible" requirement in international customary law that a distinction be drawn between combatants and noncombatants. If we are moving toward a world based on multilateral arrangements among states and the strengthening of international law, especially as it affects individuals, then there is something very peculiar about hiving off the nuclear weapons debate into a different state-bound arena. Campaigning against nuclear weapons has to be part of a wider campaign, already under way in the protests against genocide in the Balkans or Africa or against the wars in Lebanon or Iraq, that would oppose attacks on civilians everywhere.

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