Remember Your Humanity
A Message from Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat
Nobel Peace Laureate, with Pugwash, 1995.
An Appeal to Delegates to the Seventh Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
United Nations Headquarters 2-27 May 2005, New York, USA.
I am in my 97th year, and have been working for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and ultimately of war itself, for most of my working life. This year is also the year when we are celebrating the breakthrough achievements in physics of Albert Einstein, who was not only a great scientist, but a great man of peace, and alongside whom, with others, in 1955, I signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, of which, I am the last surviving signatory. In the Manifesto we posed a question:
Here then is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful, and inescapable: shall we put an end to the human race: or shall mankind renounce war?
In 1955 we were at the height of the Cold War, with the two super powers of the time, the USA and the USSR accumulating obscenely huge nuclear arsenals of thermonuclear weapons. Many of the warheads were kept on hair trigger alert – as they are today – increasing the possibility of accidental war. On several occasions, in particular, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, we came within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear confrontation. With the development of nuclear weapons, Man has acquired for the first time in history, the technical means to destroy the whole of civilization in a single act.
Morality is at the core of the nuclear issue: are we going to base our world on a culture of peace or on a culture of violence? Nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral: their action is indiscriminate, affecting civilians as well as military, innocents and aggressors alike, killing people alive now and generations as yet unborn. And the consequence of their use might be to bring the human race to an end. All this makes nuclear weapons an unacceptable instrument for maintaining peace in the world. But this has been exactly our policy during, and after, the Cold War. Nuclear weapons have been kept as a deterrent, to prevent war by the threat of retaliation.
For the deterrent to be effective, the threat of retaliation must be real; we must convince the would-be aggressors that nuclear weapons would be used against them, otherwise the bluff would soon be called. George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, or Tony Blair, must show convincingly that they have the kind of personality that would enable them to push the button and unleash an instrument of wholesale destruction. I find it terrifying to think that among the necessary qualifications for leadership is the readiness to commit an act of genocide, because this is what it amounts to in the final analysis. Furthermore, by acquiescing in this policy, not only the leaders but each of us figuratively keeps our finger on the button; each of us is taking part in a gamble, in which the survival of human civilization is at stake. We rest the security of the world on a balance of terror. In the long run this is bound to erode the ethical basis of civilization.
I am particularly concerned about the effect on the young generation. We all crave a world of peace, a world of equity. We all want to nurture in the young generation the much-heralded “culture of peace”. But how can we talk about a culture of peace if that peace is predicated on the existence of weapons of mass destruction? How can we persuade the young generation to cast aside the culture of violence, when they know that it is on the threat of extreme violence that we rely for security?
It makes a mockery of the claim by George W. Bush that his anti-terrorist campaign is based on moral principles. What sort of morality is it that justifies military action against some states, because of their alleged possession of nuclear weapons, while at the same time insisting on keeping these weapons for oneself, to be used like any other military implement, even in pre-emptive strikes?
I do not believe that the people of the world would accept a policy that is inherently immoral and likely to end in catastrophe. This year is the 60th anniversary of the destruction, in 1945, of the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which provoked a reaction of revulsion, shared by the great majority of people in the world, including the United States. From the beginning, nuclear weapons were viewed with abhorrence; their use evoked an almost universal opposition to any further use of nuclear weapons.
On the international arena this feeling was expressed when the General Assembly met for the first time in January 1946, when the first resolution adopted unanimously was to seek the elimination of atomic weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction. A later most important outcome of our realization of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970. It has, by now, an almost universal acceptance, with 188 signatories, 98% of the UN membership.
The NPT contains two major commitments by its signatories: a) the non-nuclear weapon states undertook not to manufacture, or otherwise acquire, nuclear weapons; b), the five nuclear weapon states – USA, USSR, UK, China and France, that had carried out nuclear tests by 1968 – undertook, in Article VI, to proceed in good faith, to nuclear disarmament.
What have we seen since they agreed to this? Most recently, the States parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty went to their third preparatory meeting for the 2005 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But this meeting became paralyzed and broke down because of the intransigent position taken by the United States. While abetted by the other Nuclear Weapons states, it was the USA that led the attack on regional states, claiming that the NPT priorities should be directed to stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and that the problem of their own compliance with Article VI was non-existent. The leading non-nuclear weapons states claimed the exact opposite: the proliferation of nuclear weapons could not be stopped while the Nuclear Weapons States arrogated to themselves the possession of nuclear weapons and refused to enter into comprehensive negotiations towards elimination as directed by the International Court of Justice.
The present crisis is the worst in the 35-year history of the NPT. In 1995, at the Indefinite Extension Conference, promises were made to implement the NPT. The major states have broken those promises. In 2000, an “unequivocal undertaking” toward elimination through a Programme of 13 Practical Steps was given. Now, the US is rejecting the commitments of 2000 and premising its aggressive diplomacy on the assertion that the problem of the NPT lies not in the Nuclear States’ actions but in the lack of compliance by regional states.
Let us be clear: the Pugwash Movement and the whole international community, nuclear and non-nuclear alike, are concerned about proliferation. Rigorous steps to control and cut off the supplies of nuclear materials must be taken. But to gloss over the hypocrisy of the Nuclear Weapons States, which are modernizing nuclear weapons and ensconcing them in their ongoing military doctrines, while urging abstinence on everyone else, is stunning. This duplicity has caused the patience of many other states to snap. They see a two-class world of nuclear haves and have-nots becoming a permanent feature of the global landscape. In such chaos, the NPT is eroding and the prospect of multiple nuclear weapons states, a fear that caused nations to agree on the NPT in the first place, is looming once more.
At this Seventh Review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is vital for governments and people alike to recognize that the current crisis of international insecurity will not be resolved by anything other than a working system of collective security, as clearly envisaged in the United Nations Charter, and as set out in the provisions of the NPT. Science and technology have made the global community interdependent – whether it is in matters of communication, trade, global warming, or security. We all have a common interest: survival. We have to move forward from a now outdated security system based on nuclear deterrence and alliances, to one based on cooperation and allegiance to humankind. In the words of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto:
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. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.
Above all: Remember your humanity.
Biography of Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat:
Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG, CBE, D.Sc., FRS. Nobel Peace Laureate 1995 (born in Warsaw in 1908; British citizen since 1946), Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of London and Emeritus President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
During World War II Professor Rotblat initiated work on the atom bomb at Liverpool University, and later joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. When it became clear that Germany was not working on the bomb, he resigned from the project – the only scientist to do so before the bomb was tested. He then changed his line of research to medicine and was Chief Physicist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.
A signatory of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in 1955, he has devoted his life to averting the danger posed by nuclear weapons, working with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the organization he helped to found, and with which he shares the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author of some 400 publications.