NEWS

Building up to a new nuclear arms race?

” The struggle for a free world has a fundamental prerequisite: survival.» Or so said that towering giant among scientists, 94-year-old Joseph Rotblat, the man who left the program to make the first atom bomb and founded the first movement, and most important institute, to combat weapons of mass destruction. Seeing that (some) nations are embarking on a new nuclear arms race, the winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize is attempting to put the matter before rulers, scientists and ordinary people. In an interview with Kathimerini, he stressed that we are beginning a new era, with the threat of a nuclear holocaust visible once again. The USA was prepared to use nuclear weapons like any other weapon, and was developing a mini-atomic bomb that could penetrate otherwise impregnable nuclear arsenals. Only our common humanity can stop this crazy progress toward the destruction of the species, he said in a lecture organized by the Medical Physics Laboratory of the Athens University Medical School and the National Bank’s personnel health fund. «Despite partial disarmament by the USA and Russia, a large number of nuclear warheads – about 80,000 – have remained in the arsenals, ready to be activated, either deliberately or by mistake,» he said. And he added: «We talk about peace, but how can we persuade the younger generations to abandon a culture of violence when they see that we base our security on the the threat of violence? International treaties, ratified by 98 percent of UN member states, forbid the use of nuclear weapons. At the same time, these states – or at least four of them – are expanding their nuclear arsenals. This hypocrisy must stop.» First use of atomic weapons conceivable in future conflict What do you think are the greatest obstacles today to nuclear disarmament and abolition? The unilaterist policy of the USA and vested interests in continuing the arms race. Legally, the United States, together with the other four official nuclear-weapon states, Russia, China, France and the UK, are committed to nuclear disarmament. They, and 183 other nations – that is, 98 percent of the United Nations members – have signed and ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), by which the non-nuclear states have undertaken not to acquire nuclear weapons, and the five nuclear states have undertaken to get rid of theirs. There was some ambiguity in the formulation of the relevant Article VI of the NPT, which provided the hawks with an excuse for the retention of nuclear weapons until general and complete disarmament had been achieved. This ambiguity has now been removed. The statement issued after the NPT Review Conference in New York in April/May 2000, a statement signed by all five nuclear-weapon states, contains the following paragraph: «… an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all state parties are committed under Article VI.» One would have thought that this makes the situation perfectly clear. Yet the actual policy pursued by the nuclear powers is just the opposite of this: It is a continuation of the policy of the Cold War, a first-use policy threatening the use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack not only by nuclear forces but also by chemical, biological or even conventional arms. The policy of extended deterrence, which implies the continuing existence of nuclear weapons, is in direct contradiction to the legally binding Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is a sine qua non of civilized society that nations fulfill their legal commitments and adhere to international treaties. Without this, there would be complete anarchy in the world. But above all, the nuclear deterrent is not acceptable on ethical grounds. The whole concept of nuclear deterrence is based on the belief that the threat of retaliation is real, that nuclear weapons would be used against an act of aggression. By acquiescing in this policy, not only our 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. Which countries are responsible for the new nuclear arms race? The USA, China, India and Pakistan. Against whom or what are they defending themselves? The USA mainly to maintain its hegemony; the others in reaction to this. A recent twist in the Bush administration’s policy has created an entirely new situation. It has given up the pretence that nuclear weapons are needed for deterrence purposes only. It has blatantly announced that nuclear weapons are part and parcel of the US military force, to be used whenever the situation requires it, like any other weapon. The taboo against the use of nuclear weapons in combat will have come to an end: Nuclear weapons will come to be seen as a tool of war, even though their main characteristic, of potentially endangering the existence of the human race, will still remain. Specifically, in order to eliminate Saddam Hussein, or other such villains who may hide in a bunker with concrete walls that cannot be penetrated with ordinary high explosive, a new type of nuclear weapon, with high penetrating power, the so-called bunker-blasting mini-nuke, is to be developed. Naturally, like any new weapon, it will have to be tested before the military will accept it. This is one of the reasons why the United States had not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Indeed, it is very likely that it will withdraw from the CTBT altogether and resume testing in the near future. Should the United States resume testing nuclear weapons, it is almost certain that China will do the same, and possibly so will India and Pakistan. The danger of a new arms race, with unforeseen consequences, has become real. A campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons has become urgent. International treaties Treaties have proved to be ineffective. What is the next step? We must take action to restore respect for international treaties. The elimination of nuclear weapons is an urgent short-term objective. But while this would remove an immediate danger, the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free world would not be sufficient to secure the future of humankind. Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented. We cannot erase from our memories the knowledge of how to make them. Should, sometime in the future, a conflict occur between the great powers of the day, it would not take them long to rebuild nuclear arsenals, and we would be back to the Cold War situation. For world security in the long term, we will need to take a further big step: the elimination of war itself. What do you think is the cost (financial and other) of nuclear disarmament and abolition? I cannot give actual figures, but there is no doubt that the cost of disarmament is far, far less than the cost of maintaining the nuclear arsenals. The role of scientists People think that science is responsible for many of the dangers to humanity that exist today, and human and scientific morality are two different things for scientists. What do you think? There should be no dichotomy. Every citizen, scientist, or any person should be responsible for their deeds. Unfortunately, this is not yet recognized by all scientists. There is now a real threat of war, or wars, in the world, a threat that arose primarily from the work of scientists, and for which they must take responsibility. Science and technology are playing ever-increasing roles in modern society; they affect us in every walk of life. Most of the applications of science are beneficial to us and have greatly improved the quality of life for many communities. Sadly, however, I also have to note some negative consequences. The application of science and technology to the development, production and use of weapons of mass destruction has created a real threat to the continued existence of the human race on this planet. The decision on whether to continue with an old, or start a new, program of nuclear development rests, of course, with governments, but it is scientists who are the first to be called upon to implement it. There would be no progress in nuclear arms if scientists as a body refused to do any work on weapons of mass destruction. This raises the general question of the moral responsibility of scientists: Should scientists be concerned about the social impact of their work and the ethical issues that arise from it? Should they accept the responsibility for the harmful consequences of scientific research? Laissez-faire science Alas, a large proportion of the scientific community refuses to take any responsibility. These scientists claim that there should be no limitation on research which pushes forward the frontiers of knowledge and deepens our understanding of the world around us and its inhabitants. The only obligation on scientists, they claim, is to make the results of their work known to the public. What the public does with it is their business. This laissez-faire attitude is a remnant of the old days, when science had hardly any impact on the life of the community, when pure science and its applications were well separated in time and in space. In those days, it would take decades before a practical application was found for a scientific discovery, and even then different people, working in different institutions, would take it up. All this has changed radically. Nowadays, the distinction between pure and applied research is barely discernible in many areas of science. Practical applications follow hard on the heels of scientific discoveries, and may be pursued by the same people. The tremendous advances in pure science, particularly in physics during the first half of the 20th century, and in biology during the second half, have completely changed the relation between science and society. Science has become a dominant element in the affairs of society. It has brought enormous improvements to the quality of life, but has also created grave perils. Scientists can no longer claim that their work is unrelated to the welfare of the individual or to state politics. We live in a world community of ever-greater interdependence, an interdependence due largely to technical advancements arising from scientific research. An interdependent community offers great benefits to its members, but, by the same token, it imposes responsibilities on them. Every citizen has to be accountable for their deeds. We all owe an obligation to society. The responsibility weighs particularly heavily on scientists precisely because of the dominant role played by science in modern society. Scientists very often see the adverse effects of their work earlier than other members of the community, and it is incumbent on them to take steps to prevent, or to minimize, such adverse effects. It is also in scientists’ self-interest to accept this responsibility and thereby avoid the consequences to science of having a bad public image. The public holds scientists responsible for the dangers arising from scientific advances. For example, human cloning is distasteful and viewed by the public as immoral, and science as a whole is castigated for the few scientists who want to pursue it. The general public, through elected governments, has the means to control science, either by withholding the purse, or by restrictive regulations. Obviously, it is far better that any control is exercised by the scientists themselves. It is vitally important that science regains the respect of the community for its integrity; that it recaptures public trust in its pronouncements. Scientists must reveal a human face; they must show that it is possible to combine creativity with compassion; venture into the unknown yet care for fellow creatures; allow the imagination to roam while remaining accountable for their deeds. The human species is an endangered species (by nuclear weapons or by other means). What is the real big danger today? The real danger is a new nuclear arms race, initiated by the USA and followed by others. What should we most fear? See above. What we most fear is a further polarization of human society that will eventually lead to a nuclear holocaust. From the Manhatten program to the Nobel Peace Prize Joseph Rotblat was born in Warsaw in 1908, and received his PhD from the University of Warsaw in 1938. In 1937, he became assistant director at the Atomic Physics Institute of the Free University of Poland (where he had completed his MA). In 1939, he began working on the atomic bomb program at the University of Liverpool, together with James Chadwick, with whom he went to Los Alamos in order to take part in the Manhattan program. In 1944, when it was confirmed that Germany would not be able to make an atomic bomb, he left the program (the only scientist to do so) before the final, destructive outcome and returned to England, where he turned with passion to the biological and medical uses of nuclear physics, serving as research director and professor in British universities and authoring over 300 studies. In 1947, he organized the first exhibition in favor of the peaceful uses of nuclear power, and against its military uses. In 1955 he signed, together with Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, a manifesto in which they asked that scientists of the world find ways to avert nuclear war. In 1957, he founded «Pugwash,» an institute that has agitated against weapons of mass destruction for 45 years. In 1987, it received an award from the Onassis Foundation. In 1995, Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.