“I am bringing the warning pronounced by the signatories to the notice of all the powerful Governments of the world in the earnest hope that they may agree to allow their citizens to survive.” – Bertrand Russell
Nuclear proliferation should be of serious concern to anyone who desires the continuation of the human species.
There are certain threats to humanity, and to the planet as a whole, that are completely beyond our capacity to control (particular kinds of environmental catastrophe, for example).
But it seems that the greatest threats that persist today are well within our sphere influence, at least to some extent: namely, climate change and all of its potentially disastrous implications, and the spread and use of nuclear weapons.
After the dropping of two atomic bombs in 1945, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki, the seriousness of nuclear warfare became clear for the first time, and the utter devastation it wreaked was recognized instantly by all.
Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein were just two among many prominent figures at the time warning of the dire threats posed by nuclear weapons in an age of increased aggression, irrationality, and endless war.
The two collaborated with Polish scientist Joseph Rotblat, and years later would produce what was called the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which became increasingly prescient as the Cold War began to intensify.
The prospect for the human race is sombre beyond all precedent.
Mankind are faced with a clear-cut alternative: either we shall all perish, or we shall have to acquire some slight degree of common sense. A great deal of new political thinking will be necessary if utter disaster is to be averted.
Today, this message could not be more applicable.
As the United States and its allies are fighting the so-called “War on Terror” and threatening to use force unilaterally wherever and whenever they please, the threat of nuclear proliferation rises to new heights.
Countries which have not yet had the privilege of being targeted and attacked by the United States are undoubtedly learning a lesson from North Korea: If you want the U.S. to leave you alone, you better have a deterrent.
Deterrents are many: terror, a powerful army, and, of course, nuclear weapons.
As U.S. foreign policy continues to set its sights on global dominance and complete control of the world’s finite resources, the threat of nuclear proliferation becomes ever more terrifying as weaker countries strive to compete with the superpowers.
President Obama’s drone program continues to engender hatred and fear of the United States, leading inevitably to an increase in terror and violence. Our support for brutal dictatorships worldwide also doesn’t help America’s reputation, and it offers a clear counter to the fluffy rhetoric of “democracy promotion.”
In 2004, strategic analysts wrote, in the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, that Washington’s policies abroad carry “an appreciable risk of ultimate doom.”
Jimmy Carter adds that the United States is,
…the major culprit in this erosion of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].
While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran, and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to develop new weapons, including antiballistic missiles, the earth-penetrating ‘bunker buster’ and perhaps some new ‘small’ bombs.
They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.
Noam Chomsky writes in Interventions,
While speculation is pointless, reaction to the threat of another Hiroshima is definitely not. On the contrary, it is urgent, particularly in the United States, because of Washington’s primary role in accelerating the race to destruction by extending its historically unique military dominance coupled with policies of aggressive militarism, both in word and in deed, that are virtually an invitation to disaster.
What can we do?
Sixty years ago, Einstein and Russell put this question to the world at large, to the human species as a whole, not to merely “members of this or that nation, continent, or creed”:
We have to learn to think in a new way.
We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?
This question should be at the very front of human consciousness.
Of course, for many, after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his impassioned and self-righteous speech to the U.S. Congress on the threat posed by Iran, it is.
However, one must keep in mind that Mr. Netanyahu leads a country which has stockpiles of nuclear weapons of its own, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and which continues to act aggressively (to say the least) in a increasingly hostile, occupied regions, endangering its own security as well as that of others.
Specific cases aside, it is time for us to heed the desperate call of Russell and Einstein.
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?
We have to look in the mirror as human beings. Nations are social constructs. We along belong to one race, the human race, and we all share a common responsibility for the future of mankind.
Russell and Einstein invited as all to “subscribe to the following resolution”:
In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.
The question is, of course, which is more important to the global superpowers: Hegemony, or survival?
Is U.S. foreign policy so entrenched that it cannot be changed? Can the population create a significant uprising to increase public awareness about the “stark and dreadful and inescapable” threat of nuclear proliferation? These are questions that we must, in some way, force our “leaders” to address seriously.
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.
Image Source: Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein