* A Keynote Address by Mel Hurtig

Association of World Citizens Conference

University of San Francisco

August 2, 2005

*words from an article by Robert S. McNamara, Foreign Policy, May/June 2005

In what follows, I acknowledge with gratitude and admiration the invaluable work of Douglas Roche , O.C. formerly Canada ’s Ambassador for Disarmament and currently Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative. Roche’s analysis of the May, 2005 Seventh Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is perceptive and extremely important.

While all of us in this room are fully aware of the dismaying failure of the crucial Seventh Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty which took place in New York in May, I very much doubt if one in a thousand around the world paid attention to the month-long deliberations or have any even vague idea of their importance, or the inevitable tragic consequences of the enormously disappointing Conference results.

Not only was no progress made on the vitally important issues of nuclear disarmament, proliferation, abolishing testing and the continuing upgrading and refinement of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, but in a shocking betrayal to the world’s aspirations for peace, disarmament and redirecting arms funding to badly-needed humanitarian use, clear-cut widely agreed-to commitments made in the previous 1995 and 2000 Reviews were either ignored or repudiated.

It’s impossible not to single out the administration of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for the Conference failure. Time and again the U.S. blocked crucial references to earlier commitments and continued to stubbornly refuse to join the widely-supported Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

While most countries wanted a strengthened Non-Proliferation Treaty, the U.S. clearly wanted it weakened.

And, while many U.S. allies, including seven NATO states called for specific steps to quicken nuclear disarmament, and almost 2,000 NGOs presented thoughtful, passionate pleas and warnings about the growing dangers of proliferation, and while well-reasoned plans for verification and the elimination of nuclear arsenals were presented and overwhelmingly supported, the U.S. frustrated any such progress towards goals almost universally supported.

Having already backed away from the vitally important ABM Treaty, having refused to back the Test Ban Treaty, having embarked on the dangerous, escalating, so-called missile defence fiasco, having already budgeted for the refinement of its nuclear weapons, having planned for the development of new nuclear weapons and the horrendous prospect of the weaponization of space, having agreed to a dangerous new provocative nuclear agreement with India, the U.S. is now clearly identifiable as the major threat to world peace and to the very survival of the human race.

The mayor of Hiroshima has eloquently warned of the terrible consequences, as have numerous others such as Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mohamed ElBaradei, Robert McNamara, Canada ’s Douglas Roche, and John Polanyi, Sir Joseph Rotlat, and many other respected world leaders and admired authorities.

Conversely, and remarkably, not a single high-ranking U.S. official bothered to attend the New York Conference.

Meanwhile, in most Western democracies, the media has done a miserable job of informing citizens about the horrible and increasing danger of an apocalyptic nuclear Armageddon.

With the U.S., and to a somewhat lesser degree France and Britain essentially repudiating their previous commitments to the Programme of 13 Practical Steps for the elimination of their nuclear weapons, with new weapons and their delivery systems being planned by the nuclear weapon states, is it any wonder that around the world non-nuclear states (north Korea and Iran among them) are logically saying that if the major nuclear powers refuse to pay attention to the will of the overwhelming majority, to their previous clear-cut promises, or to the explicit direction of the International Court of Justice, is it any wonder that these currently non-nuclear states are concluding that their own best interests oblige them to acquire an arsenal of nuclear weapons?

And why would they not do so given the pathetic failure in New York, and the aggressive, militaristic behaviour of the Bush government and the widespread emergence of the Pakistani nuclear black market?

Bear in mind that what needs to be done has been already widely- agreed-to. A non-reversible program for the destruction of all strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is essential. A fissile material cut off treaty must be rushed into force. All strategic nuclear weapons must be promptly taken off alert status. Stockpiles of nuclear materials must be much more heavily guarded and converted for peaceful uses. While the world continues to fear the despicable, murderous terrorist activities that have shocked the U.S. , Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the inevitability of terrorist access to plutonium and/or enriched uranium has been growing for years. The potential for a massively horrendous, unprecedented slaughter of innocents is no longer a remote possibility.

In all of this, as I spelled out in my last book, it’s essential to consider the actions and responses of both Russia and China. Both countries have reacted to the aggressive posture of the U.S. and the huge increases in American military spending by increasing and modernizing their own military strength and by developing formidable new weapons. Russia is carrying out research and missile tests for new “state-of-the-art nuclear missile systems” and “a unique new generation of nuclear weapons” including “new maneuverable warheads”, increased road-mobile weapons and new ICBMs and cruise missiles. China is developing improved long-range missiles carrying multiple nuclear warheads and rapidly expanding its ballistic missile submarine force, and increasing its own number of nuclear weapons. Recent ominous Chinese threats to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons in response to American aggression or interference re Taiwan were neither frivolous nor unplanned.

At the same time, while Russia and China conduct unprecedented joint military exercises, both have also repeatedly come down firmly on the side of peace and disarmament, repudiating the U.S. abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the plans for the weaponization of space, the failure of the U.S. to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test ban Treaty (now ratified by 120 countries), the Conference on Disarmament paralysis, the American proposals for the development of new nuclear weapons, the U.S. pre-emptive nuclear strike policy and the American lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s position and its 43 New York suggestions relating to disarmament and non-proliferation would have definitely strengthened the NPT.

As the New Agenda Coalition (Sweden, Egypt, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa) pointed out at the New York Conference, there are now some 30,000 nuclear weapons in existence, almost as many as those that existed when the NPT came into force 35 years ago! Moreover, there is now the clear potential for a disastrous major new nuclear arms race.

The 119-member states of the Non-Aligned Movement warned that
we must all call for an end to this madness and seek the elimination and ban on all forms of nuclear weapons and testing as well as the rejection of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence.

At the end of the New York Conference, delegates described the results as “extremely regrettable” (Japan), “profoundly disappointing” ( Norway ), “unfortunate” ( Ukraine ), and they expressed “frustration” ( Chile and Brazil ).

Ambassador Paul Meyer of Canada condemned “the hubris that demands the priorities of the many be subordinated to the preferences of the few…..”

During the Conference, a massive accumulation of evidence showed how the U.S. was ignoring its previous disarmament promises and how it still plans to have over 5,000 operational nuclear weapons in 2012, how it has no plans to reduce its nuclear deployments or discontinue the maintenance of thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert, how it is currently budgeting over $22 million for research into new nuclear weapons and providing additional funding for new delivery systems, how it intends to modify and update its existing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and develop a “global strike” capacity that will facilitate the delivery of nuclear weapons, anywhere on earth, in a few hours at the most. Moreover, the U.S. is now spending some $40 billion a year on its nuclear forces, far more than the total of all military spending for most countries and a 150 per cent increase over its nuclear weapons spending during the Cold War.

And of course all of this is in addition to the over $100 billion already spent on the so-called “Missile Defense” program, which many believe is in reality a precursor for the weaponization of space.

And the result?

As The Western States Legal Foundation put is so well, “there is a growing possibility of a new nuclear confrontation that may overshadow the Cold War in its complexity.” Moreover, the American “implication that the selective use of nuclear weapons in ordinary warfare is lawful and legitimate [implies that] if it is legal and moral for one country to use nuclear weapons…. it is legitimate for any country to do so.”

As Tri-Valley CARES of Livermore, California put it

The United States is conducting a one-nation arms race against itself to upgrade its nuclear weapons and capabilities…an approach that undercuts international efforts to discourage nuclear weapons development in countries like North Korea and Iran.

Moreover, in the words of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, nations such as Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Taiwan will very likely initiate nuclear weapons programmes, increasing both the risk of the use of the weapons and the diversion of weapons and fissile materials into the hands of terrorists.

Carnegie should also have included a host of other countries, such as Brazil and South Africa.

Douglas Roche draws attention to The New York Times article by the distinguished 97-year-old Sir Joseph Rotlat, where the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner warns of a nuclear arms race.

To gloss over the hypocrisy of the nuclear weapons states, which are modernizing nuclear weapons and ensconcing them in their ongoing military doctrine, while urging abstinence on everyone else is stunning.

Throughout the Conference there were many excellent suggestions about the ways to diminish the threat of a nuclear catastrophe, including those by informed critics of nuclear power. Unfortunately, it’s now clear that in many ways relating to nuclear matters the world is rapidly headed down exactly the wrong path.

Among the proposals from Mohamed ElBaradei were a five-year moratorium on new uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities, and the conversion of all nuclear reactors now using highly enriched uranium to low grade uranium which cannot be used for bombs.

As the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War points out, the NPT has been the foundation for non-proliferation and disarmament for 35 years, and the vast majority of its members support its goals and obligations without question. But today, the Treaty is essentially in shreds, and the world is plunging towards the abyss.

Among the many eloquent recent warnings of the potential for catastrophe, one of the most forceful has come from Robert S. McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968 [1]

McNamara says U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons is immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous. U.S. policy “has only grown more dangerous and diplomatically destructive.”

The average U.S. warhead has a destructive power 20 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. 2000 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched on 15 minutes warning.

The whole situation seems so bizarre as to be beyond belief. On any given day, as we go about our business, the president is prepared to make a decision within 20 minutes that could launch….a nuclear holocaust.

[Our policy] raises troubling questions as to why any other state should restrain its nuclear ambitions.

In his article, McNamara describes the horrendous destruction which would be caused by only a single 1 megaton weapon. It’s chilling reading. As for U.S. policy the statement that our nuclear weapons do not target populations per se was and remains totally misleading in the sense that the so-called collateral damage of large nuclear strikes would include tens of millions of innocent civilian dead.

This in a nut shell is what nuclear weapons do: They indiscriminately blast, burn and irradiate with a speed and finality that are almost incomprehensible. This is exactly what countries like the United States and Russia, with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert; continue to threaten every minute of every day in this new 21st century.

There is no way to effectively contain a nuclear strike – to keep it from inflicting enormous destruction on civilian life and property, and there is no guarantee against unlimited escalation once the first nuclear strike occurs.

McNamara goes on to estimate the destructive power of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange at at least 65,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. He describes current U.S. policy as "We, with the strongest conventional military force in the world, require nuclear weapons in perpetuity, but you are never to be allowed even one nuclear weapon."

He concludes with an ominous warning:

The knowledge of how to construct a simple gun-type nuclear device, like the one that was dropped on Hiroshima, is now widespread. …..Former Secretary of Defence William J. Perry said just last summer “I have never been more fearful of a nuclear detonation than now…. There is a greater than 50 percent probability of a nuclear strike on U.S. targets within a decade.

I share his fears. We are at a critical moment in human history.

I want to end my remarks here today in San Francisco with a brief description of how some of us mobilized successfully to keep Canada out of the so-called U.S. missile defence plans.

It wasn’t easy.

Long before most Canadians and most of the media had any idea of the implications, after a cabinet meeting in Ottawa, Canada ’s Minister of Defence met with Donald Rumsfeld in Washington and, in no uncertain terms, promised Canada ’s participation. When we learned about this, many of us were appalled. And the more we learned about the profound implications, the more we became determined, if at all possible, to reverse the government’s decision, a decision that had been made with virtually no public debate.

Early on, the public opinion polls, for what they were worth, sided with the Liberal government in Ottawa. Most Canadians had absolutely no idea what the dangers of the U.S. plans were. When asked questions like

Should Canada join with the U.S. in building a missile defence system which will stop rogue states from dropping a nuclear bomb on your home, destroying you and your family and friends?

most Canadian, of course, answered “yes”. Early polls were roughly 60 per cent in favour of participation, but with a surprisingly strong 40 per cent opposed. The government was firmly committed. Having stayed out of the Iraq war, much to the displeasure of the Bush administration, timid, colonial-minded politicians and bureaucrats in Ottawa were offering missile defence as a mending mea culpa.

But those of us who understood the significant danger of a new arms race, the prospects for the weaponization of space, the horrendous costs of a system that would never work, the hidden offensive military first-strike implications, the increasing possibility of a nuclear nightmare in a situation of certain escalation, destabilization and insecurity….those of us who studied and understood these dangers became even more determined to try to stop Canada’s participation.

In countries like the U.S. and Canada, with heavy degrees of media concentration in the hands of men on the far right of the political spectrum, getting the message and the truth out is never easy.

We did it in several ways, one of the most important being the internet. While the right-wing press and television essentially parroted the Ottawa and Washington official propaganda lines, we brought in our own skilled experts to new conferences, and began a steady stream of internet releases including expert testimony from some of the most brilliant scientist, economists, political scientists and others with expertise not previously available to the public.

We worked with wonderful people and organizations in Washington , such as the Center for Defense Information, physicists at MIT and many others, including our own Canadian experts. We published books, papers, studies and articles full of information most Canadians were not aware of. My own weekly e-mail to some 1,500 across the country would be recirculated to, on average, some 100,000. Many of my colleagues across the country had their own extensive lists.

And we prevailed. After several months, the polls turned in our favour. After seven consecutive polls, the last one showing 65 per cent of Canadians opposed, the government, much to the displeasure of the Prime Minister, felt that Canada ’s participation was so increasingly unpopular that it had no choice. Canada announced we would not be joining in the American plans.

There were many elements in our successful battle. But, if I had to credit one above all others, it was our success in getting expert information out over the internet that made the most difference. It’s a lesson that I know many of you will want to employ in the future, because in the end, given reliable unbiased information, the public will make the right choice, even in the face of well-financed military-industrial misinformation, ignorant editorials and myopic columnists, and concerted government propaganda.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s a great honour and I wish you well in your continuing deliberations.

[1] Foreign Policy, May, June, 2005

Informant: Bea Bernhausen


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