Since we can no longer afford the luxury of competition, we are obliged - perhaps for the first time in human history - to learn how to cooperate on a national, international, and global scale.
In 1944, the young Joseph Rotblat joined a team of eminent nuclear scientists on the U.S. Manhattan Project, the sole aim of which was to build an atomic bomb. When Rotblat discovered that Germany was not developing an atomic bomb, he was the only member to leave the project on moral grounds.
Twenty-four years later the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signatures, and two years after that it entered into force. Under its terms, 184 nonnuclear countries have by now undertaken not to acquire nuclear weapons. Only four sovereign states are not parties to the treaty: India, Pakistan, and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons; Israel does not yet formally admit to its arsenal. The five original nuclear weapon states - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China - have undertaken to get rid of their nuclear weapons, under Article VI of the treaty. This undertaking was reaffirmed as late as the year 2000, in "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states parties are committed under Article VI." They have not done so, nor designed step-by-step plans to eliminate their arsenals.
In 2005, just before he died at the age of ninety-six, Joseph Rotblat asked us to wake up to the reality that in this situation we are all in danger. He said, "There can be no peace and security in the world if the mightiest country does not conduct its affairs in accordance with the law."1
At the Heart of the NPT Is the Issue of Us versus Them
Nuclear weapon states continue to insist that other states should not acquire nuclear weapons, indicating that what is considered "good defense policy" for them does not apply to others. Thus a double standard is in operation. This perpetuates a dualistic approach to foreign policy, namely the separation between "us" and "them." This approach means that
. international negotiations are perceived as a zero-sum game, where suspicion is the norm and each offer is made only on the basis of getting something else in return;
. short-term national interest is paramount, measured by economic or political gain; and
. states exist in the shadow of mutual threat and terror (termed euphemistically nuclear deterrence) that acts as a cancer corroding international collaboration.2
This dualism has been at the heart of our way of conducting international affairs for hundreds of years, and many people regard it as the norm. But we can no longer afford it. We can no longer afford to compete for power and use threats of annihilation. We know enough now about the global challenges to the continued survival of humans and animals on our planet that it has become obvious that coordinated and collaborative responses are essential - essential if life is to be possible in even one hundred years' time.
Therefore the question of nuclear weapons proliferation is of immediate concern to us, because it is a potent symbol of the choices that we all - each and every human being - must now begin to make. Nuclear disarmament is essential not only to reduce the danger of holocaust, or accidental holocaust,3 but to take away a principal blockage to international cooperation. Eradicating this blockage will not only allow closer understanding but also take us a giant step in the direction of a cooperative world driven by opportunity and human connection.
What Could Be Done?
Humans have to agree on a series of interwoven plans to preserve life on the planet. Since we can no longer afford the luxury of competition, we are obliged - perhaps for the first time in human history - to learn how to cooperate on a national, international, and global scale.
We have a choice here. We can regard this as a blessing and an opportunity, or we can resist. Regarding it as a blessing means that we can solve humanity's main problems using the phenomenal advances in technology and communications that allow us to see and hear and get to know people living in entirely different cultures. Regarding it as an opportunity means that we can pool resources, talent, and employment to ensure a better standard of life for everyone. Resistance, on the other hand, means that we risk the destruction of life as we know it and that our responsibility to children and grandchildren is abandoned.
The choice for cooperation is underwritten by the concept of interdependence and holistic systems, now well understood by scientists, and understood for centuries by the great spiritual traditions.
Who Has Already Understood This?
Scientists know, and have known since before Einstein, that planetary forces - as well as the tiniest of cells - act as a global holistic system. This knowledge has accelerated and become widespread since James Lovelock, in his Gaia hypothesis,4 showed that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shapes the earth's biosphere and maintains the earth as a fit environment for life. Other scientists have shown that the earth itself is an organism with self-regulatory functions. This is why scientists5 - working alongside civil society6 in worldwide campaigns - are leading the way toward change in environmental policies.
In fact, any one of us can know the reality of these theories in an instant. All we have to do is observe our own body. Doing so, we witness a vast intelligence system at work: billions of cells - in the brain, the nervous system, bones, tissue, organs, skin, and blood - working in unison to grow, to repair, to refuel, to redesign, to respond, to reproduce, and to transmit hundreds of thousands of messages per second. Each of us lives inside an absolute wonder of synchronized cooperation. Yet our unconsciousness - so far at least - has us behaving as if we are not part of any larger system.
The greatest spiritual traditions have known about interdependence for millennia and the consequently obvious need for human cooperation with all living systems. The wise masters of the Taoist tradition never lost the understanding that relationship with nature was the key to staying in touch with the source of life. The essence of Buddhism is compassion for every living thing, based on the fundamental understanding that we are all interconnected. Over a period of at least four thousand years, sages in India have repeatedly said that there is an underlying unity of all that exists, including everything we call animate or inanimate, and that the cultivation of wisdom consists in the realization of this truth. Ubuntu - the ancient code of conduct emanating from southern Africa - echoes the basic principles of interdependence that are found at the heart of the belief systems of many ancient indigenous peoples.
This Greater Intelligence Could Apply to Politics
Our knowledge of human behavior suggests that humanity has the capacity to behave both destructively and creatively, and this in part is shaped by political environments. Our history of war and destruction, not least in the twentieth century, would suggest that our capacity to do harm is enormous. However, there are also simultaneously multiple examples of humankind's ability to work collaboratively together and to protect those beyond their own family and kinship networks. The recent earthquake in Haiti is an example of the international community's ability to respond with great speed and concern.
At heart, every human being longs for connection, warmth of human contact, affection, and peace. Politicians are no different. But sometimes they have to be reminded that the people they represent want them to lead in more skillful ways.
So our task is to open a dialogue with the individuals responsible for major decisions on nuclear weapons, decisions that affect all of our lives. We can suggest ways to act wisely and skillfully and demonstrate that they will receive a great deal of public support if they do.
The timing is right, for three reasons. First, governments are desperate to save money in the wake of the disruption to national economies from the recent financial crisis; nuclear weapons programs are extremely costly, and cutting them would generate substantial savings. Second, since terrorism is the main threat we apparently face, the public does not see the point of nuclear weapons anymore, because they are useless against a terrorist. Third, opinion polls show the public to be ahead of governments in policy proposals and increasingly impatient of their slow-moving pace relative to perceptions of global crisis.
The Eighth Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - where substantial changes in the treaty could be made - will be held May 3-28, 2010, in New York. The numbers of people worldwide who are responsible for preparing this crucial conference are in fact very few. We can get in touch with them, go to see them individually, and engage them in the kind of policy changes that would now make sense. These changes can then be proposed to the political leadership.
The new policy should state clearly the commitment to the elimination of nuclear arsenals in accord with the NPT pledge and include the design of step-by-step plans to achieve this goal, including the following:
. De-alerting the weapons currently on high-alert status
. Pledging no first use of nuclear weapons
. Convening the nine states with nuclear weapons to begin negotiations on agreeing upon a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible, and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020
. Investing the money saved by the cancellation of new nuclear programs in a multilateral fund to oversee the security of the fissile materials resulting from dismantling weapons
Leaders could also be encouraged to recognize, as did Albert Einstein and Joseph Rotblat, that the challenges we now face demand not only the abolition of nuclear weapons but the abolition of war. For too long, countries have sought to prevent war by preparing for it. World military expenditure in 2008 is estimated to have reached $1.464 trillion in current dollars. This represents a 4 percent increase in real terms since 2007 and a 45 percent increase over the ten-year period since 1999. This corresponds to 2.4 percent of world gross domestic product, or $217 for each person in the world. By contrast, the United Nations and all of its agencies and funds spend about $27 billion each year, or about $4 for each of the world's inhabitants.7
Now the time has come to prevent war by preparing for peace. Cultures of peace can be, and are being, built - the first examples are Costa Rica, which has abolished its armed forces, and Ghana and Kenya - countries that are building Infrastructures for Peace8 or methodical means of preventing violent conflict and educating for peace.
In conclusion, we can see that nuclear disarmament demands deep cultural changes, and so this is where spiritual and religious groups can have the most impact. They can do this by highlighting the ancient wisdoms that have relevance to the deep transformations required, and by engaging with officials and others in a spirit of love and understanding, not recrimination. This is not only more consistent with our spiritual roots, it is also more effective. This means working with the deep-seated fear and cynicism that pervade official negotiations, and helping people overcome them in favor of cooperation and mutual respect.
The crisis of our times is not only an ecological and political crisis but a spiritual crisis. The answers we seek cannot come from the limited left-hemispheric consciousness which currently rules the world, but could grow from a deeper understanding born of the union of mind and soul, helping us to see that all life is one, that each one of us participates in the life of a cosmic entity of immeasurable dimensions. The urgent need for this psychic balance, this deeper intelligence and insight, this wholeness, could help us to recover a perspective on life that has been increasingly lost. It has been lost to the extent that we have come to live without it - without even noticing it has gone - not recognizing the existence of any dimension of reality beyond the parameters set by the human mind. It is a dangerous time because it involves transforming entrenched belief systems and archaic survival habits of behavior that are rooted in fear and ignorance, as well as the greed and desire for power that are born of these. But it is also an immense opportunity for evolutionary advance, if only we can understand what is happening and why.9
. Joseph Rotblat, "The Nuclear Threat Is as Real as Ever,
" March 2003, updated August 2005.
. See the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Web site: http://www.wagingpeace.org/.
. Since 1942, there have been fifty-nine military accidents involving nuclear material, known as "Broken Arrows." A Broken Arrow is defined as an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that results in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft, or loss of the weapon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents, http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/Brokenarrows.shtml.
. James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
. A campaign initiated by thirty Nobel Prize laureates and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES), http://www.inesglobal.com, who have been active at events in Hiroshima. The campaign is linked to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and appeals to the scientific community to support the abolition of nuclear weapons. Twelve million signatures for a nuclear weapon-free world, which the Japanese peace movement collected during the NPT PrepCom conference in 2009, serve as a model. Contact the INES program director, Reiner Braun, who represents INES at the international preparatory committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.
. Take for example the organization Avaaz: Their petitions, fundraisers, rallies, and lobbying campaigns are able to rapidly and effectively mobilize people power all over the world to support the greatest needs and concerns of all human beings. In less than three years, they have grown to more than 4 million engaged citizens in every country of the world - operating in fourteen languages - and have begun to make a real impact on global politics. The Economist
writes that Avaaz is poised to deliver "a deafening wake-up call" to world leaders, the Indian Express
welcomes "the biggest web campaigner across the world," and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore says "Avaaz is inspiring, and has already begun to make a difference." www.avaaz.org.
. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security for 2008: http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/05.
. Paul van Tongeren, "Infrastructures for Peace," http://www.friendsofeurope.org/.../P_van_Tongeren_Infrastructures_for_Peace_Sept_2009.pdf.
. Anne Baring, article for the Scientific and Medical Network. See http://www.annebaring.com.
Scilla Elworthy, PhD, founded Peace Direct in 2002 in London to fund, promote, and learn from peace builders in conflict areas; previously she founded the Oxford Research Group in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policymakers worldwide and their critics. It is for this work that she was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize in 2003 and nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. From 2005 she was advisor to Sir Richard Branson, Peter Gabriel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in setting up The Elders initiative.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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