A Ca(u)se de Paix / A Case for Peace
In 1946, with the scarring, shameful memory of the fate of two Japanese cities forever seared onto world conscience, Bernard Baruch, representing the United States at a meeting of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, proposed to the world a mechanism to assure that atomic energy would only be used for peaceful purposes and to preclude its use in war. The Baruch plan, as it was known, called for international, multilateral control over nuclear fuel cycles and facilities; the disarmament and elimination of existing nuclear weapons; and the renunciation of the acquisition of nuclear weapons for the future. The consequences of violating this agreement—it was assured—would be swift and sure, and no veto power of the U.N. Security Council could stand in the way.
What we signed instead, ‘the global anchor of humanity’s efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and move toward nuclear disarmament’, was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT]. The NPT entered into force in 1970; it is the most widely subscribed-to arms control treaty in history, and the most widely subscribed-to multilateral treaty in the world, next to the United Nations Charter. Parties to the treaty are divided into Nuclear Weapon States [NWS] and Non-Nuclear Weapon States [NNWS]. The 5 NWS, also the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—sustain this ‘privilege’ of being Nuclear Weapon States on the basis of one simple qualification: detonating a nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967. The 183 or 184 depending on how friendly you feel towards North Korea—NNWS are: Everyone Else. The NWS committed to good faith negotiations to (someday) disarm their nuclear stockpiles and promised not to aid in nuclear proliferation. The NNWS voluntarily gave up their right to nuclear weapons, put all their nuclear-related facilities and materials under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, and promised not to aid in nuclear proliferation. All state parties to the treaty have an inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. “The basic premise of the NPT was a restriction of sovereignty in support of an aggregate goal of systemic safety”. However, since inception, the implementation of this fragile treaty has been fraught with frustration, impasse, and more complacency than commitment towards an arsenal of weapons that should long ago have been “justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world”.
Whether welcomed with cautious celebration or met with mounting skepticism, international law alone—however stringent—cannot pave the way for peace. Image © Matthew Wisniewski. All Rights Reserved.
Last month, at a historic
U.N. Security Council summit on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,
hosted by President Barack Obama of the United States, the world witnessed a
quiet triumph of spirit. The
Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1887 aimed at bringing the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty into force, concluding negotiations on a verifiable Fissile
Material Cutoff Treaty, strengthening the export control system, reviving the
Conference on Disarmament, designing effective non-compliance mechanisms, and urging
those states that stubbornly remain outside the NPT to become party to the
treaty. The Council further called on all Nuclear Weapon States to begin to
eliminate national nuclear arsenals through a program of phased reductions,
with President Obama affirming commitment to facilitating a global lockdown of
all vulnerable nuclear material within the next four years. Yet whether
welcomed with cautious celebration or met with mounting skepticism,
international law alone - however stringent - cannot pave the way for peace. As
Michael Krepon put it, “Laying out necessary steps toward [nuclear weapons] abolition
is actually the easy part; establishing the political conditions and coalitions
necessary to make significant headway is much harder. Holding off disaster
requires a far more ambitious undertaking than arms control.”
It is perhaps here that the compassionate, unflinching voice of Costa Rican
President Oscar Arias Sánchez - first to take the floor after the resolution was
passed - sang of symptoms of far greater problems, reminding
of the deep veins that run beneath the surface of our diplomatic negotiations,
challenging the very core of our integrity and humanity.
“Who said that killing thousands in one blow is worse than killing thousands one by one?” Image © Matt McInnis. All Rights Reserved.
“Who said that killing thousands in one blow is worse than killing thousands one by one?” he asked, quietly. Citing Article 26 of the U.N. charter, the raison d'être of the Security Council: in order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources, he paused, then said:
This Council fails in its historic mission every single day that it turns a blind eye to the rampant arms race. Twenty years ago I visited the U.N. during my first term as president. At that time, we talked about a world without warheads. I'm coming back as a Rip Van Winkle of the modern age to see that everything has changed except that. Peace is always just out of reach. Nuclear and conventional weapons remain, despite all the promises made. It is up to us to make sure that twenty years hence we will not wake up to the same situation.
Peace is always just out of reach. What a heartbreaking admission for
one of those indefatigable spirits who have dedicated their entire lives to its
service. At the NPT Review Conference in 2005, Arias Sánchez’s fellow Nobel
Peace Laureate Joseph Rotblat asked, “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
If it could have been any consolation to Sir Rotblat, my generation does not
need much convincing. We have guns and grenades, fire and flame, bullets and
bombs, missiles and mines—isn’t it enough? Humans are surprisingly frail
creatures; we are often crushed by a mere word.
“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?” Image © Matt McInnis. All Rights Reserved.
It is not difficult to agree to divert the 1.3 trillion dollars involved in the arms race each year towards life-affirming pursuits. It is not difficult to make a decisive commitment to an Arms Trade Treaty that would regulate the flow of armaments in the currently unrestricted market of small arms and light weapons, a market that is responsible for the deaths of 1000 people and the injury of 3000 worldwide, every day. It is not difficult to begin to believe that the urgent work of establishing a culture of peace is not only possible, but non-negotiable. Picking up the shards of trust will be a long, hard task. There is a sense that we have already arrived dangerously late. Yet the enormity of our responsibility cannot hold a candle to the infinity of our capacity. There are those who will, no doubt, remind us that stories of war and violence are as old as humanity. But this rationale is as much a case for peace, as it is for war. For stories, ‘stories can change lives if we're not careful. They will come in and take the shirts off our backs. Tell the right stories and we live better lives.’ Twenty years from now, when everything has changed, may we have found the courage not just to tell the stories differently, but to tell different stories.
' We puny humans
exterminators of everything
hunters of our own kind
creators of the atom bomb, the hydrogen bomb and the neutron bomb
the only animals who invent machines
the only ones who live at the service of the machines they invent
the only ones who devour their own home
the only ones capable of renting and selling themselves and so renting and selling their fellow humans
the only ones who kill for fun
the only ones who torture
the only ones who rape
the only ones who love
the only ones who daydream
the only ones who make silk from the spit of a worm
the ones who find beauty in rubbish
the ones who discover colours beyond the rainbow
the ones who nourish the voices of the world with new music
and who create words so that neither reality nor memory will be silenced "
poem by Eduardo Galeano
Mohammad ElBaradei, “Nuclear Nonproliferation and Arms Control: The Road Ahead”, <http://iis-db.stanford.edu /evnts/3949/Drell_Lecture_2004-trscr.pdf> November 4, 2004.
Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. <http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/626de49e3227d36dc125641e003a172a> 17 June 1925.
“You need to address causes of instability and security. You need to understand security in a broader context, and not just a question of weapons. It’s a question of equality, it’s a question of justice, it’s a question of giving every individual the right to love in peace and freedom and dignity, and to have hope for the future” Mohamed ElBaradei, “Nuclear Nonproliferation and Arms Control: The Road Ahead,” <http://iis-db.stanford.edu/evnts /3949/Drell_Lecture_2004-trscr.pdf> November 4, 2004.
Ali Smith “Life Stories”, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/may/22/fiction.bookerprize2005>, May 22, 2005