Nukes Kill But Can We Live Without Them?
Alternative Security Theories to Break the Nuclear Addiction
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I saw a T-shirt the other day with a picture
of people linking arms. It said, "Guns don't protect
people do." I've been spending my days
organizing for a shift in nuclear weapons policy through
my work with Nevada Desert Experience. We don't like nuclear
weapons - so much so that we'd like to see every last one
dismantled and don't mind saying so. Decades of nuclear
testing in Nevada have shown that nuclear weapons are a
vast suck of public money ($6 trillion since 1943) that
poisons the environment on which we all depend. Thousands
of people in Utah and Idaho, downwind of the test site's
radioactive fallout, have paid for nukes not just with their
taxes, but also with their lives.
But despite the nastiness of nuclear weapons production, can we really say with sincerity, "Nuclear weapons don't protect people, people do"? I believe we can, using alternative concepts of security that are more realistic for the world's security needs than the so-called realism of the deterrence theory.
My favorite example of protective love in action is from
Michael Nagler's The Search for a Nonviolent Future. An
old woman was walking to her apartment with grocery bags
when she saw two people approaching her threateningly. Suspecting
that they intended to take her purse, she said to them,
"Excuse me young men, I am wondering if you would be
willing to help me carry these bags up to my apartment."
Caught off guard and touched by her respect for them, the
men did just that.
Nonviolent security can also operate on a larger scale. Unarmed, human rights accompaniment by groups like Peace Brigades International has kept many activists safe from government repression. Gandhi took this idea of third-party nonviolent intervention further when he proposed developing a shanti sena, or peace army, to protect a country from invaders through mass nonviolent interposition. The world saw a version of this in Czechoslovakia in 1968 during Prague Spring, when Czechs nonviolently resisted Soviet occupation. This technique of rehumanizing relationships with occupying soldiers while resisting the regime is known as "civilian based defense."
Jackie Cabasso, director of Western States Legal Foundation and chair of the Redefining Security working group of United for Peace and Justice, uses this concept to show the self-defeating nature of nuclear security. "Since the nuclear age was born, in secret, some 60 years ago, workers at nuclear facilities and populations living outside their fence lines have borne a disproportionate share of the risks associated with nuclear weapons, often without their knowledge, and always without their consent When community members raise questions about the justification for nuclear weapons programs or activities in public forums such as hearings and comments on environmental impact statements, they are silenced with one response: 'national security.' [Human] security, which is universal, cannot be brought about through nuclear weapons and military might. It can only be ensured through the equitable distribution of adequate food, shelter, clean water and air, health care, and education."
The "soft" security of human needs is important,
but what about "hard" security, like protecting
people from nuclear attack by another state? The answer
lies in Emma Goldman's observation that "the freedom
of each is rooted in the freedom of all." Common security
posits that no group can be secure without other groups
enjoying security at the same time. It is more secure to
have a former opponent who does not want to attack than
to have a present opponent who can't attack you.
Since the end of the Cold War we have seen increased nuclear
proliferation by states that feel vulnerable to attack by
current nuclear weapons states. The 2002 U.S. Nuclear Posture
Review explicitly names seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya,
Syria, China, Russia and North Korea - as targets for first
use of U.S. nuclear weapons. With this in mind, it makes
sense that some of these states have sought their own nuclear
deterrent. North Korea's Kim Jong II declared, "The
Iraqi war teaches a lesson, that in order to prevent a war
and defend the security of a country it is necessary to
have a powerful physical deterrent force."
The U.S., with its plans to spend $150 billion to revamp its nuclear complex and produce 125 new nuclear weapons per year under the Complex 2030 and Reliable Replacement Warhead programs, claims that its 10,000 nukes are for deterrence purposes. Yet in addition to making other countries feel unsafe, the U.S. is reinforcing the notion that nuclear weapons are a prerequisite for status on the international scene (look at the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council) while undermining its own ability to persuade other countries to forsake the nuclear option.
We have seen how nuclear weapons undermine international
security, especially in an age of terrorism where proliferation
increases nuclear materials accessible to groups that are
nonterritorial and therefore undeterrable. But is there
any alternative to nuclear deterrence? Now that nuclear
weapons have been invented and "the genie is out of
the bottle," is there any way to safely disarm? Is
nuclear abolition possible?
In 1997, civil society groups developed a Model Nuclear
Weapons Convention (MNWC), which Costa Rica has submitted
annually to the U.N. General Assembly. Modeled on the effective
conventions against biological and chemical weapons, the
MNWC is an addition to the 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty
regime, which has been eroded by the nuclear weapons states'
refusal to implement their end of the treaty's grand bargain:
good-faith movement toward disarmament under Article VI.
The treaty answers many questions about verification, irreversibility
and how to deal with potential breakout by states. What
happens if a state is able to secretly re-arm, and no other
country has a nuclear deterrent? The draft provides answers
to such questions and can be found at MiddlePowers.org.
It states, "The real risk of breakout inherent in a
nuclear disarmament regime must be measured not against
a perfect nuclear weapons free world - where breakout is
impossible - but against the world we live in today
The development of a nuclear weapon free regime will itself
change the security situation. In the longer term, owing
in part to the Nuclear Weapons Convention, global collective
security arrangements may develop that are capable of effectiveness
against any state breaching the NWC."
Nuclear abolition is not just possible and
not just desirable, but it is also essential for global
human survival. Nuclear weapons are meant to "never
be used," but their development and testing has been
a 60-year secret war by nuclear weapons states against their
own people and the environment. Whether it's accidental
nuclear use, deliberate attack by a terrorist group, or
a pre-emptive counter-proliferation nuclear strike by a
nuclear weapon state like the U.S., one hydrogen bomb of
the kind we have today would permanently destroy everyone's
hope for a secure life. We can't put the splitting of the
atom back in the bottle, but there is a way out of the nuclear
maze if global civil society pressures our governments to
invest in the global security that comes through international
law. Our willingness to explore alternative security theories
may just make the difference in the choice Martin Luther
King offered us, "the choice between nonviolence and
Chelsea Collonge is a recent UC Berkeley graduate who currently works for Nevada Desert Experience.