Science and Social Responsibility in the New Millennium

28 Jul, 1999    ·   233

Arpit Rajain reports of the Student Pugwash event held in June 99 at the University of California, San Deigo where it was argued that the timeline for nuclear disarmament and the abolishing of nuclear weapons could occur at different speeds for different regions of the world

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat’.



-Theodore Roosevelt





This student Pugwash conference was divided into 10 working groups:



1. Communications Technologies



2. Computers and Biotechnology



3. Education, Ethics and Science



4. Energy and International Security



5. Environment and Energy



6. Human Genetics



7. Nuclear Weapons Free World



8. Science, Technology and Culture



9. War and Disease



10. War free World



This is a report on the discussions that took place in the nuclear weapons free world working group.



As we approach the new millennium, we face the choice of whether the world should continue with the nuclear status quo and threat of nuclear proliferation, or move towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World (NWFW).  The process of deterrence viz. use of the threat of devastating destruction to deter aggression is becoming redundant in the case of nuclear weapons.  However,  nuclear weapons are believed seen to deter other weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons, biological weapons, or large conventional military forces.






A NWFW is desirable because it removes the means by which civilization could be destroyed and because it reduces the likelihood of any use of nuclear weapons. Reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world proportionally reduces the risk of a global accidental nuclear war, provided they are not kept on higher alert than current forces. Moreover, a reduction in the nuclear stockpile reduces the risk of terrorist organizations stealing or using such material.  However, the development of a NWFW does not suggest that fewer armed conflicts will occur, or that such a world will be politically more stable than before.  It was also argued (mainly by the US and other nuclear weapon states participants) that a NWFW may have a maximum global stockpile of 100 nuclear warheads and not, as is generally supposed zero nuclear warheads, although the latter is desirable. The hypocrisy and double standards of the Nuclear Weapons States, who pursue a policy ‘nuclear apartheid’, was also highlighted.



Nuclear weapons and strategy



The high domestic and international political cost of using nuclear weapons as a weapon of war has already caused their effective disengagement from military campaigns, although as nuclear numbers decrease it may increase the chance of their use.  There was a heated discussion on deterrence as some participants emphasized the deterrent value of nuclear weapons. Others argued that the fear of escalation of any conflict may lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Some case studies such as the Vietnam war, Gulf war and the present Indo-Pak conflict were taken up. There was a debate on the Kargil conflict takin place under the shadow of nuclear weapons. Their use in the conflict was, however, ruled out. It was concluded that nuclear weapons do not alter the course of conflict in which any nuclear weapons state is involved.



Transition to a NWFW



However, to achieve a successful transition to a NWFW, and a global ban on nuclear weapons requires some degree of political, economic and social cooperation.  This may include the use of military force against states that wish to develop nuclear weapons, or, more likely, the application of economic sanctions.  As nation states in the 21st Century become more dependent and inter-linked with the global economy, the effect of sanctions becomes more pronounced and increases the prohibition on developing nuclear weapons.  In turn, this suggests that nation states will be more interested in investing in trade rather than of nuclear weapons.



Another disincentive for any 'breakout' state to develop nuclear weapons in a NWFW, would be the loss of political influence.  For example, the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan last year did not increase their international prestige - as happened with the first nuclear weapon states - but decreased their standing in the international community. The likely international reaction to such an event in a NWFW is something we cannot visualize today.



Therefore no democracy has abolished its nuclear weapons stockpile - only countries in transition to democracy, or newly born democracies have implemented such a policy. But a NWFW requires the support of the military, politicians and policy makers who define nuclear weapon strategies, but also a change in the mindset of the general population.  This may be easier to achieve than is generally believed, as in some countries, such as the United Kingdom , the public already believes that nuclear weapons have ceased to matter in the security calculations.  But for a NWFW to emerge these populations will have to become more active in their opposition to nuclear weapons. This would not be for the first time  In the 18th Century slavery was considered normal, today it is unthinkable.  This could only have been achieved by global public consent.



It is not necessary to start with a unified global treaty to create a NWFW; but eventually a global treaty with enforcement and verification regimes will be required.  Instead, the timeline for nuclear disarmament and the abolishing of nuclear weapons could occur at different speeds for different regions of the world. Some nations will need to lead the way by giving up their nuclear stockpiles. Even a declaratory policy statement from the US would go a long way towards achieving such a goal; it was stressed.



A Nuclear Weapon Free World



Some countries, like Germany and Japan , have the technical capability to create nuclear weapons in a relative short period of time, once again indicating that a NWFW depends on 'mindset' not technical ability.  This zero-nuke mindset would have to be acquired not only by individuals but also by institutions such as the nuclear weapon laboratories and related establishments.  Openness and transparency between the nuclear laboratories would also be a good confidence building measure in the transition to a NWFW.   The public itself would have to act as a verification regime by informing international bodies such as the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency of any attempts to develop nuclear weapons by their countries.








The a transition to a NWFW could depend on either coercive or cooperative approaches but, most importantly depends on us; if we believe in a nuclear weapon free world and promote it, then the task becomes easier.   But we must not forget that, although the development of nuclear weapons by any state may appear to be irrational, such behavior can seem rational to the participants when they are influenced by fear and insecurity as revealed by India , the Cold War and the current situation in the Korean peninsula.



Nor must we forget that new technologies may develop out of the transfer of nuclear weapons funding to emerging areas of military technology like energy weapons that are as destructive as the weapons they replace. A large number of individuals, institutions, states, regional bodies, international coalitions will be involved in the move to zero nuclear weapons. But the process will occur gradually and problems will develop, allowing the actors involved to adjust their policies suitably .