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"Terrorism and Other Threats to Humanity" by Sir Joseph Rotblat
5th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates: Session 3
Remarks by Sir Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Laureate
Rome, Italy
November 11, 2004

International terrorism and nuclear weapons are two areas of the greatest concern to world security at the present time. President George W. Bush said the following about nuclear weapons: "They are the pre-eminent threat to international security." With this statement I am in full agreement, but this is probably the only Bush saying with which I agree. I certainly do not agree with the way he proposes to deal with the threat. He believes that nuclear weapons should be retained in perpetuity, though only by countries which are friendly to the USA. Thus, he advocates a divided world, just the opposite to what we want to achieve.

In my paper, I will submit that this policy, far from diminishing the threat of international terrorism, will in fact exacerbate it.

I want to discuss two aspects of this problem: one is the direct threat to international security arising from the existence of nuclear weapons, and the other is an indirect effect: the rise of terrorism resulting from our reliance for security on the threat of using nuclear weapons.

Nuclear arsenals are of no use in the fight against terrorists. Although several countries were named by George W. Bush as the axis of evil, terrorist groups are not generally identified with specific geographic entities; nuclear weapons are very unlikely to be used against a country as such, even if it is known that it harbours nuclear terrorists. The killing of many innocent members of the general public, arising from the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons, makes such a response to a threat unacceptable to any civilized government. In any case, the threat of retaliation with nuclear weapons would hardly be a deterrent when dealing with religious fanatics, who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of their objectives.

On the other hand, the continuous existence of nuclear arsenals in some countries greatly increases the probability of such weapons being used by a terrorist group. As long as nuclear arsenals are in existence, sooner or later, a terrorist group will get hold of them, for example, by acquiring a ready-made bomb for a very large sum of money, from one of the nuclear states. There is a general impression, that in some countries security is rather lax and bribery is a frequent practice. Alternatively, a terrorist group may acquire the materials for making such bombs, plutonium or highly-enriched uranium. The latter is not suitable for a sophisticated bomb, but it is quite adequate for the gun type bomb that was exploded over Hiroshima, and there are very large amounts of it, of the order of 1,000 tons in some countries, particularly in Russia. It is relatively easy to construct a bomb of the Hiroshima type if one has enough HEU, say about 40 kilograms, which can be carried in a suitcase and detonated by remote control in the centre of a city. The resulting damage and fatal casualties would be so great as to make the September 11 events a Guy Fawkes firework by comparison.

My conclusion is that the nuclear threat by terrorists is real and urgent, and steps must be taken to remove it.

One way, of course, is by a better system for safe-guarding the existing nuclear weapons and the materials for them. This should be done in any case, but it would not be enough to ensure security. Much better safety would be ensured if the nuclear weapon states fulfilled their obligations under the NPT, to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Thus, the policy which we have been advocating for years, in our annual Summit meetings, of the necessity of fulfilling a commitment under an international treaty, acquires an additional dimension: the threat of international terrorism.

Let me now bring in the second aspect. My argument here is of a much more fundamental nature, and is concerned with the general problem of nuclear deterrence. For years we have been told that we need nuclear weapons to prevent an attack on us by the threat of retaliation with such weapons. This was the basis for all the nuclear strategies during the Cold War. I have already shown that this argument cuts no ice when dealing with fanatical religious groups. But it has more general implications.

From the very beginning of the nuclear age, since the Hiroshima Bomb, the use of nuclear weapons were seen as immoral in a civilised society, due to their indiscriminate nature and enormous destructive power. Thus, even before the hydrogen bomb was introduced, when for the first time in history it became theoretically possible for the whole of humankind to be imperilled in a nuclear war, the nations of the world had decided that we must get rid of nuclear arsenals. The very first resolution of the United Nations General Assembly decided unanimously to take steps to rid the world of nuclear arsenals. Since then, there has been an almost universal commitment by 188 out of the 192 member nations of the UN, to eliminate these weapons.

But, incredibly, a few nation states, including 4 which have signed the NPT, have decided that their own security demands, not only the possession, but - if need be - the actual use of the very weapons which the world community found to be unacceptable in a civilised society.

Let us not beat about the bush. No pun was intended but it is apt! Under the policy of George W. Bush, nuclear weapons would not only be used by America, but may even be used pre-emptively, merely on suspicion that it may be attacked.

For the nuclear deterrent to be effective, our political leaders must behave and show convincingly that they are prepared to push the button, otherwise the bluff would soon be called.

So, under this policy, we must be prepared psychologically to commit genocide, because this is a possible outcome of that policy. And although the actual decision to push the button would be made by our leaders, G.W. Bush, Vladimir Putin or Tony Blair, we, the public, cannot escape responsibility for it, unless we have done our utmost to prevent it happening.

What the current policy amounts to is a nurturing and cultivating of a climate of violence, and this, by itself, is bound to have an adverse effect on the young generation. We keep telling our children that we crave for a climate of peace, but they know that that peace is predicated on the use of the most destructive instruments of war that Man ever invented. I am not a psychologist, but common sense tells me that this must have a very bad effect, in the sense of accepting violence as a way of life. For many of them the use of violence thus becomes a natural mode of behaviour, and this extends to every walk of life.

Dear Friends, we must not allow this to continue. And when I say "we", I mean in particular the Nobel Peace Laureates, and the organisations which shared the prize. We have received recognition for our past efforts towards peace in the world. But this does not mean that we can now rest on our laurels, because our task is not yet complete. There is still no peace in the world. We still use the threat of extreme violence to ensure the security of our countries.

Next year, 2005, has been designated as the Einstein Year. It will be the centenary of Einstein's discoveries in physics which have completely transformed our concepts about time, space, and matter. But Einstein, apart from being a genius in science, also had a very perceptive grasp of the political implications of his discoveries. He said: "The advent of the nuclear age has changed everything except our way of thinking." And he knew that only a fundamental change in the system of governance would prevent a global catastrophe.

The main efforts in the last years of Einstein's life were devoted to the prevention of such a catastrophe. Indeed, the last act of his life, in April 1955, was to issue an appeal to governments, to scientists and the general public, warning them of the dire consequences of the use of weapons of mass destruction, and calling on them to take action to avert the danger. This statement was co-signed by the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, and nine other scientists, nearly all of them Nobel Laureates. It became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Let me quote one paragraph from it: "Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?

I was the youngest of the 11 signatories, and now I am the only survivor. This makes it my duty, my mission for the rest of my life, to keep reminding everybody about the message in the Manifesto which is as valid today as it was 50 years ago. "Shall we put an end to the human race or shall mankind renounce war?" After considering various options, Einstein came to the conclusion that the only option was some form of world governance.

The threat of international terrorism was not as acute at that time as it is now, but I am convinced that in advocating world governance he had this threat in mind.

He realised of course that this would require radical changes in the system of governance to which we have become accustomed over the past centuries. In particular it would require giving up some of the sovereign rights of nations.

Surrendering sovereignty is very distasteful to most people, and this is why the new way of thinking, called for by Einstein, has not yet been adopted. In the ever-increasing interdependence of nations, resulting from the fantastic progress in science and technology in the recent decades, the notion of a world divided into 200 separate nation states, each claiming absolute sovereignty over their countries is surely absurd. It is completely unrealistic. Sovereignty in the modern world is an illusion; a pretence eagerly embraced by chauvinistic groups in individual nations. However, in reality, even the mightiest nation, the United States of America, has to accept, albeit very reluctantly, that it must abide by decisions taken by a global body, such as the United Nations.

I am aware that, even in this enlightened body, the summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the concept of a system of world governance would not be readily acceptable. But whatever we decide to put into our statement, we must call a halt to the nurturing of a climate of violence. We must abandon the old Roman dictum: "If you want peace, prepare for war." Instead, we should encourage the nations of the world to accept the slogan: "If you want peace, prepare for peace."