Gorbachev: The Legacy of Hiroshima: A World Without Nuclear Weapons

The following statement by GCI Founding President Mikhail Gorbachev was given to the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held 12-14 November in Hiroshima, Japan. The theme of the summit was “The Legacy of Hiroshima: a World Without Nuclear Weapons.”

The Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Hiroshima is an event of special significance. Its venue is a reminder of our responsibility, of our duty as laureates, which is to work toward a more just, more humane and more secure world. And that, of course, means a world without nuclear weapons.
Ever since nuclear weapons first made their appearance, the need for their abolition has been discussed. Billions of words have been uttered and tens of thousands of books, speeches and articles written about nuclear disarmament. But it is here that the gap between words and deeds, so typical of the twentieth and, unfortunately, still in the twenty first century, is at its widest.
The debate at this forum should help the laureates to analyze the current situation, to clarify our position and to weigh the arguments that we shall present to the public.
The problem of eliminating nuclear weapons has moral, legal and practical dimensions. I am convinced that as Peace Laureates we must, above all, take a moral stand. Nuclear weapons are unacceptable because of their unique inhumanity and their ability to destroy human civilization as we know it. Such weapons never existed before, and they must not exist.
Yet for many years nuclear weapons were produced, perfected and stockpiled on a truly incredible scale. What is more, military concepts and doctrines considered them to be legitimate means of warfighting. The nuclear arms race resulted in the production of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons for all types of warfare – strategic, tactical and “battlefield.” The process of nuclear disarmament could only start after the leaders of the two biggest nuclear powers showed the political will to initiate it.
We needed to break out of the vicious circle of “nuclear thinking” and to take a moral position that had always been clear to most of the ordinary citizens. This position was reflected in simple words, unusual in diplomacy, that were included in the Joint Statement of the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States adopted in Geneva in November 1985, exactly twenty five years ago: “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
This proposition combined morality and politics – something that many people had considered and still consider impossible.
Proceeding from that principle, we needed to embark upon practical deeds. For, if nuclear war was inconceivable and unacceptable it had to be made impossible, and ultimately the only way to make it impossible is to reduce and destroy the accumulated huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
I think we must be proud of what we were able to achieve within a historically short span of time: in accordance with international agreements, such as the US-Soviet INF and START Treaties and the agreement to eliminate most of the tactical nuclear weapons, thousands of warheads have been decommissioned and destroyed, and some categories of nuclear weapons have ceased to exist. We must also commend actions such as the elimination of South Africa’s nuclear arsenal and the decision of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to give up nuclear weapons they possessed after the breakup of the USSR.
Yet, we must also note that after the end of the Cold War the process of nuclear disarmament slowed down and continued mostly on the momentum of the agreements reached before. The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty was not ratified and the number of nuclear weapons powers grew. This made it necessary to reiterate the moral position of condemning nuclear weapons and to remind everyone that while such weapons exist there will also exist the possibility of nuclear war starting either by design or by accident.
I want to note that as Nobel laureates we have been taking this stand, which is the only one that is right and just, throughout all these years, reminding the leaders of nuclear powers of their responsibility.
This year has witnessed an event that could mark the resumption of the nuclear disarmament process. We should commend the signing by Presidents Medvedev and Obama of the new START treaty and call for its early ratification. A great deal is at stake. If the nuclear weapons lobby succeeds in derailing ratification, it will deal a heavy blow to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, whose obligations, as we have constantly insisted, are mutual and concern both non-nuclear states, which pledge to renounce nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapon powers, which commit themselves to nuclear disarmament.
The practical goal for the medium term should be to have other nuclear powers join the process of nuclear disarmament and to reduce the stockpiles to a minimum level, i.e. a few dozen warheads. Even that, however, should be an interim solution on the path toward complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Thus, as we work on practical steps to reduce nuclear weapons, their abolition must remain our ultimate objective. Therefore we should support the initiative of the United Nations Secretary General to start work on a universal convention or treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons and related technologies and components.
While taking a moral stand and demanding the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, we should also be realists and see the obstacles on the way to our goal.
Nuclear weapons are still built into the security policies and strategic planning of all nuclear weapon states. Practically all of them not only regard nuclear weapons as the ultimate “security guarantee” but also see them as a measure of their geopolitical weight in the world arena.
This inevitably influences other nations’ policies. Hence the continuing danger of a new arms race and of the appearance of new kinds of weapons, particularly space weapons, the growth of military budgets and of weapons trade. Efforts by one country or a group of countries to achieve superiority in conventional weapons are also incompatible with a nuclear weapon-free world. The Geneva joint statement adopted in 1985 stated that USSR and the United States would not seek military superiority. However, after the end of the Cold War we have witnessed a buildup of US conventional forces and their use in a number of regions.
I therefore must repeat what I have been saying for some time: absolute military superiority of one nation would be an insurmountable obstacle on the way to a world without nuclear weapons. This is why it is so important, even as we strive for nuclear disarmament, to insist on demilitarization of international relations and political thinking, on the need to reduce military budgets, curb weapons trade and prevent the development of new kinds of weapons. We must also work relentlessly to resolve the disputes and conflicts that engender and feed the arms race.
Militarism, the painful legacy of the XX century, which in the past repeatedly brought our planet to the brink of disaster, must be forever relegated to the past, while the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes must become the imperative norm of international relations. It is only then that a world without nuclear weapons would be safe and just.
Today, the main challenges to mankind’s future are the threat of catastrophic climate change, the degradation of the environment, massive poverty that breeds extremism, migration flows and state failure, diseases and epidemics, organized crime, drug trafficking and massive violations of human rights. There are no military responses to those challenges. Therefore, we cannot be indifferent to the fact that, instead of effectively addressing these problems, governments continue wasteful expenditures on weapons of war, particularly nuclear weapons.
In these remarks I wanted to propose an approach that, while based on a moral position, is also realistic in confronting the problems that we face today. I believe such an approach could provide guidance for our actions in the coming years and I hope it will be reflected in the appeal the world’s leaders and citizens that will be adopted by the forum.
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