Conference of Students for a Nuclear Weapons Free World

The World Academy of Art and Science and Nuclear Disarmament

Address by
Robert J. Berg
Trustee, World Academy of Art and Science and Senior Advisor, World Federation of United Nations Associations

To the Conference of Students for a Nuclear Weapons Free World

Geneva, July 14, 2008

Let me begin by adding my sincere congratulations to you for your creative and winning contributions. As you can tell, your winning was a kind of entrance examination to this seminar. You are a winner’s circle of activists with promise.

I come to you as a member of the world’s largest alumni association, the alumni of former youth. And I am with you as one who believes that the energy towards solutions of the world’s great problems would be immense if the generation in the middle better incorporated both youth and age (the generation I am now in) into problem solving. At the turn of this century I organized 17 global organizations, including seven UN agencies, into a partnership called the Global Meeting of Generations. Our aim was to help change the perception that youth and age are liabilities in societies, dead weights to progress. We wanted a new perception, that youth and age are actually assets of enormous potential as problem solvers and solution workers. The Meeting of Generations theme resonated well in 127 countries and led, UNICEF, for example, to extend its programs to cover teenagers, a move in the right direction.

While the UN still has tiny units working on youth and the aged, the truth is that both of our generations are kind of lost in the multilateral system. Until a few years ago work on the aged in the World Health Organization was actually part of its major diseases branch as if getting old was something like getting malaria. We still have a huge gap in the concerns of multilateral work between those concerned with children and those who are mainly concerned with the world of work. The World Federation of United Nations Associations, with its model UN programs and this contest, is one of the few networks actually working with youth on a constructive basis. So my first point is that solutions to major world challenges should involve the generations of youth, middle age and older persons, which, when you think about it, is the formula for the most successful politicians.

I’ve been asked to talk with you a bit about the history of the group on whose board I serve, alongside of John Cox. The history of the World Academy of Art and Science and the history of the nuclear disarmament movement are quite interlinked. Here is the story.

The countries heavily involved in World War II were changed almost beyond recognition by the experience of war against civilians on such a massive scale. Those who survived could not go back to the way things were before the war.

Among the most affected were scientists who created the atomic weapons used at the end of the war.

One of the mysteries of history is how could such awful weapons have been created by sensible, intelligent and humane people coming from many different countries and living in a democracy. As they tell their own story, the answer is that scientists in the US knew that Nazi Germany had started to develop the technologies leading to nuclear weapons and that with the takeover by Germany of Czechoslovakia, Europe’s most important uranium resources had fallen into Nazi hands. In what was perceived as a fight for survival, these scientists willingly worked to create nuclear weapons to counter the Nazi threat.

But if there were questions about the invention of the atomic bomb, there still are immense and more profound considerations about why these weapons were used. The Nazi forces were already defeated in May 1945. Yet only one of those who developed the bomb, later a Nobel Prize winner but then a mid level scientist, raised the possibility that in August 1945 the atomic bomb could best be used as a demonstration of its power off shore of Japan rather than in actual attacks. The sad thing is that terrible weapons are still being developed and the questioning by scientific, political and civil society leaders is still too weak.

After World War II many of the leading developers of atomic weapons, famously including Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, took the lead in denouncing the very weapons they had helped to design. In July 1955, not long after the invention of the hydrogen bomb, in a major exercise of buyers remorse, Einstein and Bertrand Russell, another Nobel laureate, co-authored a Manifesto signed by 11 leading scientists, that famously said in part:

“We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves,
not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever groups we prefer,
for there are no longer such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?”

They concluded:

“There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

Einstein also urged scientists across disciplines to begin to work together for humanity’s benefit, and he urged that science be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. A number of leading thinkers conferred with him and others about how to bring about this kind of cooperation across disciplines. The concept they came up with was a small group of the world’s top scientists and leaders in the arts who would be gathered around important and long-range topics. And so the Academy came about in 1960.

There were seven organizers of the Academy, among them Oppenheimer. Bertrand Russell was among the three dozen other charter members. Einstein, who was the spiritual founder of the Academy, died before the Academy officially began. Originally the Academy was to have a maximum of 150 members. Now we have 600 and plan to build to 1200.

The Academy was meant, in Bertrand Russell’s concept, to function as an informal World University, at which the highest understanding scientific and ethical levels of thinking could be attained and promoted. It was intended that the Academy work closely with the UN, and indeed its first president was the founder and first Director General of FAO who had won a Nobel Prize. And our charter members included the co-founder of UNESCO and the founder of WHO.

A close association with scientists concerned with disarmament was reinforced by having as a charter member Joseph Rotblat, then the recent founder of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. Rotblat was the official liaison between the Academy and Pugwash. In 1995 he and the Pugwash Conference earned the Nobel Prize for Peace for their efforts on nuclear disarmament. The Pugwash Conference of scientists continues its valuable work, and one of the Academy’s current great leaders, the physicist Ivo Slaus of Croatia, is active in the Pugwash leadership. M.S. Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution in India, has hosted World Academy meetings as a leading fellow in the Academy while he was president of Pugwash from 2002 to 2007. His successor, the current president of Pugwash, is Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, a major leader on disarmament, former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament, candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the UN, and a fellow of the World Academy.

In the Academy’s first substantive concern, Science and the Future of Humanity, Oppenheimer spoke with regret about the development of the bomb and said that only by discovering our common humanity and by making education available to all can we become a world with a positive future. He sketched out why one needs science and the arts together. He said “For the artist and the scientist there is a special problem and a special hope, for in their extraordinarily different ways, in their lives that have increasingly divergent character, there is still a sensed bond, a sense of analogy. Both those of science and of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it, both always, as the measure of their creation, have to do with harmonization of what is new with what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos. They can, in their work and in their lives, help themselves and one another, and help all humanity. They can make the paths that connect the villages of arts and sciences with each other and with the world at large the multiple, varied, precious bonds of a true world-wide community.”

So an academy was formed to link science and art. How would it approach its work? The first major project of the Academy was to follow up Bertrand Russell’s proposal of creating a World University by designating research and academic centers of excellence that could be the focal points of transnational work. The network of these institutions would be known as the World University. A number of very senior scientists worked on this, but the main person pushing the concept died in 1971 and with him it appears a lot of the momentum also died.

Two things have happened since that has superceded the idea of a single World University: first the number of highly educated people has expanded almost geometrically in every part of the world, and second, advances in communications have made possible an almost infinite number of networks and linkages. The possibility of easily formed global networking is quite recent, indeed within your lifespan. In 1987, two hundred of us gathered in London as representatives of most of the then major global civil society organizations. Today you would need a set of major sports stadiums to contain representatives of today’s global networks. There is enormous virtue in this growth, but as more and more specialized networks get created, it becomes all the harder to keep attention on the big picture issues, most of which are cross-disciplinary in nature.

At its best, these networks collaborate, spread the word, activate millions and push officials to make foreign policy. Let me tell you about Jody Williams, because at least I can relate more closely to her life story than I can to Albert Einstein’s.

Born in 1950 in the modest sized town of Brattleboro Vermont in the US, Jody Williams first trained as a teacher of English as a second language, receiving a bachelors of arts at the University of Vermont and a Master’s degree in teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language from the School for International Training in Vermont. In 1984 she received a second Masters, this one in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University. She taught English as a second language in Mexico and in the UK, and finally in Washington, DC, before her first appointment to work in development aid work, in which she became a grocery worker of the “Nicaragua-Honduras Education Project” from 1984 to 1986. She then became deputy director of the small Los Angeles-based charity, “Medical Aid for El Salvador”, a position which she held until 1992 when she took up her position with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Five years later, at age 47, she and the Campaign she helped run were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on making the treaty on banning landmines a reality. Most of the networking Jody Williams did was by exchanging faxes around the world, because in the early 1990s most groups did not have internet contacts.

By 1999 when we launched the website of the Global Meeting of Generations I was worried that the Internet was the rich world’s toy and that groups in the US and Europe would dominate our responses. Not to worry: our first responses were from youth groups in Mozambique and Bangladesh, and quickly we formed a full global network. The possibilities for international networks and campaigns are so much greater now than when Jody Williams won her global recognition just a decade ago. In a sense we now can all be part of a World University.

Returning to the Academy’s story of nuclear disarmament, in its third major collective effort, in 1964, the Academy focused on Conflict Resolution and World Education. Their theme was that a culture of peace had to be a major global effort if humanity were to be trained away from violence and towards peace. In UN circles, particularly in UNESCO, you still hear that there is a need to inculcate a culture of peace around the world, but real efforts on this are strong in only a few countries. It may well be that non-formal education, spread by the Internet and backed by the energy of youth, will be the answer to how to teach a new culture of peace.

Several Academy scholars in the 1960s discussed in detail the rise of the science of conflict resolution, then a fairly new phenomena. Let me talk about this as it is a fundamental point.

Peacemakers around the world have a weak reputation. Many people in power think of them as peaceniks, flower children just one step removed from well-intentioned Hare Krishnas who through chants and a vegan diet will somehow bring about peace.

This is far from what is actually happening. The serious front lines work on peace-making around the world is now done by people who are trained and experienced for the real world tasks they face. It is these kind of people who have studied the negotiations process, who know the case histories of how societies break down and where the entry points are for holding back the breakdowns; who know militaries (their ranks, their protocols, their strengths as potential peacekeepers) so that they can talk as experts with military officers. They know about post-conflict reconstruction..what sequences are needed, how do you organize the military for reconstruction, how to foster civilian resumption of leaderships, how to draw upon the strengths of international assistance. The best of these peace-makers are often found in the UN, or as advisors to the UN, or work in collaboration with the UN.

I am a board member of the Alliance of Peacebuilding, a coalition of 50 major academic and civil society groups like the Carter Center, Search for Common Ground and the Harvard Negotiations Project. In Switzerland, there are numerous groups like Swisspeace.

What I am saying is that making peace is now an established profession. Those of you who want to enter this profession can now see a path ahead on how to do it, with whom you should study, and what a career in making peace can be.

Resuming the history, one among the many Academy programs through the years that have woven the sciences and peace together are a number that tried to hold together the civility of the Balkans. One in the mid-1990s had this declaration regarding Tolerance, Science and the Modern World: “The challenge for us is to be different and to act together. Tolerance allows and enables creative interaction among different cultures, among different social groups, among different people. Our own identity is a function of this interaction. By standing up for the rights of others, we should remember that human justice and dignity start with the proposition that each person’s human rights do not depend on his or her membership in one or another group, but derive from being born as a sovereign individual into the human race.”

It is no accident that the city of Geneva, the place where peace is so often under discussion, is also home to the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council.

You will be relieved that I’m going to skip a lot of other Academy history and jump to the present. But I do so reluctantly as the interwoven history of the Academy and the history of nuclear disarmament went through very difficult times. Nuclear disarmament discussions have been difficult, prolonged beyond human comprehension and immensely frustrating. In her 1976 book on the topic, Alva Myrdal picked the right title when she called her book “The Disarmament Game: How the United States and Russia Run the Arms Race.” A decade later Strobe Talbott (now president of the Brookings Institution) entitled his book: “Deadly Gambits: The Reagan Administration and the Stalemate in Nuclear Arms Control.” If you were writing a paper after the last UN Non Proliferation Conference you would choose a similar title. The fact is that over the last three decades we have far too little to show for the efforts at global nuclear disarmament. But there are other signs of progress.

In fact the trends in inter and intra-state violence have declined sharply since the end of the Cold War and this is due to three reasons. First, a recognition that the UN and regional groupings of states need to be at the center of peacemaking. Look at the terrific rise in the number of UN peacekeeping missions since the end of the Cold War. Second, in the last two decades literally hundreds of millions of people have entered into the emerging middle class and above. Employment has broadened significantly. This means that a much higher proportion of humanity has a stake in stable societies. And third, is the increasingly effective work of the profession of peace-making and peacebuilding. So the general trend is clearly for a more peaceful world. If anything, nuclear disarmament has lagged the general trend.

A few years ago a few of us in the Academy began meeting with Jasjit Singh, former Air Commodore of India and others like Robert McNamara. McNamara, who when he was US Secretary of Defense in the 1960s urged an expansion of nuclear weaponry, now believes that there is a 50% chance of a nuclear incidence in the United States within a decade, largely due to potential accidents, and, I would add, the odds of accidents is even higher in Russia. McNamara believes that the unthinkable will happen unless nuclear powers remove hare-trigger protocols and take other major steps to prevent accidental and terrorist incidents.

People at our meetings are aware of just how lucky we have already been that accidents have not turned into tremendous catastrophes. Among numerous accidents over the years is a crash of a B-52 bomber two states away from Washington DC where on one of the nuclear weapons six of the seven safety devices that prevent nuclear explosions had failed because of the crash. Or the nuclear missile-laden submarines that now lie at the bottom of the ocean. Are these accidents necessary costs for an outdated strategy of deterrence that certainly hasn’t stopped violence in the world? Or can we find a way to sharply reduce the risks of accidents by taking the fingers off of hare-trigger mechanisms, conducting militaries with greater transparency and better communications systems?

Just as the main polluters, the US and China, are key to the fate of climate control, the main nuclear weapons holders, the US and Russia, are critical to the success of nuclear disarmament. But Russia and the US, particularly in recent years, have been internally preoccupied and have drifted apart.

The World Academy believes that breakthroughs are possible from other sources that might help set a climate of pressure on the biggest powers to get to work on disarmament more seriously.

A few years ago we partnered with the Middle Powers Initiative of the Global Security Institute and helped in a major way to support their meetings of representatives of twenty-five influential non-nuke countries, giving them a voice in discussions that often exclude them. From these meetings we learned the frustration of countries like Mexico and Italy that the fate of their peoples is being determined by foreigners with considerable chance of irresponsible behavior. At the 7th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held in Rome in late 2006 four of our colleagues were honored for this work. Through the Middle Powers Initiative we hope to help foster a cultural change in which it is increasingly expected that non-nuclear powers have a more powerful voice on nuclear issues.

A year ago we published through the World Futures Society a detailed guide on security and nuclear disarmament on who is doing what and how to link in. It is a really great survey and I commend it.

In another initiative our colleague Jasjit Singh suggested to India’s Prime Minister that India, as a nuclear power, take bold initiatives on nuclear disarmament. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed and keynoted last month the resultant International Conference entitled “Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” Prime Minister Singh said the only course is for universal disarmament. (Let us pause for a moment and consider why the Prime Minister feels universal disarmament is the only solution. Well, Pakistan will not disarm without India disarming; and India will not disarm without China disarming; and China will not disarm without Russia disarming; and Russia will not disarm without the US, France and the UK disarming. And none of these countries will disarm unless the other nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed.) So in pursuit of universal nuclear disarmament, the Prime Minister proposed a number of steps including “a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and leading to a global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified timeframe.”

Will either the US or Russia be interested in this? I can tell you that both of my country’s presidential candidates are committed to re-launching nuclear disarmament negotiations.

But neither of these candidates is advocating elimination of all existing weapons. This brings us to the heart of the historic debate between those who want elimination and those who want to scale down to minimum deterrence. This month’s Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has an excellent article on minimum deterrence. It recounts how Oppenheimer as early as 1953 said numbers of weapons will not deter. The balance of terror will occur with even a few weapons. Yet Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter (who was, after all, a nuclear engineer) failed to persuade their militaries to scale down. If you think about it, both China and India have not established huge nuclear arsenals, only a sufficient number to make their point. So the idea of minimum deterrence is a concept I commend to your attention at least as an essential mid-point towards total elimination.

As if our current land, sea and air-borne nuclear weapons were not enough of a worry, there is a new source of insecurity that is not yet being thought about creatively by the major powers, and that reinforces my theme of the responsibility of scientists to not work on things that bring likely horrible dangers to the world. I am referring to the new field of space weaponization. True Ronald Reagan, when away from his handlers, proposed to Gorbachev that they eliminate their nuclear weapons. But back at the White House he simultaneously pursued a pipe dream to start development of weapons that could allegedly shoot down incoming rockets. By now Russia, China and the US have demonstrated the ability to kill or at least maim satellites in orbit.

Proposals to ban such weapons languish here in Geneva. The big difference on the larger scale of things is that when Reagan dreamed his Star Wars, earth’s space was relatively unpopulated with satellites. Now there is heavy satellite traffic as so much of the world’s work is dependent upon those orbiting globes. Some 18,000 objects of trackable size are now in space, and a growing share of this is junk, 2,500 objects alone from the Chinese anti-satellite test of January 2007. The Chinese test was the first in 20 years and it alone has increased the chances by 50% of an equatorial satellite being hit. (Because of technical differences, about 99% of the debris from the February 2008 US incident washed out.)

Several types of space weapons are now under development around the world, mostly by the largest nuclear powers. If a nuclear explosion were to take place in space the damage to the world’s information systems and perhaps to its climate would be immense. Many, including those of us in the World Academy, believe the UN should take a strong role in demilitarizing space. The Academy and the Global Security Institute are teaming to decide on recommendations to eliminate the weaponization of space.

But I do not mean to say that new military technologies are all bad. We have to understand that many in the militaries are now finding out that new technologies that they have developed may obviate the use of nuclear weapons. There is a history of military leaders who have recognized the immorality and messiness of nuclear weapons. Take the current consideration of military options against Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons. And let me quickly add that the whole notion of a preemptive strike against Iran is nuts. Isfahan is the location of an underground nuclear facility of some interest. To take it out with nuclear weapons would entail huge damage and immense death in a city of two million, plus down wind damage to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Last year no less a figure than General James Cartwright, then commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, and thus responsible for a great part of the US nuclear arsenal, testified to the US Congress that conventional capabilities have largely replaced nuclear capabilities. Here then is the real scientific breakthrough that allows us a very different imagination, one that combines the abhorrence of numerous military leaders of nuclear weapons and combines very practical arguments to appeal to the predominant pragmatic military leaders.

My Academy colleague Garry Jacobs in his address to last month’s meeting in India pointed out that each of the world’s recent new nuclear powers had gained in prestige by having nuclear weapons. He observed that maybe we have a failure of imagination to think of the benefits if there were a world without nuclear weapons. He noted that the end of the Cold War has unleashed economic gains unimaginable during the Cold War, including the integration of China and India into the world economy, and the conversion to civilian use of military technologies that created the world’s largest human-centered social organization, the World Wide Web.

In this meeting we can similarly ask: Will we have the imagination and the courage to think about a future where inter-state military adventures are a thing of the past, where multilateral security replaces national militaries, where there is new promise for human development because new forces of creativity are unleashed? In a quest for new sources of imagination and courage, my friend and Academy colleague John Cox proposed this contest at the same time that WFUNA was thinking of a contest. John is here and is a hero to me for his dedicated work on these issues. And Academy colleague Robert van Harten in the Netherlands was so interested in this contest that he gathered friends and colleagues to provide substantial finance for it. So the imagination for peace lives in the Academy.

But it is not enough. The role of experts like those found in the World Academy is almost by definition limited. Yes we can generate ideas. And we can work with inner cores of activists, like WFUNA, disarmament NGOs, and various levels of the UN.

But while necessary, these inner cores have not been sufficient. I believe that the lesson of political change is that we require citizen activism, and the further lesson is that citizen activism is particularly effective when it can mobilize unexpected friends.

Let me give you an example of unexpected friends that made a difference. When some of us were helping create the world’s first major summit aimed at improving the human condition, which was the 1990 World Summit on Children, the president of the Maldives, suggested that it would be powerful to organize the leaders of the world’s religions to tell the leaders of the world’s governments why care of children was a moral imperative in each of their faiths. (Isn’t it wonderful that in the UN a leader from even the smallest country can help shape the world stage?) Anyway, we did it and garnered not only major statements from each of the world’s major faiths, they sent very senior representatives to New York to deliver those statements. In a bizarre move, the UN did not allow those religious leaders to meet in the headquarters building, so we held our gathering across the street from UN headquarters and made our point quite nicely. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a fresh call from all the leaders of the world’s religions about the immorality of possessing nuclear weapons? And what if that were accompanied by a call by those leaders for regular sermons on this topic at every place of worship attended by political leaders, and indeed in every place of worship…sermon after sermon until the key political leaders take the needed actions.

It is clear from your essays, posters and videos, that you have lots of ideas for other unexpected actions, alliances and initiatives. I hope that this little gathering gives momentum to your individual and collective ideas so we can result in a listing of unexpected friends to bring to this cause.

So to recap this little talk, here are my ten major points. Yes, ten it is the same number of points that Moses had, but my ten are not commandments, just ideas for your consideration.

  1. Scientists have the potential for both good and bad. It is an on-going issue to know how to further science while discouraging development of technologies intended to harm humanity.
  2. There is now a profession of making peace and members of that profession are a potential source of important expertise for us.
  3. The tripod on which the UN stands, peace, development and human rights, is the right one for this issue, too: nuclear peace, development so people have peaceful options, and tolerance for each individual.
  4. There are many aspects of disarmament that need to be pursued: increasing safety, space weaponization, and stepping down armaments from massive nuclear forces to minimal nuclear deterrence, and from there to total elimination. The point is that the nuclear disarmament field is far too important to have all the big issues in one negotiating basket. We need multiple approaches going on.
  5. What are the most promising roles for non-nuclear states and can these be expanded?
  6. The development of new non-nuclear weapons may be the key to elimination of nuclear weapons. If so is this a necessary stepping stone to a world dependent for its security on soft powers?
  7. Global networks, in which the entrance is open to anyone, have eclipsed the idea of elite networks, but each needs the other. How can expertise and activism be better related?
  8. We need to find alliances across the generations for these big picture issues.
  9. Unexpected friends are the key prize in activism. What if, for example, a large number of the world’s military leaders could be enlisted in this cause on the basis of the obsolescence of nuclear weapons? And,
  10. History is on our side. Peace is prevailing over violence. There are new political figures coming onto the scene of great promise, and leaders in most countries are feeling the need to be more responsive to their publics. Our challenge is to put the problem of nuclear disarmament into the mainstream moving towards a more peaceful, progressing world.

Thank you.
Now let’s talk.