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Make nuclear weapons visible.

This presentation was given at the Hiroshima Commemoration in Ottawa on August 6, 2001.

If you visit the Diefenbunker in Carp, Ontario, and have a look at the Atomic Photographer's Guild exhibit which is installed there until September 15, you will come across two posters of text. They outline two prominent views held by two schools of historians. One view is that the Hiroshima bomb saved lives by stopping the war in its tracks. The second is that the bombing of Hiroshima was unnecessary.

Either argument may be true or false without contradicting the more important assessment -- and that is that dropping the bomb was wrong, regardless of whether it played a role in stopping the war early. If anything is clear, it is that we are here today because we agree and are convinced that dropping a nuclear bomb was and continues to be necessarily wrong. We may agree but let's face it: not everyone does. If everyone did, we would not have nuclear weapons in 2001. Our abolition premise is in the moral assumption (which is also a basic principle of international humanitarian law) that civilians and innocents should not be targeted or harmed -- not as a preemptive measure, not as retaliation, and not in revenge. The rules of war say that civilians should be avoided in conflict to the degree possible. That principle is upheld beyond the context of nuclear weapons. But no feat of human engineering contradicts that principle more than the use of nuclear weapons.

Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were low priorities as military targets and (unlike Tokyo) were not bombed until August 1945, at war's end. Hiroshima's targeting was based largely on the city's size and the decision that the first atomic bombing be convincing internationally for all sorts of reasons, and that it cause the greatest possible psychological effect on Japan. While the city's military industrial plants were on the periphery of the city, it was the centre of the city that was targeted. This was not accidental.

Today strategic missiles are armed with thermonuclear devices rated with a blast of up to 1.5 megatons -- 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Bombs of 50 megatons have been detonated in tests, and those of twice that again have been rumoured.

The horror of nuclear weapons is that their primary military utility is based upon their ability to slaughter hundreds of thousands or millions of people at once, with hardly any effort. Nuclear weapons are "militarily desirable," not DESPITE their problem of proportionality and inability to discriminate between civilians and soldiers, but BECAUSE OF IT. The nuclear arsenals hold the awful capability -- unique among weaponry -- to destroy virtually all life: by accident, by intent, or through escalation.

But at our peril we forget that it was the good guys -- those who opposed Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo -- who did the worst thing possible and dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki.

In times of peace, therefore, we must use every opportunity to make changes, both because only by this effort will war and weapons be further restricted, but also because only then can we prevent war in the first place.

I visited the United Nations in New York for a couple of days last year as part of a Canadian UN observer program. Most of us who were in the delegation were somehow involved in the disarmament and peace movement. We went on a tour of the new disarmament hall that lies alongside the General Assembly where there were three main exhibits: one about disarmament treaties, one on the bombing of Hiroshima, and a third about the landmines treaty.

While we were there, a delegation of Japanese arrived, and at one point there were only the Canadians and the Japanese in the hall. I couldn't help but notice that while the Japanese were reviewing the texts about the landmines campaign (an effort where Canada played a significant, if not the most important, role), we were looking over the artifacts that showed the effects of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima (also the result of Canadian involvement). There was a statue that had been scorched where it had faced the atomic blast, photographs of an eerily flattened city, what remained of children's school uniforms (their owners having been incinerated).

What made the landmines treaty possible was partly the triumph of humanitarian values over military utility. This was possible because of efforts by a campaign of tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations, and a few key governments and their officials.

But unlike landmines, nuclear weapons are about core military doctrine, and all nuclear powers will have to be on-board for abolition. This still requires the effort of a range of diverse players, particularly us -- pacifists, activists, and abolitionists driven by moral and legal imperatives -- but also governments, including major powers; military and ex-military; and eventually a significant proportion of the voting public. Governments can be influenced by public opinion and will act on it when it is focussed, credible, fair-minded, and sustained.

There were only five known photographs taken immediately after the Hiroshima explosion at ground level. Fifty-six years after that event, it is harder than ever to focus public attention on the inherent threat of these weapons. As some have noted, they have become invisible. And yet there remain the countless horrors of loss held by Japanese survivors and other citizens of Japan, and there remain tens of thousands of weapons at launch-on-warning alert.

But we are here today and that is testament to our sticking power. We need to make the effects from long ago visible again. We need to seize the moral high ground and create our opportunities for change. Remember, and never forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is more difficult to forgive, but if it is possible, forgiveness most certainly will be linked arm in arm with the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Robin Collins is on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and he is a volunteer with the United Nations Association in Canada.

US pullout ends negotiations for biological weapon inspections

The same week in July that the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the Bush administration told a lower profile international meeting in Geneva that it would not support a protocol intended to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC -- the full name of the convention is "Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological [Biological] and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction"). Unlike their counterparts in Bonn, however, who agreed without the US to a treaty regulating greenhouse gases, the Geneva delegates suspended discussions on measures to verify compliance with the BWC shortly after the US withdrawal. The abandoned talks ended six years of negotiations, and left future efforts to improve the effectiveness of the BWC uncertain.

The Biological Weapons Convention, approved in 1972 and ratified by 143 countries, including the United States, has never had a mechanism to verify compliance with the treaty, unlike the parallel Chemical Weapons Convention. The "Protocol to strengthen the effectiveness and improve the implementation of" the BWC, intended to correct this problem, has been under negotiation by the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties to the BWC since 1995, shortly after Iraqi arsenals discovered in the wake of the Gulf War raised international concern about biological weapons. During its mandated period, the Ad Hoc Group met 24 times to hammer out a 210-page document covering the details of an on-site inspections regime which would be applicable to all treaty signatories.

US objections included concerns that the draft Protocol was not strong enough to prevent "rogue states" from circumventing the BWC. In keeping with a domestic industry bias, the US government also objected to perceived risks of inspection measures that it said could jeopardize confidential business information and intellectual property rights. Critics of the US position pointed to a contradiction in its "not strong enough" but "too strong" argument and the US was not willing to respond to requests for alternative Protocol text.

Meanwhile, advocates of the Protocol emphasize the urgent need to respond to rapid changes in biotechnology which could foster biological weapons proliferation. The degree of agreement on the draft Protocol beyond the US suggests that the treaty may still be salvageable without US participation. The next opportunity to negotiate the Protocol will occur in November when the states parties to the BWC meet for another Review Conference.


A Maginot Line in the Sky: International Perspectives on Ballistic Missile Defense, ed. David Krueger and Carah Ong, Santa Barbara, CA, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, May 2001, 114 pp., ISBN 0-9650914-0-6, $14.95US. Online order form at

This book brings together the views of eighteen contributors from several countries, including two from Canada, on the proposed US Ballistic Missile Defense plans. These perspectives should be included in any intelligent discussion of whether or not the US should proceed with development and deployment of missile defence systems.

The list of authors reveals a wealth of expertise and experience with relevant issues:

Rajesh M. Basrur, Director of the Centre for Global Studies, Mumbai, India;

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, US;

Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr., Deputy Director of the Center for Defense Information, US;

Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Princeton University, US;

Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator for the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, US;

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, US;

Samsung Lee, Professor, The Catholic University of Korea;

Andrew Lichterman, Program Director, Western States Legal Foundation, US;

Nic Maclellan, Educational Resource Developer for the Pacific Concerns Resource Center, Suva, Fiji;

Bahig Nassar, Coordinator of the Arab Coordination Centre of NGDs, Egypt;

Sen. Douglas Roche, Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative and member of Canada's Senate;

Sir Joseph Rotblat, President Emeritus, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs;

Jurgen Scheffran, senior researcher, Technical University Darmstadt, Germany;

Dingli Shen, Deputy Director, Centre for American Studies, Fudan University, China;

Hiro Umebayashi, President, Peace Depot, Japan;

Achin Vanaik, journalist, India;

Michael Wallace, Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia, Canada;

Leah Wells, teacher, Saint Bonaventure High School, Ventura, CA, US;

Alla Yaroshinskaya, journalist, Russia.

Richard Falk notes in the Preface: "David Krieger, long experienced as a widely respected critic of the nuclear arms race, has brought together an exceptionally qualified group of authors who approach the topic of missile defense from diverse perspectives that illuminate the totality of the issue. If anything, the metaphor of 'a maginot line in the sky' may be too mild to express the sheer madness of this leap off the cliff of reason and moderation."

Douglas Roche speaks directly to Canadians when he writes: "I appeal to the Canadian government not to be taken in by the propaganda offense the US has launched -- that everyone should get in line because the NMD train has left the station. How could the train pave left the station when NMD technology does not even work yet? The US is actually seeking from Canada the political legitimization of NMD through Canada signing on now. We must not sign on. If Canada throws over its principles of upholding international law just to please an ideologically based demand of the current occupants of the White House, we will be forfeiting the best interests of Canada and jeopardizing the security of the Canadian people themselves. A Canadian government that acquiesces to NMD will go down in history as having overturned decades of good, solid work that Canada has done to build the conditions for peace."
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Author:Collins, Robin
Publication:Ploughshares Monitor
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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