This is yet another pearl of a speech delivered by India’s Prime Minester, Shri. Rajiv Gandhi. It was addressed to the United Nations General Assembly session on June 9, 1998. This speech delivers comprehensively in setting a matter of immense gravity in the right tone before an audience of dignitaries. It is effective in painting the grim forecast of repercussions caused by our action… as well as our inaction. It succeeds in setting the stage for the crux of his speech with the imagery it creates using words like:
Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet Earth”
“Astronomical sums are being invested in ways of dealing with death”
“…that everyone can be saved by ensuring that in the event of conflict, everyone will surely die.
This speech also manages to succinctly describe the state of human affairs at the time:
It is true that in the past four decades, parts of the world have experienced an absence of war. But a mere absence of war is not a durable peace.”
“Peace which rests on the search for a parity of power is a precarious peace.”
“Deterrence needs an enemy, even if one has to be invented.
And finally, there is the beauty of the prose in this speech too:
Neither experience nor logic can sustain such dangerous complacency. History is full, of miscalculations. Perceptions are often totally at variance with reality. A madman’s fantasy could unleash the end.
Societies get caught in a multiple helix of escalation in chasing this chimera, expending vast resources for an illusory security while incurring the risk of certain extinction.
This is a rather long speech so I will publish the second half of this piece along with my thoughts on it next week. Enjoy the first half meanwhile.
1st September, 2010. Mumbai.
A World Free of Nuclear Weapons
[Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India then, delivered the following speech at the United Nations General Assembly on June 9, 1988.]
We are approaching the close of the twentieth century. It has been the most bloodstained century in history. Fifty -eight million perished in two World Wars. Forty million more have died in other conflicts. In the last nine decades, the ravenous machines of war have devoured nearly one hundred million people. The appetite of these monstrous machines grows on what they feed. Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet Earth. We come to the United Nations to seek your support. We seek your support to put a stop to this madness.
Humanity is at a crossroads. One road will take us like lemmings to our own suicide. That is the path indicated by doctrines of nuclear deterrence, deriving from traditional concepts of the balance of power. The other road will give us another chance. That is the path signposted by the doctrine of peaceful coexistence, deriving from the imperative values of nonviolence, tolerance and compassion.
In consequence of doctrines of deterrence, international relations have been gravely militarized. Astronomical sums are being invested in ways of dealing with death. Ever new means of destruction continue to be invented. The best of our scientific talent and the bulk of our technological resources are devoted to maintaining and upgrading this awesome ability to obliterate ourselves. A culture of armaments and threats and violence has become pervasive.
For a hundred years after the Congress of Vienna, Europe knew an uncertain peace based on a balance of power. When that balance was tilted – or more accurately, when that balance was perceived to have been tilted – Europe was plunged into an orgy of destruction, the like of which had never been known before and which spread to engulf much of the world. The unsettled disputes of the First World War led to the Second.
Humankind survived because, by today’s standards, the power to destroy, which was then available was a limited power. We now have what we did not then have: the power to ensure the genocide of the human race. Technology has now rendered obsolete the calculations of war and peace on which were constructed the always dubious theories of the balance of power.
It is a dangerous delusion to believe that nuclear weapons have brought us peace. It is true that in the past four decades, parts of the world have experienced an absence of war. But a mere absence of war is not a durable peace. The balance of nuclear terror rests on the retention and augmentation of nuclear armories. There can be no ironclad guarantee against the use of weapons of mass destruction. They have been used in the past. They could be used in the future. And, in this nuclear age, the insane logic of mutually assured destruction will ensure that nothing survives, that none lives to tell the tale, that there is no one left to understand what went wrong and why. Peace which rests on the search for a parity of power is a precarious peace. If we can understand what went wrong with such attempts in the past, we may yet be able to escape the catastrophe presaged by doctrines of nuclear deterrence.
There is a further problem with deterrence. The doctrine is based on the assumption that international relations are frozen on a permanently hostile basis. Deterrence needs an enemy, even if one has to be invented. Nuclear deterrence is the ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism: holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few.
There are those who argue that since the consequences of nuclear war are widely known and well- understood, nuclear war just cannot happen. Neither experience nor logic can sustain such dangerous complacency. History is full, of miscalculations. Perceptions are often totally at variance with reality. A madman’s fantasy could unleash the end. An accident could trigger a chain reaction, which inexorably leads to doom. Indeed, the advance of technology has so reduced the time for decisions that, once activated, computers programmed for Armageddon pre-empt human intervention and all hope of survival. There is, therefore, no comfort in the claim of the proponents of nuclear deterrence that everyone can be saved by ensuring that in the event of conflict, everyone will surely die.
The champions of nuclear deterrence argue that nuclear weapons have been invented and therefore, cannot be eliminated. We do not agree. We have an international convention eliminating biological weapons by prohibiting their use in war. We are working on similarly eliminating chemical weapons. There is no reason on principle why nuclear weapons too cannot be so eliminated. All it requires is the affirmation of certain basic moral values and the assertion of the required political will, underpinned by treaties and institutions, which insure against nuclear delinquency.
The past few years have seen the emergence of a new danger: the extension of the nuclear arms race into outer space. The ambition of creating impenetrable defenses against nuclear weapons has merely escalated the arms race and complicated the process of disarmament. This has happened in spite of the grave doubts expressed by leading scientists about its very feasibility. Even the attempt to build a partial shield against nuclear missiles increases the risk of nuclear war. History shows that there is no shield that has not been penetrated by a superior weapon, nor any weapon for which a superior shield has not been found. Societies get caught in a multiple helix of escalation in chasing this chimera, expending vast resources for an illusory security while incurring the risk of certain extinction.
The new weapons being developed for defense against nuclear weapons are part of a much wider qualitative arms race. The development of the so-called “third generation nuclear weapons” has opened up ominous prospects of their being used for selective and discriminate military operations. There is nothing more dangerous than the illusion of limited nuclear war. It desensitizes inhibitions about the use of nuclear weapons. That could lead, in next to no time, to the outbreak of full–fledged nuclear war.
There are no technological solutions to the problems of world security. Security can only come from our asserting effective political control over this self-propelled technological arms race. We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of humankind. It is not only those who live by the nuclear sword who, by design or default, shall one day perish by it. All humanity will perish.
Nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production. History is full of such prejudices paraded as iron laws: that men are superior to women; that the white races are superior to the colored; that colonialism is a civilizing mission, that those who possess nuclear weapons are responsible powers and those who do not are not.
Alas, nuclear weapons are not the only weapons of mass destruction. New knowledge is being generated in the life sciences. Military applications of these developments could rapidly undermine the existing convention against the military use of biological weapons. The ambit of our concern must extend to all means of mass annihilation.
New technologies have also dramatically expanded the scope and intensity of conventional warfare. The physical destruction, which can be carried out by full-scale conventional war, would be enormous, far exceeding anything known in the past. Even if humankind is spared the agony of a nuclear winter, civilization and civic life as we know it would be Irretrievably disrupted. The range, precision and lethality of conventional weapons is being vastly increased. Some of these weapons are moving from being ‘smart’ to becoming ‘intelligent’. Such diabolical technologies generate their own pressures for early use, thus increasing the risk of the outbreak of war. Most of these technologies are at the command of the military blocs. This immensely increases their capacity for interference, intervention and coercive diplomacy.
Those of us who do not belong to the military blocs would much rather stay out of the race. We do not want to accumulate arms. We do not want to augment our capacity to kill. But the system, like a whirlpool, sucks us into its vortex. We are compelled to divert resources from development to defense to respond to the arsenals, which are constructed as a sideshow to great power rivalries. As the nature and sophistication of threat to our security increase, we are forced to incur huge expenditure on raising the threshold of our defences.
There is another danger that is even worse. Left to ourselves, we would not want to touch nuclear weapons. But when tactical considerations, in the passing play of great power rivalries, are allowed to take precedence over the imperative of nuclear non-proliferation, with what leeway are we left?
Even the mightiest military powers realize that they cannot continue the present arms race without inviting economic calamity. The continuing arms race has imposed a great burden on national economies and the global economy. It is no longer only the developing countries who are using disarmament to channel resources to development. Even the richest are beginning to realize that they cannot afford the current levels of the military burden they have imposed upon themselves. A genuine process of disarmament, leading to a substantial reduction in military expenditure, is bound to promote the prosperity of all nations of the globe. Disarmament accompanied by coexistence will open up opportunities for all countries, whatever their socio-economic systems, whatever their levels of development.
The technological revolutions of our century have created unparalleled wealth. They have endowed the fortunate with high levels of mass consumption and widespread social welfare. In fact, there is plenty for everyone, provided distribution is made more equitable. Yet, the possibility of fulfilling the basic needs of nutrition and shelter, education and health remains beyond the reach of vast millions of people in the developing world because resources which could give fulfillment in life are pre-empted for death.
The root causes of global insecurity reach far below the calculus of military parity. They are related to the instability spawned by widespread poverty, squalor, hunger, disease and illiteracy. They are connected to the degradation of the environment. They are enmeshed in the inequity and injustice of the present world order. The effort to promote security for all must be underpinned by the effort to promote opportunity for all the equitable access to achievement. Comprehensive global security must rest on a new, more just, more honourable world order.
When the General Assembly met here last in Special Session to consider questions of disarmament, the outlook was grim. The new cold war had been revived with full force. A new programme of nuclear armament had been set in motion. As a result, during the years that followed, fear and suspicion cast a long shadow over all disarmament negotiations. Humankind was approaching the precipice of nuclear disaster.
Today, there is a new hope for survival and for peace. There is a perceptible movement away from the precipice. Dialogue has been resumed. Trust is in the air.