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"The Search for Global Solutions" ‘From Awareness to Action’

(16th IPPNW World Conference, Beijing. Last plenary on Sunday 19 September 2004)

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be good... and it would spread a lively terror..."

(Winston Churchill commenting on the British use of poison gas against the Iraqis after the First World War).


From the statement just read out, I would like to invite your attention to the words ‘the moral effect should be good and it would spread a lively terror’ The words uttered in the halcyon days of the Empire, as the British ventured into Mesopotamia after the defeat of Turkey in the First World War, provide a glimpse into the mind of the great English statesman, whose sentiment expressed over 80 years ago has apparently lingered. As envisioned by Churchill, the use of deadly, inhuman weapons – in the present case depleted uranium (DU) - did spread lively terror in Iraq - even if the rest of the world failed to see the ‘moral effect.’

When IPPNW was founded the threat of nuclear war was unmistakably the great danger facing humankind. It remained that way for over fifty years. Now the situation stands altered. Although proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a strong possibility, other threats of equal or higher magnitude have come into being. Post 9/11 and post-Iraq this aspect can hardly be in doubt, especially when people have started wondering whether democracies are able to control the war-making power of their executives.

Recent examples are an indication that national leaders increasingly tend to disregard the vox populi. Fear of terrorism has provided the excuse for moving beyond democratic constraints and for abrogating international protocols. In a few short years the descent has been steep enough to throw the residual vestiges of rationality, logic and good sense that governed the conduct of diplomacy and international relations out of the window. These have no appeal for today’s wielders of power, especially those who threaten the global equilibrium. The challenge before the world is not so much to diminish US power – a catastrophic decline at this juncture not being in the global interest - but to change US mindsets and channelise that amazing vitality toward productive ends; ends that will allow for the speedy revitalization of the planet. The interest of the world would be better served should global bodies like the IPPNW now concentrate more on limiting the more dangerous vertical proliferation rather than expending the greater part of their energies on horizontal proliferation. A major shift in the tenor and texture of the debate is now called for.

Whatever else might have dominated the discussions in the last few days, invariably the thoughts of many among the participants turned to the newfound nuclear status of India.

Coming from India a few words on the subject might be in order. The world was aghast when India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974. The country waited a full quarter century before announcing its nuclear status to the world in 1998. This time around the shock was greater. The land of Buddha, Mahavira and Gandhi had seemingly abandoned ahimsa and joined the bandwagon of nuclear might. The dismay within India was perhaps as great. Why did it come about? Many in India felt that the 21st century milieu simply did not allow space for practicing Gandhian pacifism in a standalone fashion.

The situation around the world made it an impractical proposition, more so, if the vision was not shared by other nations. Weakness in any society, in any age, was an invitation to being subjugated, India’s history demonstrating it to be undeniably so. Not being able to stand up to the onslaughts of terrorism, unilateralism, or capitalism as well as the sponsored threats from neighbors becomes an indefensible proposition - morally, or otherwise. It is axiomatic that durable peace demands a just and equitable international order.

Dr. Kalam, referred to as the father of India’s missile programme, is a humanist par excellence. Yet he has no doubt that India should be a nuclear weapons power. His strong support of India’s nuclear posture is the antithesis of the position that a body like the IPPNW espouses. Where then lies the aberration? Ultimately, if good sense, humanism and rationalism is to triumph, it would require men like him and Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister at the helm of affairs in most nations of the world. Yet, neither of these leaders will allow India to be dispossessed. Why?

In answering this question IPPNW would be able to find a way out of the cul-de-sac in which the world finds itself. It is not inconceivable that many of those people who have dedicated a lifetime to the pursuit of universal nuclear disarmament might have ab initio been looking at the issue from the wrong end of the telescope. Nations with a consistent record of responsibility were being branded as irresponsible, while those who consistently mock the collective urge for a more rational global security order set the agenda. Attention has to focus on the vertical proliferation spiral that is being propelled by the direct penetration of the governance process and the media networks by the military-industrial complex, in country after another.

The developments in the US are not surprising. At least thirty-two secretaries and other senior staffers of the present US Administration are former board members, consultants or shareholders of the largest armament industries and seventeen of them are connected to the key suppliers of the missile defence system. The oil lobby and the military contractors need no longer put pressure on the administration since they are the Administration. The latest example is France. By one calculation, 70 percent of the French press is now in the hands of defence companies.

When Le Figaro, France’s leading centre-right daily newspaper, along with some 70 others titles, was snapped up earlier this year by Dassault, a big defence company, scarcely a French eyebrow was raised. The government is now finalizing negotiations to buy, for about €3 billion, some 59 Rafales, a new-generation fighter aircraft made by Dassault. “The coincidence”, as Le Monde put it, “is at the very least troubling.”


The climactic event that took place on 11 September 2001 shook the USA and the world. After three years the world has to move on. Not everything should turn around 9/11, nor should the world become hostage to that single event. Undoubtedly, 9/11 was a major incident. But now there are other issues that have come centre stage, crying for the attention of the world.

In the search for ways to ward off the nuclear threat and related threats of mass exterminations – of humans and other life forms - note has to be taken of the conditions that give rise to these threats and propel the world in directions that do not augur well for humans and the planetary biota. IPPNW, the co-sponsors of the 16th World Conference, have been largely concentrating since inception on nuclear disarmament and the spread of nuclear weapons. Today, however, equally deadly, if not deadlier, perils are surfacing all around. Thus far the planetary destruction brought on by human interventions, benign or devilishly malign, was generally limited to the landmass of the planet, the terra firma. Now these malign interventions are being pushed into the domain of the other two elements that sustained life: the seas that were the cradle of life and the atmosphere that gave to Earth its unique habitability.

The world is facing a situation whereby one strong individual or a coterie of individuals in control of the levers of power of a state can jeopardize the ecological future of a country, region, or the planet without there being a mechanism in place to effectively put a halt to the ecological decline. When taken collectively the rapid ecological depletions taking place on Earth represent a potential for habitability-eclipse for humans and various life-forms that is several orders of magnitude higher than any nuclear exchange that might take place between lesser powers or an asymmetric exchange between a superpower and a lesser adversary. In fact, it could be safely assumed that the Cold War type of nuclear destruction that could have devastated the planet can be practically ruled out unless the USA pushes China to take the same route over the next twenty to thirty years. Meanwhile the ecological damage resulting from the depletion of self-renewal mechanisms of the natural eco-systems is threatening the very basis of planetary homeostasis.

The US dropped 15,000 PGM, 7500 unguided bombs and aimed 750 cruise missiles at Iraq in about 21 days, plus a colossal amount of artillery, tanks and attack helicopter fire, not to mention mortars and small arms fire. This was the amount of munitions expended in just three weeks when the US forces had a relatively free run all the way till they declared victory after the capture of Baghdad. What would have been the quantity of munitions expended had the US been effectively contested. Account needs to be taken of their toxic potentiality for the Iraqis and for the coalition troops as well as the ecology of the entire region. It is necessary to pause awhile to take note of the ecological consequences of renewed military activity. The report by a UN agency is a grim reminder of what is in store: “Through explosive reactions, fires and the burning of great amounts of different materials and chemicals and through intensive actions of military airplanes, the millions of tons of oxygen that the living world needs, have been irretrievably spent.” Add to it an extract from an email received a bare few weeks before this conference from Dr. Leuren Moret.

The renowned scientist writes: “Ernest and I and a small group have collected over 4000 baby teeth and measured the strontium 90 in them, establishing the great harm to public health that nuclear power has had, and to the environment. You will find our information a very powerful additional argument to add to your message, and I believe that the world will not change based on political arguments - we must hit them over the head with the public health issue because that convinces even the other side. We have 1-2 generations left, and then it will be too late”. Unquote.

‘ Then it will be too late’ seems to be the recurring theme of many of the thoughtful analyses coming from the ‘independent’ scientific community from all over. It is a message that simply cannot be ignored any longer. The message that has to go out from this conference is ‘disarmament now’.

IPPNW and organizations wedded to ridding the world of the nuclear horror must appreciate the subtle change that has taken place in the outlook of the middle classes who have been slowly sucked into the maws of free market capitalism in country after another. The essence of capitalism being self-indulgence, conspicuous consumerism and instant gratification, parts of society experiencing greater affluence have joyfully taken to the “who cares what happens tomorrow” syndrome. Something similar is happening at the other end due to extreme deprivation. People who are starving and who do not know where their next meal is coming from cannot share the concerns that inform conferences of this nature.

The DU weapons employment is being reintroduced to highlight an even more frightening aspect. It betokens a conspiracy of silence. Many scientific bodies and military hierarchies would have been aware of the Gulf War Syndrome, especially when almost a third of the 700,000 U.S. soldiers who served in the First Gulf War are now collecting disability payments. Yet not a single government had seen it fit to debate this issue before considering the dispatch of troops to Iraq, where these weapons have been extensively used. The media silence was equally deafening. The more worrisome aspect is the surreptitious legitimization of the use of this weapon of mass destruction. Not one government raised the issue when the debates for the invasion of Iraq were taking place in the Security Council for the best part of 2002 and early 2003. There were no demonstrations or marches against the use of DU, including in the Arab countries that would surely be affected by the radiation effects of DU.

Hardly any government or non-governmental organization raised this subject during the NPT Review Conference in 1995. Something similar could happen in 2005 unless IPPNW and organizations committed to nuclear disarmament resolve not to put pressure on anybody other than the P5 to first meet their commitments by laying down a time frame for reduction and phasing out of their nuclear weapons.Concomitantly, the first item of discussion should be a full-throated, globally orchestrated demand for forcing the United States to quarantine all DU stocks and abjure the use of WMD in any future action.

Referring to the extreme killing effects of radiation on biological systems, Dr. Rosalie Bartell, one of the 46 international radiation expert authors of the ECR report, describes it as: “The concept of species annihilation means a relatively swift, deliberately induced end to history, culture, science, biological reproduction and memory. It is the ultimate human rejection of the gift of life, an act which requires a new word to describe it: omnicide”. She goes on to say, “It is up to the citizens of the world to stop the depleted uranium wars, and future nuclear wars, causing irreversible devastation. There are just a few generations left before the collapse of our environment, and then it will be too late. We can be no healthier than the health of the environment – we breathe the same air, drink the same water, eat food from the same soil. Our collective gene pool of life, evolving for hundreds of millions of years has been seriously damaged in less than the past fifty. The time remaining to reverse this culture of “lemming death” is on the wane. In the future, what will you tell your grandchildren about what you did in the prime of your life to turn around this death process”?

The last sentence is the question posed to us assembled here as well. If the process is not soon reversed what indeed will we tell our grandchildren? That we debated, we interacted with the others whenever we could, but we ended up by losing the Earth for them. And they will ask, who were the formidable opponents that were able to thwart the wishes, nay aspirations, of 99.9 percent of humanity? What should be our reply to this question? That some of the finest minds in the world, backed by the hopes of almost the entire human population could not loosen the malevolent grip of a small group that was propelling the world toward disaster that could be clearly foreseen? Clearly the time has come for all of us to move ‘from awareness to action’, the title of this paper.
In the light of the foregoing it needs to be considered whether there would be a case for a public interest litigation by affected persons and civil society acting as concerned citizens, at least in the USA and UK to prosecute the respective governments for knowingly exposing their troops to lasting harm through their own action and not enemy action.

Whatever the official reaction to such charges it would be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the scientists investigating the Gulf War Syndrome cases in these countries were privy to the deleterious effects of DU. It can reasonably be stated as a certitude that the case files would have been seen at the highest levels of decision-making. In which case the enormous culpability of these governments can no longer be denied. The same goes for the establishments of the European countries that sent their contingents to support the invasion of Iraq. They too were aware that DU weapons would again be used in Iraq by the US forces.

Despite the overwhelming clamor against the Iraq War in the concerned countries these governments had no qualms in sending their soldiers into an environment in which the chances of exposing their troops to nuclear radiation were high. What emerges, therefore, is the painful discovery that the establishments of countries that dominate the world today are apparently unconcerned about the acute suffering that their soldiers are being subjected to through their own - and not enemy - action.

How then can they be expected to retain an iota of compassion for the populations of countries against whom they wage war, mostly in the developing world. Until this debasement of the much-trumpeted core values of establishments that run the world is taken note of there can hardly be any hope of gaining the IPPNW objectives through the process of appealing to the good sense of world leaders. The absence of ethics and morality in governance is also being globalised at an accelerated pace. It is radically re-shaping the attitude of governments to the people who elected them. It tends to undermine the strategies for a safer world adopted by IPPNW and organizations working for a more rational world order.

Unless the superpower halts the militarisation of space it would be worth considering the global chaos hypothesis. According to this hypothesis mayhem is invited by abrogating – in the manner of the USA - existing treaties that make civilized living possible and let chaos take over. The losers will be the big ‘haves’ and the P5 because their continued hegemony is possible only in a regulated global order or on the conduct of nations adhering to the UN Charter. The ‘non-haves’ would not have much to lose, in any case. What is being said, in effect, is that the P5 better start honoring their commitments under Article VI of the NPT here and now or become P5 among P10, P 20 or even P30, ushering in a total breakdown of the global order.

The ante is being raised by the underdogs: accommodate, make meaningful concessions toward nuclear disarmament in inviolable time frames, forgo research in further refining the nuclear menace, downgrade and dismantle NMD, or lose your dominion. A nuclear exchange at the present time would destroy the planet to the extent that the Stone Age would be revisited. Planetary renewal could come about within the life span of a hundred generations of humans and some other life forms. As opposed to this, the type of research going on - controlled and uncontrolled - in planet-destroying technologies in many unmonitored, unregistered, or diabolically-abetted laboratories around the world is such that a similar exchange a few decades hence could virtually write finis to the tale of humankind and ‘all kind’ on the planet Earth forever.

Sri Aurobindo, the great philosopher-sage, a little before his death had presciently warned humanity on the need for urgent remedial action. In April 1950 in a Postscript Chapter to The Ideal of Human Unity he wrote:

“The indwelling deity who presides over the destiny of the race has raised in man's mind and heart the idea, the hope of a new order which will replace the old unsatisfactory order, and substitute for it conditions of the world's life which will in the end have a reasonable chance of establishing permanent peace and well-being.... It is for the men of our day and, at the most, of tomorrow to give the answer. For, too long a postponement or too continued a failure will open the way to a series of increasing catastrophes which might create a too prolonged and disastrous confusion and chaos and render a solution too difficult or impossible; it might even end in something like an irremediable crash not only of the present world-civilization but of all civilization”.

The digression not being a descent into pessimism should serve to highlight the urgency for immediate action, to very simply resume the destiny of humankind from the handful of people who have taken control of the levers of power in the superpower and some nations around the world. They represent an infinitesimally small percentage of the earth’s inhabitants. They have held sway for so long because the world waited for good sense to prevail. The conclaves to follow will have to formulate action plans to bring a modicum of sanity back into the interaction between nations and the decisions taken at the highest levels for the collective elevation of humanity. Furthermore, Man having evolved as the head of the family of planetary creation now owes it to all other beings that share the planet with him to put their well being at par with, if not above his own. This primary duty has been consciously neglected for the last two millennia. Humankind simply cannot afford to turn its back on it any longer.


What do we have to counter the phenomenon of the ‘dogs of war’ actually taking over the reins of government or the power centers in country after country? As in the case of IPPNW, hundreds, if not thousands of like-minded organizations, non-governmental organizations, academic faculties, scientists and intellectuals around the world share these concerns, as do hundreds of millions of ordinary people. The question then arises, why aren’t we winning? Why haven’t we been able to turn the tide? This is what we should be introspecting about as individuals. It is what we should be debating as a collectivity - the action plans that will give us the results. Till a few years ago the subject of nuclear proliferation could be treated in isolation. This is no longer the case. Not only have several other pressing issues intruded, the global reality is such that none of these humanity-threatening concerns can be treated in isolation any longer.

It is the major outlays that decide – for individuals, societies and nations – the pattern of returns, confirming the wisdom of the old adage, ‘as you sow, so you reap’. Hence, if the leading nation of the world is spending almost half a trillion dollars on its military systems when it is the strongest nation in the world, the resultant cannot but be heightened militarism, tension and mayhem in the world.

The rolling back of the NMD architecture must, therefore, be placed at the top of the agenda for nuclear disarmament. It should be possible to mobilize civil society in Canada, Australia and the U.K. to force their respective governments to dismantle the supporting structures for the US campaign that is pushing the world toward the militarisation of space. Why is the planet-annihilating NMD issue not introduced into the election debates of the concerned countries? As an example, Canada is in an enviable position at the dawn of the new millennium. It is a country that has no enemies, in the traditional sense. The enemies of USA are legion. They are multiplying exponentially. Canada by participating in a programme that is neither good for Canada nor the world, nor for that matter USA, could invite retaliation from a potential adversary who, hypothetically speaking, could hit Canada should the foe decide to degrade the system without hitting USA. There are several other arguments that can be factored in. The more important issue, however, is the total exclusion of the public from delving into policies that are potentially nation threatening or planet destroying (militarisation of space and the mad race that would follow would certainly fall in this category).

Canada is a highly developed country. If the advanced countries do not publicly debate issues that are humanity threatening in their import, is the world expecting Sudan, Haiti, Burkina Faso or some other less or least developed countries to do so. The imbroglio in Iraq is a case in point. The Prime Ministers of UK, Spain and Poland decided to support the invasion of Iraq in spite of a huge outcry against it. The issue was never debated as such. Protests post-facto, after the mobilisation had started could not have halted the process. An unequivocal stand against it at the very outset - especially by the UK government - might have prevented the tragedy.

The pattern is no longer restricted to the military-industrial complex. Till a few years ago an enlightened leadership in the United States could have given the lead for reversing nuclear proliferation. Being the lone superpower it should still, on the face of it, be in a position to take the lead. What is the ground reality, however? An enlightened leader with the attributes required to reverse the dangerous decline might not find it possible today to come to the fore and win election to the office of the President of the United States. The interests that have taken an iron grip over the Washington establishment, the media and wealth formation will simply not allow such a species to co-exist. A few hard facts should suffice to confirm the observation:

The two principal contenders for the White House in the coming elections were both agreed - and still agree - on the need for the Iraq invasion in spite of the 9/11 Commission report and exposures of deliberate falsifications that took place at the highest levels of governance.

Extrapolating from these positions in the run up to the US presidential election it can be stated that over fifty per cent of Americans still support the decision to invade Iraq, again, in spite of the wide dissemination of the 9/11 Commission Report, the rise in US casualties and the near-universal condemnation of the US policies in Iraq.

A look at the board members of media companies is revealing. In America a large number of the directors of NBC, CBS and ABC all have common involvement with Rothschild/Rockefeller/Morgan companies, as well as being members of the Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission. In Britain, the Daily Telegraph is owned by the Hollinger group, whose advisors and directors include Henry Kissinger, Lord Carrington, Brzezinski and Lord Rothschild. The current chairman of N.M. Rothschild, Evelyn de Rothschild, is on the board of the Daily Telegraph. A former board member, Andrew Knight, is now executive chairman of the 'rival' News International, which runs The Times and the Sun, and which is funded by the Oppenheimers and the Rothschilds. Regulatory bodies such as the Press Complaints Commission also have links with the same people e.g. the chairman Lord Wakeham who is a director of N.M. Rothschild. (The Media by Ivan Fraser and Mark Beeston).

A handful of media barons have a stranglehold on the global media. The extent of the media holdings of Rupert Murdoch and the influence that a single individual wields in shaping the global discourse and, what is more important, the public position on that discourse hardly needs elaboration.

Private military companies (PMC) - mercenaries in plainer language – manning the occupation administration’s front lines are now the third-largest contributor to the war effort after the United States and Britain. They will be even less amenable to civilized restraints in the countries where they are deployed.

Star Wars is no longer a futuristic theory. Sometime this summer, the US will station 10 missile interceptors in Alaska and California, with more to follow soon. The Pentagon has spent $16 billion on the project, with major funding increases on the way.
Several millennia ago Kautilya in his Arthasastra had written: “It is the nature of power to assert itself”. The truism of that pithy statement has manifested itself through the ages. It is being demonstrated today in the shape of the superpower hegemony and the lesser hegemonies being witnessed around the world, by nations and by individuals.

The process of nuclear disarmament has for too long been dominated by the Western powers. A major shift to the East, based on a strategic dialogue between China, India, Russia, and at some stage, Japan could become the linchpin for creating the universal nuclear disarmament framework. China, Russia and India acting in unison could become the initial guarantors of the nuclear disarmament process in Asia, as a prelude to universal disarmament. (A framework for a model protocol is under preparation). These nations have centuries of accumulated wisdom behind them, which could now be tapped to find answers to problems that have defied solution. In inviting the great Eastern civilizations to take the lead in the search for global solutions it is not intended to diminish the centrality of USA to effective resolution modes. The world’s unstinting support to the US was unequivocally demonstrated after the 9/11 attacks in USA. Even now, no world power can be viewed as hostile to America, a golden opportunity to sit together and resolve issues that threaten global harmony.

This body’s paramount concern remains the spread of nuclear weapons. While the chances of proliferation – both horizontal and vertical – are more than they were a decade earlier, paradoxically the world has in fact got a breather as far as the likelihood of use of nuclear weapons is concerned. Barring some unforeseen developments there is very little chance of nuclear weapons being used in the foreseeable future between countries and certainly not amongst the larger, more stable countries. Today only two entities threaten each other and the world with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, these being the superpower USA and its principal adversary the shadowy radical elements out to hit USA wherever they can. At least for the next ten to fifteen years the nuclear exchange at the lowest kiloton yields is more likely between these two adversaries.

This period becomes the window of opportunity to effectively roll back the nuclear peril. The cataclysmic holocaust that could have resulted from an exchange between the two superpowers during the Cold War decades when the doomsday clock in New York came close to one minute to midnight can be practically ruled out for at least the next decade or two. However, as far as the planet is concerned, the bigger danger to planetary decline stems from massive deforestation, species extinction, breakdown of the inter-species genetic barriers, global warming and, most importantly, the likelihood of the pursuance of the capitalist consumption patterns by the developing world, being propelled by the forces of globalization into this mould at a self-energizing pace. If the remaining virgin forest tracts disappear and the capitalist consumption patterns become the norm for the bulk of the human race the damage to the Earth would be far more than a suitcase bomb or a few low yield nuclear bombs going off.

It is above all the U.S. public that must appreciate that at the end of the day the course that America takes in the coming years will depend largely on how the USA deploys its wealth. For example, should it persist with the planet-destroying star wars programme, with outlays of tens of billions of dollars, leading up to possibly half a trillion dollars or more over the life of the programme, then America will surely get firmly sucked into the negative spiral of decline and decay. The rest of the world would be dragged down as well.


The dawn of the twenty-first century has not ushered in an era of peace. It is with sadness that one sees the gradual abandonment of the gentler philosophies and traditions of humankind. The urge to simply kill and squash the opponents is superseding, in many cases, the mere geopolitical realignment aims of the belligerents. The challenge before the IPPNW and this conference is to convert the overwhelming yearning for peace and equality - for the two are eventually inseparable - into a cutting edge tool to counter the hegemony of the wielders of power, that threatens the world with annihilation. Our strategy, therefore, after laying out the broad framework, must go deeper into the nitty-gritty of discrete elements for implementation. Today unbridled capitalism, which has become the handmaiden of environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation and the militarisation of space has become a ‘rogue’ process. In other words, it is a runaway process that might no longer be amenable to control.

Before coming to Beijing I was asked, “Which way is China headed”? The people who posed the question seemed a worried lot. China is a great nation. It is perhaps the second most powerful nation after the US today. It has a great civilization heritage. I did not give an answer before leaving. I shall attempt to do so now. The answer is: it all depends upon the path that China follows. Will it be a frenzied push toward American style consumerism or would there be a strategic pause to re-evaluate its options - a conscious turning towards its civilisational past as the wellspring of its future progress? Should China and India decide to join hands to map out their collective march to a more rational world order, assuredly the world would have turned the corner; toward a better future for the human collectivity. For, unless there is progress beyond competing national interests to planetary interests there can be little hope for improving the human condition, or the global order, to meet the challenges and aspirations of the 21st century.

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