By Donella Meadows
–June 4, 1998–
During this dreadful time when people are dancing in the streets because their nations have nuclear bombs and politicians seem to believe they can earn respect by threatening mass destruction, I am finding comfort on the Internet. From around the world, and especially from India and Pakistan, I am reminded that plenty of people understand one simple fact. You cannot gain security by making your enemy feel insecure.
From Pakistan Isa Daudpota of the U.N. Development Program has been emailing a steady stream of quotes.
Albert Einstein: “The belief that it is possible to achieve security through armaments … is a disastrous illusion.”
Alva Myrdal: “What makes the arms race a global folly is that all countries are now buying greater and greater insecurity at higher and higher costs.”
Norman Cousins: “It is almost as though we can preserve our ‘manhood’ only by superior foolishness.”
William Sloane Coffin: “When I think of the ever-escalating arms race, I think of alcoholics, who know that liquor is deadly and who, nevertheless, can always find one more reason for one more drink.”
C.P. Snow: “We know with the certainty of established truth that if enough of these weapons are made by enough different states, some of them are going to blow up — through accident or folly or madness.”
Jaswant Krishnayya emailed from the Systems Research Group in Pune: “Every major city in India has had meetings of scientists and social scientists during the last ten days to protest the bomb tests, both before and after the Pak bomb. I have still to see a major newspaper or magazine that has given unequivocal support to the decision to test.”
Aromar Revi, a development consultant in New Delhi, reminded me that the BJP, the party newly and narrowly in power in India, ran explicitly on the promise of wielding India’s nuclear might. Revi says: “The bomb is very adolescent male in its response to Pakistan, but actually a masterful geopolitical initiative to deal with the Kashmir problem, get India a place on the UN Security Council, ‘reconstruct the Indian identity,’ and take the wind out of the other polical parties.” Revi worries about the BJP logic: “We now have external enemies (Pakistan and China and the West via sanctions) and internal enemies (Muslims and ethnic minorities). Nothing better in such a situation of adversity than to move to a fascist mode of governance.”
Email brought an address by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physics professor, given at MIT the day after the first Indian bombs went off. Hoodbhoy spoke for a large gathering of Indian and Pakistani scientists: “Together we stand joined in sorrow, disbelief, shock and anger…. We stand here to challenge the merchants of hate and destruction, the makers and promoters of weapons that kill by the millions, and the megalomaniacs who think that greatness comes from the power to commit mass murder. We stand in protest against the ideologies of hate created and promoted by our government, nurtured by the mass media … and remorselessly hammered for decades into the minds of innocent children. Nuclear weapons are evil, mass destroyers of human life, and morally indefensible. No country should possess them.”
As if in stereo, a similar statement arrived through cyberspace from faculty members at the Indian Institute of Technology: “We, the members of the science and technology community in India are profoundly shocked by the … nuclear tests at Pokhran…. We are worried at the attempt of the power-elite to create a hysteric wave of national jingoism and nuclear chauvinism among the Indian masses to divert their attention from the burning problems of their lives.”
Ashok Gadgil, an Indian working on soft energy alternatives at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, commented, “To many a poor country getting nuclear weapons provides cheaper political thrills and internal popularity than the arduous task of addressing social justice and poverty. Unless we are serious about denuclearization of military forces by ALL countries, talk of nuclear nonproliferation is just not very persuasive.”
Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute emailed: “Possession of nuclear bombs not only decreases our security but also is a mark of national immaturity, a cause for shame.” He suggests that Japan host each year in Hiroshima a “Bombaholics Anonymous” meeting, to be attended by all new heads of state. They could tour the Peace Museum and then “retire for private talks about how to kick the habit.”
Lovins included an article he wrote in 1995 for the Christian Science Monitor, in which he pointed out the fatal mistake of believing there can be peaceful nuclear power separate from nuclear weapons. “Civilian nuclear power is now known to be a peculiarly convenient route to bomb-making.” Nuclear power is unmanageable and unaffordable, kept alive only by government subsidies. Lovins says, “Let any countries that want specifically nuclear energy explain why they prefer an option that’s singularly useful for the forbidden purpose of making bombs, but an economic liability that retards manifestly cheaper energy supplies.”
India’s and Pakistan’s bombs could open the door to a terrifying future, as other nations, many with bombs already on the shelf, scramble to join the nuclear club. Or these Asian explosions could just provide the shock we need to solve this enormous problem at last.
Only one nation can solve it — the one that invented the bomb and that continues to be the chief promoter of the idea that its possession admits one to some special category of nationhood. For fifty years we have led in the direction of “greater and greater insecurity at higher and higher costs.” Other nations cannot retreat from that direction until we do. We can ask them to face the world without nuclear arms, to stop generating bomb materials under civilian or military auspices, to turn their resources toward meeting their populations’ basic needs, to build national pride on accomplishments that are actually worthy of admiration, only when we have the honesty and wisdom and courage to do so ourselves.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1998