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A Publication
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"The Path To Zero: Dialogues On Nuclear Dangers" By Richard Falk And David Krieger

Book Review By John Scales Avery

22 May, 2015

This book ought to be required reading for college students everywhere in the world, and also for decision-makers. It shakes us out of our complacency and makes us realize that widespread, immediate and dedicated public action is urgently needed if we are to save human civilization and the biosphere from a thermonuclear catastrophe. The book is published by Paradigm Publishers, 2845 Wilderness Place, Boulder, CO 80301, USA. (www.paradigmpublishers.com) On the back cover there are endorsements, with which I entirely agree, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and David Ellsberg.

“We are greatly privileged, like flies on the wall, to join this conversation between two remarkable stalwarts. Richard Falk and David Krieger, in the campaign for a nuclear-free world. It is unconscionable that so many of us seem to accept the prospect of our 'mutually assured destruction', the immoral massacre of millions of civilians, and to view with equanimity such a gross violation of international law. Falk and Krieger discuss persuasively and cogently the folly of reliance on nuclear weapons that can cause apocalyptic devastation. If we want to survive in a habitable world, then we have no choice: we must heed, and do so urgently, these lovers of mankind.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate

“In 'The Path to Zero', Falk and Krieger engage in a stunningly eloquent dialogue on a range of nuclear dangers, and our common responsibility to put an end to them. This is urgent reading for citizens, scientists, policy-makers and political leaders, actually for anyone who cares about the future of civilization and life on earth”, Daniel Ellsberg, Whistleblower

Other enthusiastic endorsements come from Jonathan Schell, Commander Robert Green and Maude Barlow.

The book has ten chapters: 1 The Nuclear Age; 2 Nuclear Deterrence; 3 Nuclear Proliferation; 4 Nuclear Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament; 5 Nuclear Weapons and Militarism; 6 Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Energy; 7 Nuclear Weapons and International Law; 8 Nuclear Weapons, Culture and Morality; 9 Nuclear Weapons and Democracy; 10 The Path to Zero.

The two authors

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus at Princeton, where he was a member of the faculty for 40 years. Since 2002 he has been a research professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He has been Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council since 2008, and served on a panel of experts appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly, 2008-2009. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including “Legality and Legitimacy in Global Affairs” (Oxford 2012).

David Krieger is a Founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as President of the Foundation since 1982. Under his leadership, the Foundation has initiated many innovative projects for building peace, strengthening international law, abolishing nuclear weapons, and empowering peace leaders. Among other leadership positions, he is one of 50 Councilors from around the world on the World Future Council. He is the author and editor of numerous books and articles related to achieving peace in the Nuclear Age. A graduate of Occidental College, he holds MA and PhD degrees in political science from the University of Hawaii.

Flaws in the concept of nuclear deterrence

In discussing the concept of nuclear deterrence, the two authors emphasize the fact that it violates the fundamental ethical principles of every major religion. Dr. Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Who are we? What kind of culture would be content to base its security on threatening to murder hundreds of millions of innocent people? ”

The two authors also point out that the idea of deterrence is an unproved theory, based on the assumption that accidents will not happen, and that leaders are always rational. In fact, we know historically that the world has come extremely near to accidental nuclear war on very numerous occasions, and there are also many historical instances of irrational behavior by leaders. This cannot continue indefinitely without a catastrophe. See:

The illegality of nuclear weapons

As Dr. Krieger and Prof. Falk point out, the threat or use of nuclear weapons violates international law. The fact that planning an aggressive war or conducting one is a crime according to the Nuremberg Principles is discussed. The two authors also review in detail the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which was asked by the UN General Assembly and the World Health Organization to rule on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The ICJ ruled that under almost all circumstances, the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be illegal. The only possible exception was the case where a country might be under attack and its very survival threatened. The Court gave no ruling on this extreme case. Finally, the ICJ ruled unanimously that states possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to get rid of them within a short time-frame.

Falk: “It may be time for the General Assembly to put this question to the ICJ: What legal consequences arise from the persistent failure of the nuclear weapon states to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. In my view, the nonnuclear states have also been irresponsible in not insisting on on mutuality of respect in the nonproliferation setting. It may be up to civil society actors to bring wider attention to this disrespect for the vital norms of international law...”


Colonialism and exceptionalism

Falk: “We need to remember that the expansion of Europe at the expense of the non-Western world rested on violence and the superiority of European weaponry and strategic logistics, including naval power. This link between Western militarism and historical ascendancy is, in my view, one of the deep reasons why there is such an irrational attachment to nuclear weaponry, making it very diffiicult to renounce as the supreme expression of political violence.”

Krieger: “I would like to add that there is a general orientation in much of Western society to subordinate international law to geopolitical desire, in other words, not to allow international law to be a limiting factor in seeking geopolitical advantage. International law is thus applied when useful and ignored when self-interest and convenience dictate. This is a striking manifestation of the double standards that have served the interests of the powerful in both the colonial and postcolonial worlds.”


The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In discussing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger point out that that it has several serious flaws: It is unsymmetrical, giving a special status to the nuclear weapons states, and forbidding all others to possess these weapons. The treaty encourages the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy, which in practice opens the door to acquisition of nuclear weapons by many nations and which exposes the world to radioactive fallout from accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and very long-term dangers from radioactive wastes. Finally, membership in the NPT is not universal. Here are some comments by the two authors:

Falk: “In my view, the failure of the nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament over a period of more than forty years, despite the injunction to do so by the International Court of Justice, is a material breach of the NPT that would give any party the option of pronouncing the treaty void.”

Krieger: “It would be wonderful to see a strong and concerted effort by non-nuclear-weapon states to challenge the nuclear weapons club. I think that the most effective thing that such states could do would be to start the process of negotiating a nuclear weapons convention and, if necessary, to do it without the nuclear weapon states.”

Falk: “My proposal is a two-year ultimatum by as many nonnuclear states as possible, threatening to withdraw from the NPT unless serious nuclear disarmament negotiations get underway.”

Dr. Krieger is not in complete agreement with Prof. Falk regarding such an ultimatum. He feels that even though it is flawed in many ways, it is still so valuable that its continuation ought not to be threatened.

Krieger: “One of the great problems with the NPT is that it encourages the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which actually opens the door to nuclear weapons proliferation. It ends up making the treaty work against itself. Of course, Israel is not a party to the treaty, nor are India and Pakistan. This demonstrates a fundamental weakness of international law, that is, the exemption of nations that do not sign a treaty from the law. This would be unworkable in domestic law, and it is equally so in international law.”

Krieger: “The nuclear plant operators are willing to downplay for short-term gain the catastrophic risks that are involved in the use of nuclear reactors to boil water. They are wiling to generate wastes that will adversely affect the health and well-being of of untold generations to follow us on the planet. ¡K The tragedy is that governments embrace and support this industry, demonstrating that they also do not place the interests of their people and the future at the forefront of their planning and decision making.”


No first use; no hair-trigger alerted missiles

In their concluding chapter, the two authors agree that a No First Use declaration could be a useful first step. Prof. Falk comments:

Falk: “What conceivable justification, consistent with a deterrence rationale for the retention of nuclear weapons, is there for not assuring other governments that the United States will only use such weaponry in retaliation a prior attack with nuclear weaponry? It is rather clear that such a declaration, especially if backed up by non-nuclear deployments, would both give the United States some new claim to leadership with respect to the weaponry and exert enormous psychological pressure on other nuclear weapon states to follow the American lead.”

This, of course, could be linked to taking all nuclear weapons systems off hair-trigger alert, which is probably the most important first step towards avoiding the catastrophe of an accidental nuclear war. Dr Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Those responsible for maintaining nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert are delusional if they think that it can be maintained indefinitely without dire consequences.”

Developments since the publication of the book

Since the publication of Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger's book in 2012, several events have taken place which the authors probably would have discussed if they had occurred earlier. For example, on 2 April, 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty was passed by a massive majority by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly. The ATT had remained blocked for more than 10 years in the consensus-bound Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Its passage gives us hope that a Nuclear Weapons Convention can similarly be passed by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly, where the vast majority of nations are in favor of the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Even if bitterly opposed by the nuclear weapons states, a Nuclear Weapons Convention would have great normative value.

Another development which Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger would certainly have discussed, had it occurred earlier, is an heroic law suit by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, suing the nuclear weapons states for violation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact Dr. Krieger and his organization, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, are actively supporting the Marshall Islands in this David-versus-Goliath-like law suit. http://www.wagingpeace.org/tag/marshall-islands/

Finally, the two authors would probably have discussed the hubris of Washington's power-holders in threatening war with both Russia and China. The effect of this colossally misguided US action has been to firmly unite China and Russia. In fact the BRICS countries, with their vast resources, are now moving away from using the dollar as a reserve currency for international trade. The probable effect will be the collapse of the already-strained US economy, and as a consequence, the fall of the US Empire. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger both wonder whether they have been too America-centric in their discussions of nuclear abolition. The probable fall of the United States from its present position of global hegemony may mean that US leadership will not, in the future, be the key to nuclear abolition.

Some conclusions

When the Cold War ended in 1991, many people heaved a sigh of relief and concluded that they no longer had to worry about the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger show us that this comforting belief is entirely false, that the dangers are greater than ever before, and that it is vital to bring this fact to the urgent attention of today's young people, who were born long after the tragic nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or perhaps even born after the end of the Cold War.

Ultimately, the complete abolition of nuclear weapons is linked with a change of heart, the replacement of narrow nationalism by loyalty to humanity as a whole, and the replacement of militarism by a just and enforcible system of international law.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at [email protected]

Suggestions for further reading:

Ban Ki-moon. “The United Nations and security in a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Address to the East-West Institute, October 24, 2008. http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/search_full.asp?statID=351

Green, Robert, “Breaking Free from Nuclear Deterrence.” Santa Barbara: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 10th Annual Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity's Future, 2011, http://www.wagingpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/2011_kelly_lecture.pdf

“Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.” Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, July 8, 1996. http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/93/7407.pdf

McCloy-Zorin Accords. “Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations,” signed on September 20, 1961, unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 1961. http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/arms-control-disarmament/mccloy-zorin-accords_1961-09-20.htm

Model Nuclear Weapons Convention. “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Testing, Production, Stockpiling, Transfer, Use and Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and their Elimination, April 2007.” http://www.inesap.org/publications/nuclear-weapons-convention

Obama, Barak, Remarks of President Barak Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009. http://prague.usembassy.gov/obama.html

Rotblat, Joseph, “Remember Your Humanity”, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1995, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1995/rotblat-lecture.html

Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued in London, July 9, 1955, http://www.pugwash.org/about/manifesto.htm

Santa Barbara Declaration, “Reject Nuclear Deterrence: An Urgent Call to Action,” http://www.wagingpeace.org/santa-barbara-declaration-reject-nuclear-deterrence-an-urgent-call-to-action/

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, entered into force on March 5, 1970.

Vancouver Declaration. “Law's Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World,” Vancouver, Canada, March 21, 2011. http://www.lcnp.org/wcourt/Feb2011VancouverConference/vancouverdeclaration.pdf


John Scales Avery

Nuclear War








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