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By Jayantha Dhanapala
A world free of nuclear weapons can and must be achieved as long as you live. This may seem like a bold and quite optimistic statement after having dedicated my life to working for peace and disarmament.
Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0
But consider the current global threats, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the end of the Cold War, and in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the United Nations (UN), the forum created to harmonize the actions of the 193 member states mandated by the Charter to maintain peace and security.
We have the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which expresses the ambiguous message that the phenomenon is a consequence of human activities and that if it is not controlled it will lead to a catastrophe.
We have the problem of income inequality all over the world. The poorest 1.2 billion people are responsible for one percent of consumption, while the richest million for 72 percent. This increases frustration and tension, especially among young people, who make up 26 percent of the world's population.
We have religious extremism, racism and brutal violence from the Islamic Army, Boko Haram and other anarchic groups, which challenge our civilized social norms and shared values.
We have the terrorism of the State of Israel that is waging an unequal war against the Palestinians, while they occupy their territory, depriving them of their state and violating international law.
We have more than 50 million people displaced by wars and violence, 33.3 million in their own countries and some 16.7 million refugees, the highest number since the Second World War (1939-1945).
We have the problem of hunger, disease, poverty and human rights violations that continue to disfigure the human condition.
Will nuclear weapons be able to deter these threats? Not to say, will they serve to solve those problems? Isn't it more likely that in a world of the wealthy and dispossessed there will be a growing proliferation, including non-state terrorist actors?
Scientific evidence shows that even a limited nuclear war, if such a thing were possible, will lead to irreversible climate change and the unprecedented destruction of human life and the ecology that sustains it.
We, the people, have a “responsibility to protect” the world from atomic weapons by prohibiting them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapons Convention and by nullifying all other self-proclaimed “responsibility to protect” applications.
Despite these overwhelming tests, the world still has 16,300 nuclear warheads in the hands of nine countries, but the United States and Russia own 93 percent of the total, and of these 4,000 are in operational position.
The possibility of use by political will, cyber-attack or by accident by a state or a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoon of complacency, decide to recognize.
In times of dwindling resources for development, a whopping 1.7 trillion (trillion) dollars is spent on weapons in general and modernization of nuclear weapons in particular.
In the United States alone, and in flagrant contradiction with the promises of President Barack Obama, the modernization of nuclear weapons will cost 355,000 million dollars in the next 10 years.
A forward-thinking general and two-time president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), warned 50 years ago about the insidious influence of the "military industrial complex" in his country.
That influence, reinforced by an insatiable desire for profit, spread throughout the world, fanning the flames of war, even as the UN and other advocates of peace try to find peaceful solutions in accordance with their Charter.
I am proud that the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead today, has pursued the eradication of nuclear weapons for more than five decades on the basis of the 1955 London Manifesto, signed by Albert Einstein and Lord Bertrand Russell.
Joseph Rotblat, one of the founding fathers of the Pugwash Conference, who left the Manhattan Project as a conscientious objector, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Pugwash in 1995.
Pugwash is but one of the citizens' movements that since 1945 have demanded the abolition of nuclear weapons. Pressure from civil society was what finally made possible the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other significant achievements towards the total ban on this weapon.
The world has already achieved the prohibition of two other categories of weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical.
Two non-governmental organizations, ICAN and PAX, painstakingly tracked down the money behind nuclear weapons and revealed in their report "Don't Bank on the Bomb" that as of January 2011, 411 different banks , insurance companies and pension funds invested $ 402 billion in 28 countries in the nuclear weapons industry.
Atomic-armed nations in total spent more than $ 100,000 on their nuclear forces.
I request that you make your own contributions to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. Obama's withered rhetoric in his celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 on a world free of nuclear weapons has little to boast of if civil society does not act.
I have seen the world overcome many obstacles, colonialism, the civil rights movement in America, the end of the hateful apartheid in South Africa, and finally the end of the Cold War.
Nuclear disarmament is also an achievable goal and not a mirage, as the nuclear states would have us believe. The achievement of a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program and the forthcoming Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2015 are opportunities for us to prevent proliferation by eradicating these weapons.
The Inter Press Service (IPS) is to be congratulated on its 50th anniversary. In serving the cause of the developing world, the agency has upheld the important principles of fairness and justice in international relations by advocating for an end to unequal exchange in all its forms.
I am deeply grateful for the award, which honors the organizations I have worked with in a long struggle to rid the world of the most inhumane and destructive weapons ever invented.
This article is part of the speech Jayantha Dhanapala gave when he received the IPS award on November 17.
Edited by Kitty Stapp / Translated by Verónica Firme