My Turn: The path to a world without nukes

For the Monitor
Saturday, June 17, 2017

‘Patriotism” (love of country) is a word which too often and too easily takes on the overtones of a narrow-minded and bellicose nationalism.

Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and anti-war activist, once defined it (not long after World War I) as “the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons” – though not always trivial: He, and other non-absolute pacifists (including Albert Einstein), did support the war against Hitler.

But the end of World War II brought a game changer – the bomb. If our, or anyone’s, beloved country is to survive in this nuclear age, all country lovers must recognize the common threat to all. And that requires not more nuclear weapons but their abolition – and ultimately, as Russell and others argued, the abolition of war itself.

Russell claimed, along with Einstein, that this international existential threat could be met only by an international government such as a reformed United Nations with more democratic representation and sufficient power to enforce its laws – applicable to all, even the Big Boys – restricting national armaments and promoting and keeping the peace. Pie in the sky?

The end of the Cold War was an astonishing achievement. And for a decade, I thought we were finally on the road to international disarmament per the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its Article 6 legally binds the nuclear parties to an “early end” to the nuclear arms race – and all parties (now 191) to a treaty on total disarmament “under strict and effective international control.” The surviving super power dropped the ball, and NATO and U.S. expansion was soon followed by a renewed Cold War, threatening to become hot at any minute, with the United States and the other of the “big five” deaf to international law.

But happily, last December the vast majority of the world’s would-be nuclear cannon fodder in the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution (despite nuclear state opposition) to begin negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit nukes. In March, a first draft was produced by 130 nations (although boycotted by the nuke states). The media has paid little attention, but this bold U.N. activity and today’s march in New York City may change this.

Let’s hope.

(Ray Perkins Jr. of Concord is professor of philosophy emeritus at Plymouth State University and vice chairman of the Bertrand Russell Society board of directors.)