There Is No Such Thing as A Limited Nuclear War

Viewpoint by Dr Mohamed ElBaradei

Following is the text of comments by Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General Emeritus, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize 2005, at the opening of the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on June 20, 2022.

VIENNA (IDN) — It is an honour to take part in this the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. I would like to thank the Austrian government for taking the initiative to organize it.

The grim and transformational impact of nuclear weapons was clear and immediate; J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, remarked after the first bomb was successfully detonated that “we knew the world would not be the same” adding that it brought to mind words from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita “now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.

And destroyers of the world nuclear weapons certainly became! Albert Einstein famously stated that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Our accumulated knowledge since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than seven decades ago, only confirms and magnifies the horrifying impact of nuclear weapons on us and our planet. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “nuclear weapons are the most terrifying weapon ever invented. They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time. They threaten irreversible harm to the environment and to future generations. Indeed, they threaten the very survival of humanity”.  

For those who believe that it is possible to have a limited nuclear war, President Obama had the answer: “one nuclear weapon exploded in one city … no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences may be… ultimately for our survival”. These are words we have to weigh very carefully when we hear now the loose talk and reckless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons in whatever context or scenario.

Unfortunately, and sadly this kind of talk has shifted the possible use of nuclear weapons from an unthinkable nightmare to a terrifying prospect. If anything, it puts an added responsibility on all of us who believe in the absolute necessity of eliminating these weapons, to exert every effort in spreading information and raising awareness on the horror of these weapons and their impact which “could dwarf any catastrophe that has befallen man in his more than million years on earth” in the words of former US secretary of defence Robert McNamara in 1967.

And for those who believe that the nuclear risk can be contained while these weapons exist, again Robert McNamara was emphatic later in life: “the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations”. The conclusion therefore is clear: “the only way to eliminate the risk is to eliminate nuclear weapons”.

The nuclear risk has loomed on more than one occasion in the past. Former US Secretary of defence Bill Perry in 2011 mentioned three false alarms he knows of, in which Soviet missiles were thought to be screaming towards the US. He stated that “To this day I believe that we avoided nuclear catastrophe as much by good luck as by good management”.

And for all those who believe that amassing more weapons is the answer or that nuclear disarmament is too risky, listen to President Kennedy’s 1961 address to the UN general assembly: “In a spiralling arms race, a nation’s security may well be shrinking even as its arms increase” and what is more is that “the risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race.”  

In light of all this I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us to urgently revisit the doctrine of “Mutual Assured Destruction”. This is not an abstract doctrine but one that is intimately linked to our fate and the fate of our planet. It is a doctrine aptly described in 1988 by India’s prime minister Rajiv Gandhi as the “ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism, holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few.”

The argument that nuclear weapons kept the peace does not really withstand scrutiny. It is a peace based on the colonial premise that “some are more equal than others”, “my security is more important than yours”, and on “do as I say not as I do.” It is not only unjust but more importantly unsustainable. That some countries possess them, or are protected by them within alliances, while asking others not to have them, is an oxymoron in the long term.

The prohibition of the possession of nuclear weapons and their elimination from the face of the Earth is a moral duty, before being a solemn legal obligation. I earnestly hope that the nuclear-armed states, all nine of them, would initiate without further delay and pre-conditions the necessary negotiations and concurrently adopt the necessary measures that would lay the groundwork for the elimination of nuclear weapons forever. Humanity deserves no less.  

The time has come to cultivate a new mindset where Peace and Security are approached in theory and in practice as an inclusive and collective endeavor based on equity, trust, dialogue and solidarity. Nuclear weapons are an existential threat anywhere and everywhere.  The writing has been on the wall for over seventy years, but the “font” now is getting larger than ever before. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 June 2022]

* Dr ElBaradei was Director-General of the IAEA from 1997 to 2009 and directed the Agency’s nuclear verification activities globally including in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria. He is the author of, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.

Photo: Dr ElBaradei. Credit: Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top