(KUNM Airdate: 7/29/05)

The abolition of nuclear weapons is the most important issue of our time. I do not say this lightly. I know how many other important life and death issues there are in our world. I say it because nuclear weapons have the capacity to end all human life on our planet and most other forms of life. This puts them in a class by themselves.

- Disarmament scholar David Kreiger

When the power of the nuclear bomb was unleashed by the United States at the end of World War 2 in 1945, a new challenge to the hope for world peace was unleashed with it. Even while the bombs were being created, and certainly afterwards, this central question has been debated - "How can we prevent their use?" Many have wondered "How can we eliminate them entirely?" insisting that world peace can't be achieved without complete abolition of the weapons. To others, the existence of nuclear weapons has mostly meant security. They believe the deterrent power of these arsenals actually helps keep the peace. It also seems that many hearts and minds live somewhere between the need for some deterrent arsenal and the need to eliminate the world's nuclear stockpiles.

On this edition of Peace Talks, host Carol Boss talks with Dr. Zia Mian, a research staff member and lecturer in the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His research seeks to provide the technical basis for policy initiatives in nuclear arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation - particularly in South Asia. With Dr. Mian, we hope to understand more of the history of the development and proliferation of such weapons, learn about recent trends in both the spread of weapons technology, and on the disarmament front - and work through some of the core issues in the debate.

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(Transcription Courtesy Rogi Riverstone)

Dr. Zia Mian
Princeton University

CAROL BOSS: Would you agree that abolition of nuclear weapons is the most important issue of our times?

DR. ZIA MIAN: I am not sure that I would prioritize it in terms of the "most" important. Certainly, it is the case that the continued existence of nuclear weapons serves to distort the process of making choices about other, pressing issues. Like questions of how countries coexist: any discussion and any progress on that question is distorted by the existence of many thousands of nuclear weapons in the world. It is hard to imagine a prospect of a path to an international community, based upon peaceful coexistence, when a few countries have thousands of nuclear weapons. It just blocks progress in that direction. Similarly, in the case of poverty: how can we talk about a path to ending international poverty, when - because of the existence of nuclear weapons - countries base their notions of national security on the preparations for war, and preparations for the capacity to use violence, through technology, and every, available means to them. So, countries that have nuclear weapons use nuclear weapons. Other countries use whatever weapons they can get access to. Necessarily, there is a flow of resources, in terms of money, as well as human energies, intellect and emotion to those areas, because they are privileged by those states, away from questions of peace and coexistence and development. Those, to me, are the pressing issues. I see nuclear weapons as being a profound obstacle to the process of a collective, human conversation about how we can answer those pressing issues.

CAROL BOSS: In terms of the concept of "nuclear deterrent," it assumes that a nation's possession of nuclear weapons is supposed to deter attacks by other nations, and, thus, prevent war between the nuclear-armed states. This has been the argument for nuclear testing and nuclear armament: that it can help keep peace. You are from Pakistan, and have written and spoken extensively about the nuclear crisis in that region. Perhaps, using Pakistan and India as an example, does nuclear armament provide a nation with security? Is it a successful deterrent?

DR. ZIA MIAN: There's no evidence, whatsoever, from the case of the history between India and Pakistan, that nuclear weapons offer any kind of so-called, "deterrent," or any kind of stability, or reduce the likelihood of war, or even prevent a state from being defeated if war begins. India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons in May of 1998. A year later, Pakistan sent troops, in disguise, into the Indian part of Kashmir. We had a war between two, nuclear-armed states. Both countries threatened to use nuclear weapons against each other. Yet, they kept fighting. Their nuclear weapons were not enough to stop them going to war; they were not enough to stop them fighting the war; they were not enough to stop them threatening to use nuclear weapons against each other. The war was eventually resolved when the Prime Minister of Pakistan came to the United States and said, "Look, I've got myself into a situation I can't get out of." It was diplomacy that finally settled that, rather than either country having nuclear weapons, or the United States, weighing in with its nuclear weapons. That is an important lesson to learn.

Carol Boss

Dr. Zia Mian

The second lesson that we have all learned, since India and Pakistan had their nuclear tests, is about the old argument that, if they had nuclear weapons, they would not need huge armies and conventional weapons, and that, therefore, they could reduce military spending because war was going to be deterred. Military expenditure has gone up massively. In one year, India increased its military spending by more than the total military budget of Pakistan. The next year, it did it again. So, what did Pakistan do? It further pushed its people into poverty, further took money away from development, poured it into its military budget, and tested more ballistic missiles. It is hard to point to any security benefit that has come to either country, from having had nuclear weapons.

That was a lesson that was there to be learned from the history of the Cold War. In 1949, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly was broken by the Soviet Union, testing its weapons, we did not see them say, "well, ok, you have nuclear weapons; we have nuclear weapons. We know we cannot fight nuclear war because we have a deterrent. So let's just stop this nonsense." No. They started building more and more nuclear weapons, which means they were not being deterred. They were preparing to fight. They thought, "if we just have enough nuclear weapons, in a war, we can overwhelm the other side." We had this terrible scenario, where the U.S. and the Soviets built many tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

An even more important lesson that we've learned, central to this question of deterrence that you asked, is that -- with the end of the Cold War (which was, now, almost fifteen years ago), and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the end of Communism in the Soviet Union as an ideology that the U.S. sought to confront - the weapons have not gone away. So what is being deterred? There is no enemy anymore. The weapons have become autonomous. They have taken on a life, and logic, of their own: which goes beyond any possible threat of war between the United States and Russia. In a funny sort of way, the lessons we can learn from the experiences of the United States have been repeated in the experiences of Pakistan and India. The nuclear weapons have only brought conflict, more military expenditure, and the prospect that countries - even when they are supposed to be at peace - will keep their nuclear weapons, anyway.

CAROL BOSS: Since the Manhattan Project was done in almost complete secrecy, would it be correct to say that there was very little public debate over whether the U.S. should develop these weapons?

DR. ZIA MIAN: There was no public debate. These things are almost always done in secret. No country has announced, in advance, that it is going to go off and build nuclear weapons, not even to its own people - often, not even to its own government. Congress was not told about the Manhattan Project. In Great Britain, which has been a democracy for a very long time, most parts of the British government did not know that Britain had launched a nuclear weapons program.

The second thing is that, even within those programs, there have been profound doubts among the scientists, themselves, about what they have been doing. During the Manhattan Project, when Germany surrendered, there were many scientists who said, "we should stop the project now." The bomb had not been built. The decision-makers in Washington -basically, it was the President, since Congress did not know about it - said, "no, we're going to do it anyway." The scientists actually wrote a petition, which they sent to the President, asking him not to finish the Project. But it went nowhere.

The third thing - and that's, perhaps, the most important part, that has been buried in history for a very long time - is that, once nuclear weapons come in to public scrutiny, in every country, people are encouraged to think about them in terms of deterrence and national security. Whereas, what you actually see underneath and behind the veil is a debate that is very moral, couched in terms of "right and wrong." The clearest example of this is that, in 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its nuclear weapons, the U.S. was thinking of making a hydrogen bomb. They asked some of the same scientists, who had built the atomic bomb, lead by Robert Oppenheimer, to set up a committee to ask the question, "Should the U.S. build a hydrogen bomb:" could it, and should it? They said, "Yes we can build a hydrogen bomb. But we should not, because it is a weapon of genocide." It is not common to find scientists, using language like this. The report they wrote was declassified and we know what they said. They recommended that the U.S. not build nuclear weapons. This is the highest, scientific advice that the U.S. asked for, and was given, about building hydrogen bombs. Having asked for their opinion; having received their opinion, which was clearly a moral one - not a scientific one - the U.S. government went ahead and built hydrogen bombs, and built them by the tens of thousands. Yet, the public was never told that this was the advice the government had been given about nuclear weapons, that this is what the scientists thought about it. If they had, they might have gotten a different, public response.

So, part of it, unfortunately, is that, not only is the decision-making done in secret, but what's presented as the basis for the decision-making, that these are the terms in which debate can be had, are also picked by governments, to take out many of the things that we now know were there. U.S. policy-makers lied to the public to justify their use of nuclear weapons, when it was clear that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not widely welcomed by people. U.S. officials started to write articles and give lectures in which they said, "Oh, a million America soldiers would have died. And so, we saved all those lives by destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Now, the historical documents that were actually there, on the desk of the President and the desks of the generals, have been declassified. We know what the estimates were, of what the troop casualties would have been. And they do not come anywhere close to a million. They do not even come close to hundreds of thousands. They knew what would happen, if there were an invasion. And yet, they lied afterwards, to make it look as if, "we saved a greater loss of life by doing this." I think it was deliberate deception.

CAROL BOSS: So, would you advocate, then, for broader education, because you are talking about movements of people to make a change? That is not exactly going to happen, unless people are educated about what you were just talking about.

DR. ZIA MIAN: There was a survey, done recently, about public opinion on nuclear weapons of mass destruction, by the University of Maryland. They surveyed people and asked them, "How many nuclear weapons do you think the United States has?" Now, the fact of the matter is the United States has more than ten thousand nuclear weapons, of which more than two thousand are on alert, and ready to be launched within fifteen minutes of an order from the President - more than two thousand. The overwhelming number of Americans, asked in this poll, "how many weapons do you think we have," said, "two hundred." Two hundred, as opposed to ten thousand! That shows the level of the gap between the government has, and what people think their government has. The second part they asked, without telling them, is, "how many nuclear weapons do you think we should have?" The overwhelming response was, "one hundred." That tells you something. People may not know, but their hearts are in the right place. They may think we have two hundred, but they think that is a hundred too many. Once they start to appreciate the fact that we have ten and a half thousand nuclear weapons, then, we get to the question of, "how many do you think we should have?" If we cannot have a free and informed debate about nuclear weapons, in the United States, how can we expect to have it anywhere else? And, if it doesn't happen anywhere else, how can we expect them to ever give up nuclear weapons?



ESSAY: The Taste of Grass by Dr. Zia Mian

BOOK: Out of the Nuclear Shadow - Co-edited by Dr. Zia Mian

ESSAY: The Future of Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Another point of view by William Conrad from Air and Space Power Chronicles

WEBSITE: International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation

WEBSITE: Center for Defense Information

WEBSITE: Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security