In the light of the recent events regarding the currently most discussed whistleblower Edward Snowden, it is impossible not think about the importance of having a moral compass that guides you and motivates you for bold actions. Having realized that he was "part of something that was doing far more harm than good," Edward Snowden decided to disclose NSA unethical activities. Driven by the desire to serve his people and humanity Snowden urges, 'You can't wait around for someone else to act.' Snowden’s courage and his willingness to sacrifice his comfortable life and take a bold risk to change the system that works against humanity rather than for it deserves admiration. And it is this what global leaders lack in regards to nuclear weapon discourse.
If world leaders really care about the global community, the common good, the future generations, why have they failed to avoid emergence of new nuclear states and to prevent states from obtaining, possessing, and developing nuclear weapons (not to mention to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether)? The answer is unfortunately that we are stuck at the stage when we do not trust each other. We do not believe that we are able to reach an agreement on important issues through negotiations, and we still need something frightening (like military arsenal) to back up our position and our intentions.
On June 19 in Berlin, American President Barack Obama reminded us of the words of John F. Kennedy asking to “look to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.” These words “call upon us to care more about things than just our own self-comfort, about our own city, about our own country. They demand that we embrace the common endeavor of all humanity.”
Obama urged to pursue the security of a world without nuclear weapons because “we may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” He also mentioned that American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads had been cut to their lowest levels since the 1950s but pretermitted that new, more precise, and more sophisticated nuclear weapons are being developed. We have heard enough loud words about good intentions of our leaders to abolish nuclear weapons. What we need to solve this problem is that somebody decides to make the first step and set an example. Success is gained by resolving on acting not speaking. During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia demonstrated the whole world that the power rests on nuclear arsenal, and as long they procrastinate and put off total nuclear disarmament they continue sending this message and more states will want to become nuclear. The USA and Russia opened the Nuclear Age and it is their responsibility to put it to an end.
Unfortunately, neither the US nor Russia is willing to take a risk and just do it. “We cannot afford to disrupt the balance of the system of strategic deterrence,” Russian President Vladimir Putin replied to Obama’s suggestion to cut US and Russian nuclear arsenals by one third. We still think in terms of deterrence. We are still afraid that if one of us has military predominance, it would use it to its advantage and try to take control over the other. And probably Russian authorities have good grounds for such apprehensions taking into account decisions made by the US unilaterally in the past that affected the global community. We do not trust each other. And we are to blame because we never gave each other a reason to do so.
We still live in the world (created by ourselves) where nuclear weapons equal power. Nuclear weapons guarantee that your voice will be heard and your opinion will be counted. It reveals the injustice, inequality, and weaknesses of the global community. It reveals that some states do not have the same say in global decision making and their opinion is valued less than those of “mighty” states. It reveals that we distrust each other, fearing that those who have military might can dictate their will and impose their rules. It reveals our ignorance, our inability to negotiate and understand each other, our incapability to build amicable, open, trustful relations with each other. We are obsessed with power. That is human nature. But we are not greedy, arrogant, ignorant, and bloodthirsty creatures. We are human beings and we must remind ourselves what it means to be human. It means showing such qualities as kindness, sensitivity, and compassion, among others. I repeatedly use ‘we’ implying people, appealing to everybody, to all people on earth because we are all the same.
For centuries we have been dehumanizing and even demonizing each other, focusing on what differentiates us from one another such as color of the skin, language, culture, religion, way of life, and beliefs rather than what unites us. We have been creating monsters of each other, justifying inequality, injustice, and wars, rather than trying to find common grounds for peaceful coexistence on the planet that has resources sufficient for everyone to have a decent and comfortable life. Those of us who have power have been trying to impose their way of life, their ideals on others, to reduce difference to make it comfortable for them, to make it more understandable, to make it safer. We are afraid of differences. We are scared of those who differ from us and we try to make them more like us instead of trying to understand them. If we put aside all external attributes that frighten us off, we will be able to see that we are not that different after all. All people want and pursue the same things: peace and security, a dignified life, and the right to be different. Let us start here. Let us be different and not be afraid of it, but appreciate and celebrate the diversity and beauty of life.
Barack Obama’s suggestion to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons was met with skepticism not only by Russian politicians concerned about the shift in strategic balance it may cause, but also by American officials like Senator Sessions who said that it is a dangerous policy and it is “driven by an ideological vision of the president, of the world without nuclear weapons,” stressing that the security of America and its allies depends on strong deterrence that includes maintaining a nuclear arsenal. In other words, the Senator believes that it is impossible to have a secure world without nuclear weapons. Maybe he is right. Maybe it is an ideological vision and even an idealistic one especially for those who were born in the Nuclear Age and who do not know what it is like to live without fear of nuclear holocaust. But everything begins with an idea and faith. Even the invention of an A-bomb started with an idea that occurred to a curious mind. The world free of this “miraculous inventiveness” is a dream of billions, a dream that we hope will come true. We actively use our minds to solve problems, create new inventions, and build an environment in which we feel safe and comfortable. We hope that we will also apply our hearts to what we do. We hope that we will stop relying on technologies and begin to trust each other. We hope that we will stop working on technological progress and start working diligently on human relations. We must stop drifting along in the direction heading nowhere but extinction of all life. We need to be bold like Edward Snowden to resist the system that works against our humanity and we need bold leaders to change the course of history.
It would be reasonable to expect a bold initiative from the US government. For the United States exercises its power globally on an unprecedented level. For decades the United States assumes the role of “leader of the free world” to spread and protect democratic values, ideals, and freedoms. However, the past has revealed the hypocrisy of the US benevolent leadership: the undemocratic character of methods used to establish the rule of law and liberal order in the world. America’s intervention in other nations’ affairs is often seen as an attempt to enforce its order and build societies that are compatible with its vision of the world rather than “assist people to work out their own way” as Truman declared in his famous 1947 doctrine. America has shown that it can be aggressive and even violent. It has also demonstrated its inclination to control and set its rules. Such policies and strategies make other states to want to possess nuclear weapons to deter the United States from undue intrusion in their affairs, to protect their way of life, to defend their right to be different. At the same time the continuous reliance of the United States on its nuclear arsenal sends the message that its power and leadership are based on its military might, not common human values and democratic principles it claims to be a faithful advocate of.
We urge the US leader to have the courage to finally take “a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage,” requested by Kissinger, Nunn, Shultz and Perry in 2007. We encourage him to abolish the US nuclear arsenal and thus set an example worthy to admire and follow. We ask him to be strong enough not to be afraid of becoming weak. We ask him to trust his allies who would back up America if required. We encourage him and the rest of the world to see the power in the values shared by all people and not in the weapons. We urge the US President and other global leaders to stop promising and act.
Ekaterina Kuzmina is a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton and an intern at NAPF.