Tag Archives: nuclearism

Challenging Nuclearism: The Nuclear Ban Treaty Assessed

14 Jul

 

 

On 7 July 2017 122 countries at the UN voted to approve the text of a proposed international treaty entitled ‘Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.’ The treaty is formally open for signature in September, but it only become a binding legal instrument according to its own provisions 90 days after the 50th country deposits with the UN Secretary General its certification that the treaty has been ratified in accordance with their various constitutional processes.

 

In an important sense, it is incredible that it took 72 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to reach this point of setting forth this unconditional prohibition of any use or threat of nuclear weapons [Article 1(e)] within the framework of a multilateral treaty negotiated under UN auspices. The core obligation of states that choose to become parties to the treaty is very sweeping. It prohibits any connection whatsoever with the weaponry by way of possession, deployment, testing, transfer, storage, and production [Article 1(a)].

 

The Nuclear Ban Treaty (NBT) is significant beyond the prohibition. It can and should be interpreted as a frontal rejection of the geopolitical approach to nuclearism, and its contention that the retention and development of nuclear weapons is a proven necessity given the way international society is organized. It is a healthy development that the NBT shows an impatience toward and a distrust of the elaborate geopolitical rationalizations of the nuclear status quo that have ignored the profound objections to nuclearism of many governments and the anti-nuclear views that have long dominated world public opinion. The old reassurances about being committed to nuclear disarmament as soon as an opportune moment arrives increasingly lack credibility as the nuclear weapons states, led by the United States, make huge investments in the modernization and further development of their nuclear arsenals.

 

Despite this sense of achievement, it must be admitted that there is a near fatal weakness, or at best, the gaping hole in this newly cast net of prohibition established via the NBT process. True, 122 governments lends weight to the claim that the international community, by a significant majority has signaled in an obligatory way a repudiation of nuclear weapons for any and all purposes, and formalized their prohibition of any action to the contrary. The enormous fly in this healing ointment arises from the refusal of any of the nine nuclear weapons states to join in the NBT process even to the legitimating extent of participating in the negotiating conference with the opportunity to express their objections and influence the outcome. As well, most of the chief allies of these states that are part of the global security network of states relying directly and indirectly on nuclear weaponry also boycotted the entire process. It is also discouraging to appreciate that several countries in the past that had lobbied against nuclear weapons with great passion such as India, Japan, and China were notably absent, and also opposed the prohibition. This posture of undisguised opposition to this UN sponsored undertaking to delegitimize nuclearism, while reflecting the views of a minority of governments, must be taken extremely seriously. It includes all five permanent members of the Security Council and such important international actors as Germany and Japan.

 

The NATO triangle of France, United Kingdom, and the United States, three of the five veto powers in the Security Council, angered by its inability to prevent the whole NBT venture, went to the extreme of issuing a Joint Statement of denunciation, the tone of which was disclosed by a defiant assertion removing any doubt as to the abiding commitment to a nuclearized world order: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.” The body of the statement contended that global security depended upon maintaining the nuclear status quo, as bolstered by the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 and by the claim that it was “the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.” It is relevant to take note of the geographic limits associated with the claimed peace-maintaining benefits of nuclear weaponry, which ignores the ugly reality that devastating warfare has raged throughout this period outside the feared mutual destruction of the heartlands of geopolitical rivals, a central shared forbearance by the two nuclear superpowers throughout the entire Cold War. During these decades of rivalry, the violent dimensions of geopolitical rivalry were effectively outsourced to the non-Western regions of the world during the Cold War, and subsequently, causing massive suffering and widespread devastation for many vulnerable peoples inhabiting the Global South. Such a conclusion suggests that even if we were to accept the claim on behalf on nuclear weapons as deserving of credit for avoiding a major war, specifically World War III, that ‘achievement’ was accomplished at the cost of millions, probably tens of millions, of civilian lives in non-Western societies. Beyond this, the achievement involved a colossally irresponsible gamble with the human future, and succeeded as much due to good luck as to the rationality attributed to deterrence theory and practice.

 

NBT itself does not itself challenge the Westphalian framework of state-centrism by setting forth a framework of global legality that is issued under the authority of ‘the international community’ or the UN as the authoritative representative of the peoples of the world. Its provisions are carefully formulated as imposing obligation only with respect to ‘State parties,’ that is, governments that have deposited the prescribed ratification and thereby become formal adherents of the treaty. Even Article 4, which hypothetically details how nuclear weapons states should divest themselves of all connections with the weaponry limits its claims to State parties, and offers no guidance whatsoever in the event of suspected or alleged non-compliance. Reliance is placed in Article 5 on a commitment to secure compliance by way of the procedures of ‘national implementation.’

 

The treaty does aspire to gain eventual universality through the adherence of all states over time, but in the interim the obligations imposed are of minimal substantive relevance beyond the agreement of the non-nuclear parties not to accept deployment or other connections with the weaponry. It is for another occasion, but I believe a strong case can be made under present customary international law, emerging global law, and abiding natural law that the prohibitions in the NBT are binding universally independent of whether a state chooses or not to become a party to the treaty.

 

Taking an unnecessary further step to reaffirm statism, and specifically, ‘national sovereignty’ as the foundation of world order, Article 17 gives parties to the NBT a right of withdrawal. All that state parties have to do is give notice, accompanied by a statement of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that have ‘jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.’ The withdrawal will take effect twelve months after the notice and statement are submitted. There is no procedure in the treaty by which the contention of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ can be challenged as unreasonable or made in bad faith. It is an acknowledgement that even for these non-nuclear states, nothing in law or morality or human wellbeing takes precedence over the exercise of sovereign rights. Article 17 is not likely to be invoked in the foreseeable future. This provision reminds us of this strong residual unwillingness to supersede national interests by deference to global and human interests. The withdrawal option is also important because it confirms that national security continues to take precedence over international law, even with respect to genocidal weaponry of mass destruction. As such the obligation undertaken by parties to the NBT are reversible in ways that are not present in multilateral conventions outlawing genocide, apartheid, and torture.

 

Given these shortcomings, is it nevertheless reasonable for nuclear abolitionists to claim a major victory by virtue of tabling such a treaty? Considering that the nuclear weapons states and their allies have all rejected the process and even those within the circle of the intended legal prohibition reserve a right of withdrawal, the NBT is likely to be brushed aside by cynics as mere wishful thinking and by dedicated anti-nuclearists as more of an occasion for hemlock than champagne. The cleavage between the nuclear weapons states and the rest of the world has never been starker, and there are absent any signs on either side of the divide to make the slightest effort to find common ground, and there may be none. As of now, it is a standoff between two forms of asymmetry. The nuclear states enjoy a preponderance of hard power, while the anti-nuclear states have the upper hand when it comes to soft power, including solid roots in ‘substantive democracy,’ ‘global law,’ and ‘natural law.’

 

The hard power solution to nuclearism has essentially been reflexive, that is, relying on nuclearism as shaped by the leading nuclear weapons states. What this has meant in practice is some degree of self-restraint on the battlefield and crisis situations (there is a nuclear taboo without doubt, although it has never been seriously tested), and, above all, a delegitimizing one-sided implementation of the Nonproliferation Treaty regime. This one-sidedness manifests itself in two ways: (1) discriminatory administration of the underlying non-proliferation norm, most unreservedly in the case of Israel; as well, the excessive enforcement of the nonproliferation norm beyond the limits of either the NPT itself or the UN Charter, as with Iraq (2003), and currently by way of threats of military attack against North Korea and Iran. Any such uses of military force would be non-defensive and unlawful unless authorized by a Security Council resolution supported by all five permanent members, and at least four other states, which fortunately remains unlikely. [UN Charter, Article 27(3)] More likely is recourse to unilateral coercion led by the countries that issued the infamous joint declaration denouncing the NBT as was the case for the U.S. and the UK with regard to recourse to the war against Iraq, principally rationalized as a counter-proliferation undertaking, which turned out itself to be a rather crude pretext for mounting an aggressive war, showcasing ‘shock and awe’ tactics.

 

(2) The failure to respect the obligations imposed on the nuclear weapons states to negotiate in good faith an agreement to eliminate these weapons by verified and prudent means, and beyond this to seek agreement on general and complete disarmament. It should have been evident, almost 50 years after the NPT came into force in 1970 that nuclear weapons states have breached their material obligations under the treaty, which were validated by an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1996 that included a unanimous call for the implementation of these Article VI legal commitments. Drawing this conclusion from deeds as well as words, it is evident for all with eyes that want to see, that the nuclear weapons states as a group have opted for deterrence as a permanent security scheme and nonproliferation as its management mechanism.

 

One contribution of the NBT is convey to the world the crucial awareness of these 122 countries as reinforced by global public opinion that the deterrence/NPT approach to global peace and security is neither prudent nor legitimate nor a credible pathway leading over time to the end of nuclearism.

In its place, the NBT offers its own two-step approach—first, an unconditional stigmatizing of the use or threat of nuclear weapons to be followed by a negotiated process seeking nuclear disarmament. Although the NBT is silent about demilitarizing geopolitics and conventional disarmament, it is widely assumed that latter stages of denuclearization would not be implemented unless they involved these broader assaults on the war system. The NBT is also silent about the relevance of nuclear power capabilities, which inevitably entail a weapons option given widely available current technological knowhow. The relevance of nuclear energy technology would have to be addressed at some stage of nuclear disarmament.

 

Having suggested these major shortcomings of treaty coverage and orientation, can we, should we cast aside these limitations, and join in the celebrations and renewed hopes of civil society activists to rid the world of nuclear weapons? My esteemed friend and colleague, David Krieger, who has dedicated his life to keeping the flame of discontent about nuclear weapons burning and serves as the longtime and founding President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, concludes his informed critique of the Joint Statement by NATO leaders, with this heartening thought: “Despite the resistance of the U.S., UK and France, the nuclear ban treaty marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age.” [Krieger, “U.S., UK and France Denounce the Nuclear Ban Treaty”]. I am not at all sure about this, although Krieger’s statement leaves open the haunting uncertainty of how long it might take to move from this ‘beginning’ to the desired ‘end.’ Is it as self-styled ‘nuclear realists’ like to point out, no more than an ultimate goal, which is polite coding for the outright dismissal of nuclear disarmament as ‘utopian’ or ‘unattainable’?

 

We should realize that there have been many past ‘beginnings of the end’ since 1945 that have not led us any closer to the goal of the eliminating the scourge of nuclearism from the face of the earth. It is a long and somewhat arbitrary list, including the immediate horrified reactions of world leaders to the atomic bomb attacks at the end of World War II, and what these attacks suggested about the future of warfare; the massive anti-nuclear civil disobedience campaigns that briefly grabbed mass attention in several nuclear weapons states; tabled disarmament proposals by the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s; the UN General Assembly Resolution 1653 (XVI) that in 1961 declared threat or use of nuclear weapons to be unconditionally unlawful under the UN Charter and viewed any perpetrator as guilty of a crime against humanity; the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that scared many into the momentary realization that it was not tolerable to coexist with nuclear weapons; the International Court of Justice majority opinion in 1996 responding to the General Assembly’s question about the legality of nuclear weapons that limited the possibility of legality of use to the narrow circumstance of responding to imminent threats to the survival of a sovereign state; the apparent proximity to an historic disarmament arrangements agreed to by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986; the extraordinary opening provided by the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which should have been the best possible ‘beginning of the end,’ and yet nothing happened; and finally, Barack Obama’s Prague speech is 2009 (echoing sentiments expressed less dramatically by Jimmy Carter in 1977, early in his presidency) in which he advocated to great acclaim dedicated efforts to achieve toward the elimination of nuclear weapons if not in his lifetime, at least as soon as possible; it was a good enough beginning for a Nobel Peace Prize, but then one more fizzle.

 

Each of these occasions briefly raised the hopes of humanity for a future freed from a threat of nuclear war, and its assured accompanying catastrophe, and yet there was few, if any, signs of progress from each of these beginnings greeted so hopefully toward the ending posited as a goal. Soon disillusionment, denial, and distraction overwhelmed the hopes raised by these earlier initiatives, with the atmosphere of hope in each instance replaced by an aura of nuclear complacency, typified by indifference and denial. It is important to acknowledge that the bureaucratic and ideological structures supporting nuclearism are extremely resilient, and have proved adept at outwaiting the flighty politics of periodic flurries of anti-nuclear activism.

 

And after a lapse of years, yet another new beginning is now being proclaimed. We need to summon and sustain greater energy than in the past if we are to avoid this fate of earlier new beginnings in relation to the NBT. Let this latest beginning start a process that moves steadily toward the end that has been affirmed. We know that the NBT would not itself have moved forward without civil society militancy and perseverance at every stage. The challenge now is to discern and then take the next steps, and not follow the precedents of the past that followed the celebration of a seeming promising beginning with a misplaced reliance on the powers that be to handle the situation, and act accordingly. In the past, the earlier beginnings were soon buried, acute concerns eventually resurfaced, and yet another new beginning was announced with fanfare while the earlier failed beginning were purged from collective memory.

 

 

Here, we can at least thank the infamous Joint Statement for sending a clear signal to civil society and the 122 governments voting their approval of the NBT text that if they are truly serious about ending nuclearism, they will have to carry on the fight, gathering further momentum, and seeking to reach a tipping point where these beginnings of the end gain enough traction to become a genuine political project, and not just another harmless daydream or well-intended empty gesture.

 

As of now the NBT is a treaty text that courteously mandates the end of nuclearism, but to convert this text into an effective regime of control will require the kind of deep commitments, sacrifices, movements, and struggles that eventually achieved the impossible, ending such entrenched evils as slavery, apartheid, and colonialism.

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES: North Korea and Beyond

15 Jun

 

[Prefatory Note: This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, “Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea.” We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill. While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable to me. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.]

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Daniel Berrigan

10 May

Remembering Daniel Berrigan

 

I was privileged to know Daniel Berrigan in the last stages of the Vietnam War, not well, but well enough to appreciate his quality of moral radiance and to admire the spiritual dedication that he exhibited in opposing the Vietnam War, and later nuclearism. I also knew Dan’s brother, Phil, who shared these remarkable qualities, although Phil exuded an earthy embrace of life while Dan seem to keep his distance from quotidian pursuits by living a meditative life as a poet and devoted member of the Jesuit order, as well as being inspirational anti-war activist. In contrast, Phil gave up the priesthood to marry Elizabeth McAlister, herself a former nun and a deeply committed lifelong partner with respect to social and political engagement. Together they established Jonah House (community nonviolence center) in Baltimore that continues to serve the poor and stand for peace and justice in our society and in the world. Despite leaving the Church in a formal sense, Phil never departed from his religious vocation and Christian commitment, to help the poor and struggle against abuses of state power. As I recall when I was in contact with them, because of their parental and community responsibilities, Phil and Liz took turns engaging in the kind of political actions likely to land them in prison, both exhibiting this extraordinary willingness to sacrifice their freedom to exhibit the seriousness and depth of their engagement in the struggle against injustice and evil.

 

Actually, I knew Liz socially before she and Phil were publically together, finding her an astonishingly lively, warmly challenging, and playfully serious personality; Eqbal Ahmed was our close common cherished friend responsible for our initial meetings, and Eqbal and Liz were both Harrisburg defendants being accused of dreaming up the kidnapping caper, which was a fanciful caper that was taken seriously only by our paranoid government security services that had planted an informer in Phil’s prison cell and then proceeded to act as if phantasy was plot. At the same time, it was not so fanciful if international law was taken as seriously as it deserves to be, and the dangers of allowing Henry Kissinger to remain at large were as understood as they ought to be.

 

It is perverse how our government continues to prosecute as criminals those who are its most loyal patriots (for instance, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning) and rewards with the highest offices of the land and the greatest honors those who degrade the nation by rampant militarism responsible for massive suffering in distant lands.

 

My contact with Dan, Phil, and Liz, as well as other Catholic anti-war activists, resulted from my participation in several criminal trials, acting on their behalf as an expert witness. Two trials stand out in my mind—the Harrisburg 7 trial in 1971 held in Harrisburg Pennsylvania of seven defendants, including Phil and Liz (Dan was noted in the government complaint as an unindicted co-conspirator); and the Plowshares 8 case in the early 1980s that resulted from an action damaging the nose cones of the Mark 12A missile and pouring blood on documents while trespassing on the General Electric Nuclear Re-entry Division, located at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. My main contribution was to visit Ramsey Clark in his Washington office, shortly after he had resigned at Attorney General, and persuade him to represent the Harrisburg defendants, which he did in an effective and deeply committed manner that changed him forever.

 

I also testified in both trials. My line of testimony was along two major lines: first, that it was reasonable to believe that the conduct of the Vietnam War and the development of nuclear weapons were contrary to international law; and secondly, since the Nuremberg Judgment against surviving Nazi leaders after World War II it was reasonable for individuals to believe that they had a right, and possibly, a duty, to act nonviolently in an effort to oppose internationally unlawful behavior on the part of the government.

 

It was apparent to me that the motivation for the actions undertaken by the Berrigans derived from their profound devotion to pre-Constantine Christian ethics, and was coupled with an ambivalence toward institutionalized Christianity. At the same time I felt that both Dan and Phil, in their separate styles, welcomed the legal reinforcement that my testimony attempted to provide. It overcame the widely voiced liberal objection that such disruptive behavior as burning draft cards or damaging potential nuclear weapons was unacceptable in a democratic society as it claimed the right to take the law into one’s own hands, and thus warranted indictment, prosecution, and punishment, and at best, represented ‘civil disobedience’ in the Thoreau sense of exposing the immorality of the law on the books but at the same time backing the governmental responsibility to uphold the law as it existed.

 

Reliance on international law and what I called ‘the Nuremberg obligation’ offered an objective platform upon which to rest such symbolic challenges to lawlessness on the part of the state. In effect, the defense rested on the necessity of such exceptional acts of obstruction as part of a wider effort to halt this lawlessness in view of the failure of governmental institutions to uphold what they believed the law required with respect to war and peace. In this regard, what the Berrigans did was more radical than civil obedience, contending that the government and political leaders were engaged in criminal activities that needed to be stopped by all possible nonviolent means. In this fundamental sense, what the Berrigans di should not be confused with the challenge to the morality of law mounted by Thoreau. The Nuremberg tradition provides a normative foundation for engaged citizenship, and claims that the sovereign state is itself constrained by law, which if it disobeys in matters of war and peace should politically empower citizens to act as enforcers of this higher law.

 

In a manner similar to whistleblowing, these kinds of anti-war actions undertaken by citizens should be appreciated as a populist check on war making and criminality by the state. We the people should support such defiance with gratitude and celebrate its occurrence as signs of democratic vitality and vigilance. This post-modern supplement to republican constitutionalism, distinguished by its reliance on checks and balances, seems currently more necessary than ever given the failure of Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to agree upon a declaration of war as a prerequisite to lawful war making and even more so, given the regulation of recourse to war that is part of contemporary international law and is the core undertaking of the UN Charter, an international treaty, that by virtue of Article VI of the US Constitution is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ In this respect, what Dan and Phil believed with their whole being was the sacred importance of repudiating aggressive war making and reliance on weapons of mass destruction, and holding the state and its representatives, including in relation to their own country, fully accountable if they fail to uphold and respect obligations under international law. This is their moral, political, and legal legacy that should be reminding all of us that passivity in a constitutional democracy should be condemned as a form of lethal complicity in the nuclear age. That such a message seems ‘radical’ is itself a sign of democratic entropy and fatigue. The degree to which the citizenry of this country has been pacified at the very moment when it desperately needs to be awake and vigilant should alarm us all.

 

In these respects, honoring our remembrance of Daniel Berrigan, including being attentive to his poetry that was an organic dimension of his moral and spiritual witnessing, is both a gift and a challenge. What I find most enduring about the lives of the Berrigan brothers is its call to all of us to act as engaged citizens if we want to save our planet from depravities of war, injustice, and avoidable ecological collapse.

 

By highlighting the significance of Dan’s personal resistance to abuses of state power, I would not want to leave the impression that this signified all that made him special. Even aside from such public contributions, it was apparent to all whom Dan touched in the course of his long life that he was an exceptional human being, transparent in moral and spiritual coherence, mindful in his attentiveness to the suffering and wellbeing of others, a powerful and unforgettably vivid and loving presence, a challenge to our daily complacency. In the end, I will keep remembering Dan and Phil as an inspiration and as a challenge, as well as appreciating Liz for all that she continues to achieve by way of spiritual community.

The Nuclear Challenge: 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2)

19 Aug

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a poem by David Krieger on what happened 70 years ago during those few fateful days in August that forever altered the human condition followed by the joint introduction that we contributed to Geoffrey Darnton’s Nuclear War and International Law, which was just published, and is available for purchase at the usual online outlets and via book store

Poetry is for David a seamless mode of expression that merges his life’s dedication to human wellbeing with his inner reflective consciousness, and bears a special relevance to his central mission of achieving a world without nuclear weapons. In my understanding, David’s poem that follows and others he has written dealing with other aspects of nuclearism enables him to enter what Thomas Merton and James Douglass identify as the domain of the unspeakable, and indeed virtually unimaginable. Most of us need poetry, film, and art to make authentic contact in those private and public situations where prose language and even an enlivened imagination cannot adequately express the extremities of experience. I think of the French film of Alain Resnais, ‘Hiroshima, Mon Amour’ (1959) and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as world class examples, but there are many.

Another form of authentic contact with the unspeakable is by way of pilgrimage to hallowed sites of desecration, and David has made such visits frequently, which often feature contact with hibakusha, survivors of the atomic attacks. As with the Holocaust, public atrocities of this enormity, constitute an inexhaustible occasion for mourning and reflections on the dark mysteries of evil, but unlike the memories associated with the Auschwitz experience, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have permanently and negatively affected the biopolitical contingency of the human species and its earthly habitat.

There is one further preliminary observation. Private atrocities, the death or terminal illness of one’s child or any deeply loved one, also gives rise to inexhaustible cascades of grief that can never be adequately expressed through reasoned narrative and never truly overcome. Such acute private losses because of their negative purity indirectly validate the reality of the absolute in human experience, and for closely related reasons helps us appreciate the extraordinary gravitational pull of the divine and sacred.

The special challenge of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not merely to mourn and remember. It is rather a summons to devote our energies to rid the world of this curse that imperils human destiny for these past 70 years and as far ahead as we can discern. Denuclearization as a process of diminishing in all ways possible the threat posed by this weaponry and treating ‘getting to zero’ as the non-negotiable goal. This process and this goal can become attainable objectives if a sufficient political will is mobilized and becomes attached to a collective ambition to renounce nuclear weapons as an absolute prerequisite of human dignity.]

 

front%2002

 

 

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A SHORT HISTORY LESSON: 1945

 

 

August 6th:

Dropped atomic bomb

On civilians

At Hiroshima.

 

August 8th:

Agreed to hold

War crimes trials

For Nazis.

 

August 9th:

Dropped atomic bomb

On civilians

At Nagasaki.

 

 

David Krieger

***********************************************************

 

 

Foreword to New Edition of Decision of London Nuclear Warfare

Tribunal

 

Richard Falk & David Krieger

 

When the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal was convened in 1985, the Cold War set the tone of international relations. Beyond this, Ronald Reagan was the most anti-Communist and belligerent American leader since the end of World War II. There was every reason to be worried that the risks of nuclear war had become unacceptable from the outlook of political prudence additional to their dubious moral and legal status. In this atmosphere the London Tribunal sought an authoritative assessment of the status of nuclear weapons and warfare under international law with the hope that this might move the political debate toward the embrace of nuclear disarmament.

 

Now 30 years later, the Cold War is over and Barack Obama, the current American leader declared in 2009 his resolve to work toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons. This message of hope and commitment was reinforced at the time by four prominent American political figures with strong realist credentials (Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry) present the case for nuclear disarmament to avoid the further spread of nuclear weaponry. Yet as we reflect upon these issues in 2015 we note that there is not present among the nuclear weapons states the existence of a political will to place nuclear disarmament on the global policy agenda, much less evidence of a willingness by non-nuclear states to exert meaningful pressures.

 

Despite important shifts in conflict patterns, which make it more dangerous than ever that nuclear weapons will get into the hands of non-state political actors that would be inclined to disregard the horrifying consequences of use, there are no serious initiatives proposed by governments or through the United Nations to address this menacing challenge. What we find in 2015, instead of a sense of urgency, is a shared mood of complacency on the part of governments, international institutions, and international public opinion. Without the Cold War, and considering the absence of any use of such a weapon since 1945 at Nagasaki, there is a false sense of security, even as anxieties rise to fever pitch when contemplating the prospect of Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Indeed, the evident present priority of nuclear weapons states is to invest heavily in the modernization and further development of their existing arsenal of nuclear weapons, as well in the pseudo-stability of the nonproliferation regime.

 

And thus, even more so than in 1985, it would seem that it will be up to civil society activism to create the kind of climate of opinion that will force the hand of governmental actors. One step in this direction is to remind the people of the world that from the perspective of international law, nuclear weapons are unlawful, making their threat or use, crimes of utmost magnitude. In this regard, the material gathered in this volume is an invaluable resource for citizen activism on the basis of expecting governments in the 21st century to pursue security within the framework of the global rule of law. The clarity and authoritativeness of the conclusions of the London Tribunal are reinforced by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice rendered in 1996, and especially by the historic dissent of Judge Christopher Weeramantry that is also included in this volume.

 

In 1986 there were some 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Since then, the number has fallen to approximately 16,000. It is a dramatic quantitative drop, but remains far from the only safe number, which is zero. Over 90 percent of the weapons are in the arsenals of the US and Russia, and their negotiations for further reductions have stalled while they engage in military posturing, including nuclear posturing over the conflict in Ukraine. The US and Russia still maintain some 1,800 nuclear weapons between them on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired within moments of an order to do so. Neither country has a commitment to No First Use of its nuclear arsenal, leaving open the threat of a preemptive attack, or other initiating use of the sort sometimes suggested as the best means to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

 

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 under Bush II, a treaty that was designed to limit the number of missile defense deployments in order to discourage defensive-offensive escalation cycles. This US withdrawal from the treaty coupled with the subsequent deployment of missile defense installations near the Russian borders has generated Russian anxiety about a possible US first strike, which increases tensions between the two countries and makes more nervous the fingers on the nuclear buttons.

 

In addition to the US and Russia, seven other countries possess nuclear weapons: the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. All of them have joined the US and Russia in modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Each of these arsenals is a source of nuclear danger, as are those of the US and Russia. Atmospheric scientists found through modelling studies that a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons each on the other side’s cities would put enough soot into the upper stratosphere to block warming sunlight from reaching the Earth, reduce temperatures on the planet to the lowest levels in 1,000 years, shorten growing seasons, cause crop failures and result in nuclear famine that could take two billion lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet. A larger exchange of nuclear weapons between the US and Russia could send the world tumbling into a new ice age, destroy civilization and annihilate the human species and most complex forms of life on the planet.

 

Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates the parties to the NPT to negotiate in good faith on effective measures for a cessation of the nuclear arms race and an early date and for nuclear disarmament. These negotiations have never taken place, despite the unanimous legal support of the Article VI obligations in the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

 

In 2014, one of the smallest countries on the planet, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), took a bold action to enforce the Article VI obligations and the customary international law obligations that derive from them.   The RMI brought lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries in the ICJ, seeking declaratory judgments that they are in breach of their nuclear disarmament obligations and injunctive relief ordering them to commence the required negotiations within one year.   Because only three of the nine nuclear-armed countries accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, only the cases against the UK, Pakistan and India are currently going forward at the ICJ. The other six countries would have had to affirmatively accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ to have their cases go forward and none have chosen to do so.

 

The Marshall Islands also brought a separate lawsuit against the US in US federal court, due to the pivotal position of the US in terms of its leadership on nuclear issues. That case was dismissed by the lower court and is currently being appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The cases are drawing interest throughout the world and currently over ninety civil society organizations, including the World Council of Churches, Greenpeace International and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, have joined a consortium headed by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in support of the RMI’s Nuclear Zero lawsuits (see www.nuclearzero.org).

 

The Marshall Islands acts with great moral authority, as their territory was used as a site of US nuclear testing in the early years of the Nuclear Age. The US conducted 67 nuclear tests in the RMI between 1946 and 1958, with the equivalent explosive power of having tested 1.6 nuclear Hiroshima bombs daily for 12 years. The Marshall Islanders suffered cancers, leukemia, stillbirths, birth defects and other radiation-induced illnesses. Some of their islands still remain uninhabitable, and they have never been adequately compensated for their pain, suffering, premature deaths and the loss of their lands.

 

In addition to the Nuclear Zero lawsuits by the Marshall Islands, one other positive initiative in relation to nuclear weapons is the series of inter-governmental conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons that have taken place in recent years in Oslo, Nayarit (Mexico), and Vienna. At the Vienna conference in December 2014, the Austrian government made an Austrian Pledge to work to close the legal gap to achieve the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Since then, over 100 other states have joined Austria in taking this pledge, now known as the Humanitarian Pledge. The hope is that one or more of these countries will convene a meeting of states to initiate a Nuclear Ban Treaty, similar to the Ottawa Conference that was convened to create a Landmine Ban Treaty. This can be done with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed countries.

 

This year (2015) marks the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The survivors of those bombings, the hibakusha, have been outspoken in their calls to abolish nuclear weapons so that their past does not become someone else’s future. Every year, every day, that this advice is not heeded, increases the danger to the human future. This is a legal issue, as this book makes clear, but it is also a moral issue, a security issue and, ultimately, a spiritual issue. Humankind must step back from the nuclear abyss now, before it is too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir Sketch: Championing Lost Causes

27 Nov

 

 

By chance I was reading César Vallejo’s poem, “Black Stone on a White Stone,” in a translation by Geoffrey Brock, and was struck by the opening stanza:

                  I’ll die in Paris in the pouring rain

                  a day I have a memory of already.

                  I’ll die in Paris—I won’t try to run—

                  a Thursday perhaps, in Autumn, like today.

Without being literal, I was reminded that I could appraise my death while alive, and not leave a final reckoning to some solemn memorial event in which speakers are challenged to find humorous anecdotes to lighten the occasion, otherwise uttering honorific platitudes quite unrelated to the experiential core of my being.

 

I had been thinking quite a bit recently about ‘lost causes.’ Recently I gave a lecture at Columbia University on this theme, inspired by Edward Said’s seminal late essay “On Lost Causes” (1997) in which he ties together the ‘nobility of failure’ as portrayed in literature with his own unswerving dedication to the Palestinian struggle for a just peace. On that occasion, I was also stimulated by the approach taken, perverse in some ways, to this theme by Slavoj Žižek (In Defense of Lost Causes, 2009), especially his insistence that the best we humans can hope for is to choose the right kind of failure, and not be discouraged by apparent defeat or the distortions in practice of worthy goals. His paraphrase of Samuel Beckett’s electrifying guidelines seems relevant to my own wildly utopian dreams for a just world: “..after one fails, one can go on and fail better, while indifference drowns us deeper and deeper in the morass of imbecilic Being.” (p.7) Finally, Camus’ notorious imagining of Sisyphus as “happy” strikes a different note, that acceptance of futility is a kind of illumination as to the nature of life’s ceaseless struggle for a redemptive meaning that can only end in frustration. The final words of The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) tell us something about Camus’ understanding of life well lived as being nothing more or less than a process that continues, punctuated by the rhythm of defeat: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Whether a life has, or should have, meaning beyond this purely behavioral matter of continuation and persistence, seems a personal matter for Camus, but not for me or for most religions.

 

Camus seems to be making a less ambitious claim than either Said or Žižek who are talking not just about futility as the generic character of human experience, but about engagement in the pursuit of what might be called the public spiritual good, a purposive journey or pilgrimage that imagines as realizable a just peace on earth. This understanding has led me to propose a political identity that I label ‘citizen pilgrim,’ the quest for a desired end as defining our public life experience as an active participant in the ‘not yet’ character of an unknown future. Of course, the thirst for immortality or life after death is the ultimate lost cause.

 

Although stimulated by these kinds of reflections on the human condition, I make no claim to situate myself on such grand pedestals of celebrity. It is rather an exercise in self-perception from the perspective of a whole life that cannot be definitively apprehended until after death: A sort of embrace of the impossible. Because not yet being dead, there may yet be redefining moments that would call for reassessment. In this respect, we remain inherently mysterious to ourselves, as well as to others. Yet if we wait for the drama of life to end we have clearly waited too long. Our only impossible possibility is to contemplate our death as if it has happened already, a futuristic memoir, although if written at an advanced age, is only trivially futuristic as most of what stirs the heart and soul has already happened or, if fortunate as in my case, is happening.

 

If I try to capture some sort of provisional essence in relation to public life I am struck by the early prosaic attraction of lost causes. I could say, self-critically, that only lost causes have ever held my interest and attracted me deeply. As a child living in New York City, I chose mindlessly to give allegiance to the Brooklyn Dodgers (before they became a success story, and long before they took their show to the lush confines of Hollywood) and spurned the New York Yankees, perpetual winners and even the rather boring New York Giants, geographically more natural as I was living in Manhattan. Yet even while still a wavering and sullen adolescent neither pinstripes nor golf had any allure for me. At the same time, I was instructed by the misfortunes of my father. After divorced by my mother he pursued unattainable movie stars and others achieving warm friendships but never the enduring intimacy that he was seeking. Living through his disappointments as a child helped me avoid a private life of lost causes, although not entirely.

 

Later, when some sort of deferred adulthood arrived, I finally began to think, feel, and act politically. First, I had to shake off the influence of my father’s confusing blend of a loving nature with hardhearted conservative politics: empathy and tenderness at home combined with an abstract love of country and state that affirmed militarism and belligerence internationally and cruelty and reactionary politics domestically, truly, an ethos of winners accompanied by his mild forms of racism and patriarchy, even homophobia, but fortunately contradicted by a non-judgmental acceptance of the other in concrete circumstances. Then Cold War liberalism came into my life. It was ‘the group think’ of academic life during my maturing years in the 1950s and 1960s, believing in the moral superiority of our capitalist and individualist side while favoring a more cooperative world order provided the United States did the things it needed to do to hold onto its advantages of wealth and power. While realizing the limits and shortcomings of the liberal mentality I never felt comfortable with radical alternatives, especially if institutionally and ideologically defined. Hence, political loneliness.

 

My first political encounter with a lost cause was Vietnam. I became opposed to the war on a prudential basis that drew upon the kind of consensus realism that was the required 101 thinking that prevails among university faculties, especially on elite campuses. Later, by way of friends and afraid to seem afraid, I went to North Vietnam, and saw the war differently, that is, from the perspective of the victims and the relative purity of a peasant society. I saw my country, the United States, as the main global bully, killing and devastating at a distance remote from its own society (although subjecting young American combatants willingly and unwillingly to service in an immoral and strategically perplexing war). Yet underneath this transformed outlook, I remained enough of a realist toady to presuppose that the side with hard power superiority would win in the end, that in effect I was sadly championing a lost cause. (I remember Lyndon Johnson bombastic dismissal of North Vietnam as ‘a tenth-rate Asian power’ as hubris, yet not inaccurate according to battlefield metrics). I was unabashed in declaring my commitment to Vietnamese self-determination, but I expected that eventually the suffering and destruction would be too much to bear for the Vietnamese, and they would submit to Washington’s will. Instead, I overlooked the historically positive side of American impatience, the unwillingness to stay the dumb course, and so it turned out that it was America that was unwilling to endure further suffering and loss, although statistically it was losing far less than the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese advantage was their perseverance and a recognition that what was at stake for them was almost an absolute as compared with the United States for whom it was always a matter of calculating the balance between gains and losses.

 

When the Vietnamese finally gained victory, I was pleased by the outcome of the war, and even briefly believed that the anti-colonial tidal waves sweeping across the world were going to reshape the future in desirable ways. At the same time, with a less active engagement I was committed to the anti-apartheid struggle, having visited South Africa in 1968 as an official observer at a major political trial of the leading resistance figures in the de facto colonized country, then called South West Africa, renamed Namibia after political independence. I had earlier worked at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for most of a year on behalf of Ethiopia and Liberia in a case that was brought to establish that South Africa’s administrative role in South West Africa was incompatible with the extension of apartheid racism. South Africa’s racist claims were astonishingly supported by the decision, and this made me convinced that law and lawyers could not be trusted, and that there would be no liberation from apartheid without the torments of a long and bloody struggle. It never dawned on me or those in South Africa with whom I discussed these issues endlessly that there might emerge a relatively peaceful path to majoritarian democracy and multi-racial constitutionalism. As with Vietnam, the relatively benign outcome seemed a kind of political miracle, and as such, did not shake my belief that I was hopelessly destined to be a lifelong champion of lost causes. Yet it also made me realize that victorious outcomes may somehow control the end game of lost causes. In this respect, the lostness of lost causes is always in doubt, not rationally so much as existentially, and that makes all the difference between psychology and history. It also vindicates devoting energy to just causes, whether they seem lost or not.

 

In recent years my main public involvement has been with the Palestinian struggle for rights under international law, for peace and justice. This struggle increasingly has the aspect of being a classic lost cause, given the power disparities, Israeli land grabbing, and the Zionist ambition as embodied in Israel’s current leadership to control all or most of historic Palestine. And yet, a brief review of the outcome of international conflicts in the period since the end of World War II suggests that the side that usually wins in the end takes control of commanding heights of law, morality, and historical destiny, not the side that dominates the battlefield or is more adept at deploying the instruments of violence. Like Vietnam, from the perspective of ‘war’ the Israel-Palestine encounter has all the ugly elements of one-sidedness. The violent encounters are more accurately grasped as ‘massacres,’ ‘horror shows,’ or ‘atrocities’ than as warfare. From my after death vantage point, I will not waver in support for the Palestinian struggle, yet I lack the present capacity to depict a plausible victory scenario, hence it is an engagement with a lost cause coupled with the proviso that we never know for sure.

 

Recently, after a talk on Palestine in Dunedin, New Zealand a person in the audience posed a challenging question: “shouldn’t you distinguish between ‘a really lost cause’ and ‘a lost cause.’ At the time I agreed that such a distinction would be useful as hope is an essential element in political engagement for most people, and to give finality to lostness would annihilate hope. Yet later I wondered about whether I made this concession thoughtlessly, which amounted to the admission that really lost causes should be denigrated, and probably abandoned, as pure Chekhovian nostalgia. I thought about PIranadello’s plays celebrating fantasy at the expense of reality (e.g. ‘So It Is (If You Think So),’ 1917), and recalled my spirited friends devoted to the empowerment of indigenous peoples as in the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement. Such an engagement seems clearly to qualify as a really lost cause, and yet, the expression of the vision is itself an intrinsic good, ennobling, and liberating in precisely Pirandello’s sense, and humanly preferable to the denial of injustice as in the uncritical celebration of Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. Victories of the moral and spiritual imagination may be more valuable and redemptive in our lives even if their political embodiment seems forever beyond reclaiming.

 

For much of my professional life I have been devoted to the lost cause of eliminating nuclear weapons. At times, this lost cause has seemed as though it might not be lost, at other times it seems truly lost. Since we cannot know the future, our present assessments are unavoidably provisional, and it remains a moral imperative for me to remain engaged in the struggle for their elimination.

 

This dialogue with myself continues. Edward Said makes clear that when shifting gears from culture to politics, it is important to act responsibly in the latter settings of actual struggle where lives are at stake and suffering is real. He indicated that he was thinking of his own identification with the Palestinian struggle, which was radically different for this reason in his mind from a deep appreciation of the ethos that guided Cervantes to craft his great vision of the lost cause of medieval gallantry. I feel the same way, although less centered, embracing anti-nuclearism at the same time as affirming solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

 

Toward the end of the Vallejo poem these lines complete this arc of thought:

                  I see myself, as never before, alone

 

                  César Vallejo is dead. Everyone hit him,

                  though he is not doing them the slightest harm

 

I identify with such a self-image, but only politically, not personally where I am the fulfilled recipient of various forms of sustaining love. And I am not yet brave enough to say (and mean) ‘Richard Falk is dead.’ Yet to contemplate death without the metaphysical painkillers of an imagined afterlife is to be finally alone. In a sense learning to die is equivalent to learning to live alone, and takes courage and fortitude.