When the first atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it could hardly have been imagined that nearly sixty years later 34,145 nuclear weapons would be in existence. In a long career as a parliamentarian, diplomat, and educator, I have come to the conclusion that the abolition of nuclear weapons is the indispensable condition for peace in the twenty-first century. Yet progress toward that goal has been halted.
In May a conference of the 188 signatory nations to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will be held in New York City to put a spotlight on this problem. A huge march is planned for May 1. Advocates of nonproliferation will once again try to draw attention to the immorality and illegality of such weapons. But will the eight nations that posses nuclear weapons--the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel--actually take steps toward eliminating their arsenals?
The prognosis is not good. The preparatory meetings for the May conference ended in failure, with nonnuclear nations objecting to the intransigence of the nuclear-weapons states, noting how a world of nuclear haves and have-nots is becoming a permanent feature of the global landscape. The United States insists that the problem is not with those who possess nuclear weapons, but with states, such as Iran and other nations, trying to acquire them. To which Brazil responded: "One cannot worship at the altar of nuclear weapons and raise heresy charges against those who want to join the sect." Faced with this stalemate, the NPT is eroding, and an expansion of the number of states with nuclear weapons, a fear which produced the NPT in 1970, is looming once more.
Any discussion of the elimination of nuclear weapons inevitably raises questions of the feasibility of such action. How is an architecture of security to be built without nuclear weapons? How can states be prevented from cheating and how can such weapons be kept out of the hands of terrorists? A wide range of military, scientific, and diplomatic experts, notably the Canberra Commission …