Mattern, Douglas, The Humanist
Abandoning the Road of War for the Road to Peace
Humanity departed the twentieth century with a bright history of scientific and social progress, but also with a dark legacy of mass violence, war, and environmental destruction. The latter portends disaster if not altered in the immediate years ahead.
In the wars of the twentieth century about 120 million people were slaughtered. At the beginning of the century 90 percent of those war casualties were soldiers. As the century ended over 90 percent of war casualties were civilians.
Modern war is a direct assault on the innocents. We witness this today in some thirty ethnic and religious conflicts going on in the world. Many of these have been raging for decades with staggering casualties, including millions of refugees.
Technology has helped bring us to the very brink of total ruin through the creation of nuclear weapons. Albert Einstein warned, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." Einstein implored that a new way of thinking is mandatory if civilization is to survive and progress. Yet we still haven't learned.
The year 2000 began with over 30,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world. The Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., reports the United States has about 6,500 strategic nuclear warheads and Russia 7,000. About 3,000 Russian and 2,500 U.S. warheads are on "hair-trigger" alert, ready to fire in a few minutes' notice.
The danger is not only an intentional nuclear war but also an accidental one. The last "known" close call came in November 1995 when the monitors of the Russian Strategic Rocket Force at the Olenegorsk early warning radar site registered the launch of a U.S.-Norwegian research missile probe of the upper atmosphere. To the Russians the missile's trajectory looked like a U.S. Trident that carries multiple nuclear warheads. This set off the alarms of the Russian nuclear weapons command with notification reaching President Boris Yeltsin, who reportedly activated his "nuclear keys" for the first time in his tenure. The fate of the United States--and perhaps the world--hung on the decision of Yeltsin, just as it did on Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy during those fateful days in October 1962.
How many other times we have come to the brink of nuclear destruction we do not know, but one thing is certain: if we continue to accept the presence of nuclear weapons and rely on luck or the rational decision of national leaders, we guarantee the ultimate human disaster.
Even if the START II Treaty nuclear reductions get back on track and completed by 2003, the world's nuclear arsenal will still contain the destructive power of about 300,000 Hiroshima bombs. Moreover, France has 450 nuclear weapons, China 400, England 260, and estimates for Israel are more than 100. India and Pakistan recently gained membership in the nuclear club and other countries are eager to join.
In the first months of this new century there is a great danger of igniting a new arms race. The United States has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and threatened to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by going ahead with a limited version of the Star Wars anti-missile program. In January Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian stated that such a system "will trigger a new arms race."
Meanwhile, U.S. military spending remains astronomical. The Center for Defense Information reports that U.S. military spending increased $20 billion in 1999 and is scheduled to soar by $133 billion over the next six years. Counting for inflation, U.S. military spending is equal to spending at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Add expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into countries that border Russia and you have the inevitable response: Russia threatening to counter these moves by increasing the number of its nuclear-carrying missiles and thus igniting Cold War II. …