14. Nuclear Disarmament and the Climate Change Movement: Must We Be Competitors?


Wayne Hall (attac-hellas)

This paper was delivered (in edited form) at the 2nd Rhodes Antinuclear Festival
held from September 25-29, 2007

Before embarking on the declared subject of this paper, i.e. the climate change movement and whether we in the anti-nuclear movement must compete with it. I would like to make it clear what my proposal is, in other words the bottom line of what I want to say.

It is that if we do not want to be consigned to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by the climate change movement, which will then in its turn, in a rerun of history staged as farce, fail in the same way that we failed at the end of the 1980s, then the nuclear disarmament movement must return to a Europe-centred politics.

Specifically we must take up again the demands put forward in the Appeal for European Nuclear Disarmament of 28th April 1980 and symbolized by this pretty badge from that time which I show to you again to you to remind you of what we were saying then: “The remedy lies in our hands. We must act together to free the entire territory of Europe, from Poland to Portugal, from nuclear weapons, air and submarine bases, and from all institutions engaged in research into, or manufacture of, nuclear weapons.”

A Europe-centred politics. A Europe-centred proposal. 

I will return to these ideas later.

Is the climate change movement a competitor? 


At the most obvious level competition can be registered in terms of media interest. Media interest in nuclear disarmament these days is small and weak. By contrast climate change is constantly in the media and the activities of the growing climate change movement are correspondingly being given publicity. The Camp for Climate Action that was held last July at Heathrow Airport outside London attracted thousands of participants and gained very extensive media coverage in Britain and Northern Europe. “The CND movement of the 21st century has begun”, said one Indymedia commentator. 

Those of us who are old enough to remember the women’s peace camps of the 1980s at Greenham Common in England, where the cruise missiles targeting Eastern Europe were stationed, will recognize the style of Greenham Common in the style of the Camp for Climate Action. 

This is what anti-nuclear activist Angie Zelter says at the Camp for Climate Action website:
“Preventing further Climate Change is the one issue the whole world can and should unite on. So many of the solutions to our single-issue campaigns are needed to combat climate change. We have to grasp this opportunity to become true compassionate global citizens and put the millennia of war-fighting and exploitation behind us. We are all one on this fragile planet. Let us engage in the power of non-violent civil resistance and create the change we need.” 

If the words “nuclear war” are put in the place of “climate change” this statement could be taken from any one of dozens of press releases of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND, or the Greenham Common women. 

One young participant in the Camp for Climate Action said this: “The most treasured memory I have from last summer was partying in the evening after we did the mass action at Drax. (Drax is a coal-fired power station). Dancing with my tribe knowing that the action was being reported around the world and feeling that our actions were right. We were part of something much bigger, part of a story far more epic than our modern world has ever given us a role in, we were on the edge of history and it was amazing.”

There must have been many of us in the anti-nuclear movement in the early 1980s who similarly felt that we were on the edge of history and that it was amazing. What do we have to tell these young people in the climate change movement? If we have something convincing, something arresting to tell them, something mind-opening, something they don’t already know, perhaps we will be able to work together with the climate change movement, derive strength from it, give strength to it, and most importantly, achieve some gains from such collaboration. . 


A second factor that points in the direction of competition, even antagonism, between the nuclear disarmament movement and the climate change movement is the stance of a section of the climate change movement, the most “respectable” or “realistic” section, in favour of nuclear power. Many of us may remember being impressed a couple of years ago by the radicalism of the statements on climate change of the scientific advisor to the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sir David King, and wondering how it was possible for such a terrible government as Tony Blair’s to have such an impressive scientific advisor. It turns out that Sir David King was and is an advocate of nuclear power, which he represents as the only realistic way to satisfy growing energy demands while meeting global warming targets.

Of course Sir David King’s pro-nuclear stance is not shared by ordinary members of the climate change movement, but when considering the future prospects for ordinary members to impose their will and preferences on the so-called “realist” section of the movement, the experience of the 1980s anti-nuclear movement is an example of what NOT to do and how NOT to behave if one wishes to succeed in defeating the so-called realists. 


In the critique I now wish to make of the 1980s anti-nuclear movement I am going to single out Helen Caldicott, whom I treat as representative. She shared the trajectory of our, or rather my, generation of activists. She became virtually the leader of the anti-nuclear movement in the United States in the 1980s. She has written some very relevant recent books, including “The New Nuclear Danger” and “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer”. These books, particularly the second, contain a wealth of information that make them very suitable present-day resource material. “Nuclear Power is not the Answer” contains a devastating refutation of the notion that nuclear power can be an answer to problems of climate change. 

What Helen Caldicott’s books do not contain is a coherent explanation for the crisis in the nuclear disarmament movement. She acknowledges the problem, admitting that the world has gone backwards since 1987 in Reykjavik when Reagan and Gorbachev appeared to be a hair’s breadth from agreeing to total abolition of the nuclear arsenals of both the USA and the Soviet Union and where it appeared at least possible that nuclear power was a technology without a future. The state of the world at the start of the twenty-first century after eight years of a Democratic administration, even before the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was worse than at the height of Reagan-Gorbachev superpower confrontation of the 80s. Today after another almost eight years of government by the Republicans under George W. Bush we seem to be faced with prospects of unprecedented proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations. 

Helen Caldicott’s analysis is focused on the American political leadership and its actions, alternating between almost uncritical praise of the elder George Bush and a criticism of President Bill Clinton. George H.W. Bush responded to the disintegration of the Soviet Union with a series of unilateral initiatives, elimination of ground-based tactical missile bombs, elimination of tactical nuclear weapons from naval vessels, elimination of all hydrogen bombs from long-range bombers, cancellation of a number of land-based missile programs. All this amounted to de-escalation both as a gesture of goodwill and as a strategic manoeuvre because – as Caldicott quotes Bush saying to one of his aides – Gorbachev needed U.S. cover to get Soviet nuclear weapons out of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan before the Soviet Union collapsed. Clinton by contrast, lacked confidence in his dealings with the military, and avoided engagement with nuclear weapons problems. His first defence secretary Les Aspin had doubts about the relevance of nuclear deterrence in the post-cold war era and initiated a nuclear policy review specifically designed to emphasise the essentially political character of nuclear policy and get the military to understand the enormous dangers of US nuclear strategy. But there was strong opposition by the Pentagon to the Les Aspin policy review. Clinton himself did not want to get involved. In 1994 Aspin resigned and not long afterwards died. Ultimately the Pentagon won. There was no change in American nuclear weapons policy.

It is very easy to praise Bush and criticise Clinton. What about the nuclear disarmament movement? What was it doing, what were WE doing, at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when George Bush was making his praiseworthy unilateral initiatives? Boris Yeltsin, who had enjoyed the support even of the Western extra-parliamentary Left at the time that he was rising politically, was even more committed to Soviet nuclear disarmament than Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. On September 3rd 19911 he proposed to the Russian parliament that the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal should be reduced unilaterally to just five percent of its size. Western leaders were so embarrassed by the radicalism of Yeltsin’s anti-nuclear-weapons proposals that even the French Defence Minister of the time, Pierre Joxe, said that if a great international call for nuclear disarmament arose, France would not stand in its way. The great international call for nuclear disarmament did NOT arise, and Bill Clinton cannot be blamed for that. Not a word was heard from anyone in the anti-nuclear movement at that time, despite the best efforts that some of us were making. 

What was the anti-nuclear movement doing when Les Aspin was carrying out his nuclear policy review, a few years later, without any support from Clinton. Helen Caldicott was obviously following what was going on. Why didn’t she try to mobilize us and call on us to demand implementation of Les Aspin’s proposals? 

Nuclear disarmament essentially disappeared as an issue for the new social movements, as we were called in those days, from the time of the 1987 INF Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe until the resumption of nuclear testing by France in the mid-90s. The European Nuclear Disarmament group (END) had cultivated relations with independent nuclear disarmament groups in Eastern Europe throughout the 80s but after the signing of the INF Treaty, when the nuclear weapons policies of the independent groups were adopted by the official organizations of the Communist controlled World Peace Council also, END made no attempt either to maintain relations with the independent groups or initiate relations with the Soviet-line organizations. After the INF Treaty, END reconstituted itself as the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and nuclear weapons disappeared from its agenda. There was no mention of nuclear weapons at the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly meeting in Ankara in December 1993. Nor was there any mention of nuclear weapons on the nine-point agenda of the first post-Cold War meeting of the different currents of the Western European Left held in Paris in 1993. 


The nineteen-nineties saw the emergence of India and Pakistan as new nuclear weapons states. Helen Caldicott is scathing about both of them. She describes India as a rogue nation. By not signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1996 India closed itself to the international inspections that the world now insists on for North Korea and Iran. India is now a close strategic partner of the United States, which gives it help for its civilian nuclear programme and at the same time allows it to keeps its nuclear arsenal outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pakistan, whose nuclear program was started under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, has become the centre of what Helen Caldicott calls the largest nuclear smuggling ring in history, which supplies non-nuclear states with the technology, equipment and ability they need to make nuclear weapons. The United States has a close alliance with Pakistani President Musharaf but many members of his military belong to Al Qaida and the Taliban. If there were a successful coup against Musharaf these Islamists, as Helen Caldicott points out, could gain access to Pakistani nuclear weapons.

It is fine remembering all this now, but what were the anti-nuclear movements doing in 1996 when the question arose of India and Pakistan’s attitude to treaties such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty? In 1996 India was refusing to sign the CTBT but Pakistan, at that time governed by Benazir Bhutto, was willing to sign, even if India did not. This stance caused her internal problems with her Islamist opposition and was a factor in her fall from power in 1996. Could the anti-nuclear movement and international public opinion have kept Benazir Bhutto in power and got Pakistan into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if we had taken a strong stand then, in 1996, against India’s refusal to sign the CTBT???  We will never know this, because the anti-nuclear movement policy at that time was not to condemn India but to side with India in condemning the United States for its own failure to fulfil its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What was probably the only demonstration in the world in 1996 against India’s refusal to sign CTBT was held in Athens, Greece, at this time. Nine of us from the magazine Nea Ecologia and from the Greek branch of the IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) marched between the Indian and Pakistani embassies, with a police escort of about three hundred, and no media coverage. We were not able to persuade anyone else, including Greenpeace, to join this demonstration.


The “realists” in the anti-nuclear movement of the eighties were the proponents not of unilateral but of multilateral disarmament. Proponents of multilateral nuclear disarmament believed in what they called a “balance of terror”, which they saw as a self-evident commonsense idea according to which the use of nuclear weapons by one nuclear armed state against another state could only be deterred by the other state having nuclear weapons itself and threatening nuclear retaliation. Multilateralists typically favoured serious negotiation rather than unilateral actions outside of the framework of arms control. 

Unilateral nuclear disarmament of Great Britain was an idea that was always present in the movement and on a couple of occasions, in 1960-61 and again in 1983 managed to get itself accepted as policy at Labour Party conferences before being thrown off again by Labour Party leaders Bevan, and then Neil Kinnock. As a person who came into the anti-nuclear movement in the early eighties as a member of a Trotskyist group and an “entrist” my thinking was influenced by Trotskyist views on this subject and in particular by an essay called “Socialism and Nuclear War” by Trotskyist leader Ernest Mandel which was published in New Left Review No. 141 in September/October 1981. Mandel supported unilateral nuclear disarmament of the capitalist states. He supported the slogan of unilateral nuclear disarmament because, as he said, it kept the struggle on the streets and out of the negotiating rooms of the bourgeoisie. Mandel believed that “Soviet nuclear strength affords a measure of protection to the anti-imperialist revolution”. He defended Soviet nuclear weapons possession. It was because of such attitudes that Trotskyist “entrists” were regarded as a foreign body in the anti-nuclear movement by non-aligned activists who subscribed to the slogan that “there are no good and bad nuclear weapons”. The German Greens in particular were dismissive of Trotskyist positions. And the confusion became even greater when, asked what his attitude would be to possession of nuclear weapons by a hypothetical future Socialist France, Mandel answered that he would be opposed to a nuclear-armed Socialist France. Disputes around this subject were grist to the mill of the British Tories, who loved to jibe to supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament of Britain: “How about demanding unilateral nuclear disarmament of Russia!” 

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 naturally provided an impulse for rereading of texts such as “Socialism and Nuclear War” and shed further light on the blank spaces in Mandel’s thinking. One passage that caught my attention was this: “The general public may be fooled by monstrous talk of nuclear wars which will only cost some hundreds of millions (sic) of dead and that “those who have nuclear shelters will survive. Those in power are not duped.” There was a peculiar contradiction here. Subscription to the theory of nuclear deterrence implied Western power centres being deterred, or to use Mandel’s word “duped”, by the nuclear arsenal of the Soviets. If those in power are not duped, what difference would it make to Western behaviour whether the Soviets had or did not have a nuclear arsenal? Military dissidents in the West sometimes declare to the world that nuclear weapons are unusable and useless. If this applies in the West how could something different apply for Russia? In any case did not Mikhail Gorbachev state publicly that he would never push the Soviet Union’s nuclear button even for training exercises? 

The “unilateralist” current in the nuclear disarmament movement had the golden opportunity to demand unilateral nuclear disarmament in 1991, at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, not unilateral nuclear disarmament of Great Britain but unilateral nuclear disarmament of the Soviet Union, in other words what the British Tories throughout the 1980s had jokingly said that the unilateralist nuclear disarmers should demand. In 1991 the Tories under John Major of course made no such demand but neither did any significant section of the anti-nuclear movement. Nobody apart from George H.W. Bush did anything or took any initiative at the time that the Soviet Union fell to pieces. Mandel did nothing except use the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a cue to resume his argument with the Socialist Workers’ Party over whether the Soviet Union had been state capitalist or a degenerated workers’ state.

Mandel’s conception of “the workers’ bomb”, if he were applying pure class criteria, should logically have led him to demand its elimination when it was removed from the control of “the workers” to pass over into the hands of opponents, whether domestic or foreign, of socialism. This, along with “the West’s” conspicuous lack of interest in doing anything really serious (more serious e.g. than George H.W. Bush’s political confidence-building measures for Gorbachev) to secure control of all of the Soviet nuclear arsenal after 1991, provide considerable circumstantial evidence that nuclear weapons do not fit in well with the conventions that have throughout history surrounded the weapons of defeated enemies. 

Nowadays when the notion of the “balance of terror” seems to have lost its hold over people’s minds one never, or at least very rarely, hears the argument that the people of Iraq or Iran or North Korea should attempt to “deter” a nuclear attack by the United States by possessing their own nuclear weapons. And of course even in the case of the Soviet Union it was the existence of the Soviet nuclear arsenal that made it possible for NATO’s war-winning strategy of “limited nuclear war” based on a first strike against Soviet nuclear installations to become politically feasible. Since the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 there has been little possibility of any such “limited nuclear war” scenarios being used as a means, for example, of overthrowing Communism in Cuba, because Cuba, unlike Russia, has no nuclear weapons to serve as the trigger for the war.


Helen Caldicott’s unfavourable contrast between the nuclear disarmament record of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton deserves to be the starting point for some hard thinking about how much basis there is and can be for the traditional anti-nuclear movement tendency to assume an affinity between rejection of nuclear weapons and democratic as opposed to dictatorial or oligarchic politics. 

The unilateral nuclear disarmament of Sweden is much more attributable to the preferences of the Swedish military than it is to the leadership of the Swedish Social Democrats, who wanted Sweden to have nuclear weapons. Olaf Palme is not the person who achieved unilateral nuclear disarmament of Sweden. He is one of the key people who tried to stop unilateral nuclear disarmament of Sweden. Similarly the British anti-nuclear movement had the support of vice-regal and military personages such as Mountbatten and was started by aristocrats such as Philip Noel Baker and Bertrand Russell, upper class men of letters like J.B. Priestley. Admittedly they chose the Labour Party rather than the Tory Party as the would-be vehicle for implementing their anti-nuclear policies but it soon became evident that there was an incompatibility between anti-nuclear politics and the need for winning elections. In other words between nuclear disarmament and democracy.

When Les Aspin (not to mention many other public figures) point out that the functions of nuclear weapons are primarily political, they are making more or less the same point as Mandel. Nuclear weapons serve a ceremonial function, and ceremonial dignity is more needed by people of insecure status such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and democratic political leaders generally than it is by people who possess inherited social status or who have won dictatorial powers through merciless and bloody political struggle. Neither of the opposing dictatorships of the Second World War seem to have experienced the intense drive to develop nuclear weapons that existed in the democratic United States. Stalin is said to have been sceptical of nuclear weapons, which he said were “for frightening people with weak nerves”. Hitler similarly never showed much interest in nuclear weapons. The Nazi nuclear programme evidently conceived nuclear technology more as a potential source of electrical power than political power. Hitler’s problem was always lack of fuel much more than lack of political support. The drive towards nuclear proliferation that has followed the termination of the Cold War only serves to confirm the association between nuclear weapons and democracy. Nowadays it is not only British Tories and American Republicans who use nuclear weapons as a tool for winning elections: the same methodology is applied by Russian President Putin, by the Indians, the Israelis, the Pakistanis, even to some extent the Iranians. Fear of pro-nuclear demagogy from a political opponent also helps to explain the nuclear consensus in France. The Manhattan Project itself was conceived and largely staffed by democrats and Leftists who had despaired of fighting Nazism and fascism with the weapons of popular mobilization and politics. They had the same fear of Nazis that Bill Clinton had or has of the American military.

In the West Nikita Khrushchev is still widely respected by everyone except Maoists as a would-be democratic reformer who succeeded in moving his country away from the bloodstained tyranny of Stalinism. But the Khrushchev style of democratic reform was seen as possible because post-Stalin Soviet society was supposedly being protected by nuclear weapons. Khrushchev defended his people by exploding one hundred megaton hydrogen bombs in the atmosphere of the Soviet Union. It was the intensity of Khrushchev’s attachment to nuclear weapons that put Sakharov on the road to political dissidence and transfer of allegiance to the United States. People today might have a different understanding of nuclear weapons and the degree of reality behind notions of “nuclear deterrence” if the interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis put forward by Servando Gonzalez  were better known. Gonzalez argues, on the basis of very detailed documentation, that Khrushchev’s motive in installing nuclear missiles in Cuba was not to protect the Cuban Revolution but to trigger an American invasion and the overthrow of Fidel Castro. The Soviets were grooming an alternative Moscow-line Communist leadership to head a transitional regime that would in time be replaced by the type of Cuban government that the Americans wanted. There were good reasons for Khrushchev to seek to implement this type of policy because, apart from personal exasperation with Castro and his actions, the explosion of radical anti-imperialism in Latin America that followed the Cuban Revolution was generating enormous expectations and enormous political demands on the Soviet Union, demands that Khrushchev judged were beyond the Soviet Union’s power to cope with. Khrushchev’s anti-Castro strategy backfired when Kennedy responded to the presence of the Soviet missiles in Cuba not by invading Cuba and overthrowing Castro but by threatening a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. This was a reaction that Khrushchev, given his belief in nuclear deterrence and the balance of terror, had apparently never thought about, so that he panicked and went to pieces psychologically under the pressure of Kennedy’s threats and decided to withdraw the missiles and the provocation. Castro survived, and Kennedy was never forgiven for that. The positive side-effects of the Cuban Missile Crisis include a new dynamic in arms control negotiations, resulting in the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. On the negative side we have the assassination of Kennedy. The reasons for it seem to be linked not only to the help that through his actions he gave to Castro but also with his alleged plan to dissolve the CIA and his opposition to Israel developing nuclear weapons. The Cuban Missile Crisis also triggered massive expansion of the Soviet nuclear arsenal under Brezhnev, drawing precisely the wrong lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Gonzales is refreshing relief for readers familiar only with interpretations of the Cuban Missile Crisis put forward by writers such as Robert MacNamara. The book persuasively suggests that John Kennedy’s predominant concern throughout the “crisis”, motivating his decision to humiliate Khrushchev rather than invade Cuba, were the electoral prospects for the Democrats at the Congressional mid-term elections of 1962.


I have been arguing that the anti-nuclear movement of the eighties failed to cope with and counter the influence of political “realists” who argued for the necessity for nuclear disarmament to be “multilateral” and who successfully derailed the anti-nuclear movement after the INF agreement of 1987, leaving us incapable of making an intelligent response to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. If we had demanded total unilateral nuclear disarmament of the Soviet Union, this would have had the appearance of “hard” rather than “soft” politics, which would have been an important element in its effectiveness for it steals the role of the traditional “hard” politicians, who always like to arrange things in such a way that the “hard” role is played by themselves and the “soft” role by their opponents. 

The same hard versus soft imagery prevails in the energy debate as Helen Caldicott in her book “Nuclear Power is not the Answer” points out. “Nuclear Power is often referred to behind closed doors in the U.S. Department of Energy as a “hard” energy whereas wind power, solar power, hydropower and geothermal energy are referred to as “soft” energy. The same psychosexual language used by the Pentagon generals to describe various aspects of nuclear weapons and nuclear war has been transferred to the vocabulary of men in the nuclear generating field.” Helen Caldicott is of course a woman and she cannot resist having a shot at these would-be hard men. The connotations of hard and soft provide opportunities for a psychoanalytic approach. “As a physician,” Helen Caldicott says, “I contend that unless the root cause of a problem can be ascertained there can be no cure. So to the pathology intrinsic in the nuclear power needs to be dissected and revealed in the cold light of day.” 

But the role of the physician or the psychoanalyst is a soft role. The desideratum, I assert, is for our side to play the hard role and manoeuvre our opponents into playing the soft role. We had the opportunity in 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, but we did not take advantage of it and it is now an opportunity long past. The point to determine is if in the coming period where the climate change movement, not the anti-nuclear movement, is likely to be predominant, similar opportunities are going to arise. 

Perhaps the time has come to discuss what is wrong with the climate change movement as it is today. Basically what is wrong with it is that it is embroiled in a debate with so-called climate change sceptics over the extent to which climate change is anthropogenic, i.e. caused by people, as opposed to natural. This is the wrong debate. The actual problem is how far climate change is caused by deliberate human intervention, as opposed to accidental or incidental human intervention. The retreat of the ice in the Arctic is the most striking contemporary example. Is this phenomenon just happening, or is it being deliberately induced? Conspiracy theorists are asking this question and non-conspiracy theorists have a right to the information that could enable us to answer it. What role is being played by weather and climate modification technologies, military or civilian? Rosalie Bertell has written a book entitled “Planet Earth: the Latest Weapon of War” which examines the role of these technologies, including technologies for causing earthquakes. The nuclear disarmament movement is not equipped for successful collaboration with the climate change movement if it does not familiarise itself with this literature.

We should never forget that the same laboratories and the same people that were in the vanguard of promoting the nuclear arms race and are now promoting National Missile Defense are also involved in a variety of different projects concerned with so-called geoengineering and weather modification that are of direct relevance to any discussion of climate change. The late Edward Teller and his successor Lowell Wood at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory are key figures. Edward Teller, whose activities have probably done more damage to this planet than those of any other human being who ever lived, based his successful career on reiteration of what amounts to a very simple trick based on production of cognitive dissonance. The thermonuclear weapons arms race with the Soviet Union was driven by the image of a relentlessly aggressive Soviet Union, an image that was always in contradiction to, but more powerful than, the reality of the defensive, reactive, “peace-loving” Soviet diplomacy that accompanied the nuclear weapons build-up. Teller also conducted an experiment with cognitive dissonance in Reykjavik, where he was the inspirer of Reagan’s proposal to Gorbachev that the two superpowers could abolish all nuclear weapons if Gorbachev would agree to development of Teller’s Star Wars anti-missile shield for shooting down the nuclear weapons he was proposing to abolish. A similar perversity is evident in Teller’s post-Cold-War “Sunscreen” proposal of 1997 where after expressing scepticism as to the reality of anthropogenic global warming, Teller proposes the massive release of light-reflective metallic particles, in the earth’s atmosphere to reduce the levels of sunlight and counteract the global warming that he says is possibly not occurring. Teller must have been more or less the only member of the Western power elite with whom Mikhail Gorbachev always refused to shake hands. 

In my view the most significant element in Teller’s post-Cold War scenario is that it is based not on the evocation of danger but on denial of danger. The Republican Party clientele which once used to say “prove it” to Leftist protestations that the Soviet threat was exaggerated now similarly say “prove it” to assertions by ecologists that global warming has its origins in human activity. 

In fact this denial has been a constant in conservative politics since 1991. Denial of anthropogenic climate change typically goes hand in hand with denial that the collapse of Communism has changed anything about Russia. But denial is essentially a reactive and so an inward-looking and potentially, in the political sense, “soft” stance. The fact that, at least in relation to climate change, the status quo viewpoint is one of denial rather than of evoking danger – it is the ecologists themselves that are accused of danger-mongering – means that the climate change debate potentially presents us with the same kind of opportunity that we were given, but did not take, in 1991.

The decision to deal with climate change by planetary-wide spraying of toxic aerosols, while at the same time denying that there is anything definitely proven – and anything demonstrably linked to human activity – about climate change, is a political stance that is possible only to minds swollen with hubris from sixty years pursuit of the nuclear arms race.
One of the unfortunate by-products of the existence of the anti-nuclear movement is that through our promotion of fear of nuclear weapons we have helped those weapons perform what is described as their political function. In the same way through its ignoring of the whole subject of weather and climate modification and the militarization of climate, the present-day climate change movement assists the “climate change sceptics” in their strategy of denial.

Even in such matters as the amount of fossil fuel required to build, service and decommission a nuclear power station, and process ever larger quantities of ever poorer grade uranium, the claims that nuclear power can be an answer to climate change or to energy problems, are untenable. The strength of Helen Caldicott’s writings is that they equip us to mount a formidable opposition to nuclear power. What they do not equip us to do is to be proactive rather than reactive, to take the offensive, and win the struggle against nuclear weapons. To do that there must be an analysis – and a correction – of the failed politics of the anti-nuclear movement. 

The threat of nuclear proliferation has intensified with the collapse of Communism. The insight that democracy is as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution was in a way foreshadowed by END in its critique of the futility of parliamentary lobbying by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In END’s view enemy image stereotyping made unilateral nuclear disarmament impossible in the context of democratic mass politics. The solution was to target the bipolar Cold War System that generated the enemy images. But the outcome of the Cold War has made this strategy a boomerang. The specific problems faced by nuclear disarmament in Britain have now spread to become problems in other states also, proliferating with the spread of democracy. Communists in Russia have ceased to be interested in peace movements. They have become even more nationalistic and have in fact turned into something like a war movement. We must acknowledge our own share of the responsibility for this development.

A critique of democracy as a contributing factor to nuclear proliferation does not have to lead us in anti-democratic directions because similar insight on the problems of democracy have been put forward by thinkers of great repute in Europe, thinkers such as Altiero Spinelli, anti-fascist resistance fighter and one of the post-war architects of European integration. In his Manifesto of Ventotene of 1941 Spinelli pointed out that in times of upheaval, when institutions must not simply be administered but rather created, democratic procedures fail. The need in such times is not so much for democracy as for leadership. 

The anti-nuclear movement must perhaps find a new set of heroes. Helen Caldicott makes the point that consolidation of economically, technologically and environmentally irrational nuclear power – something apparently inexplicable – can in fact be explained in terms of a guilty conscience factor. “The scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project creating nuclear weapons developed a way to harness nuclear energy to generate electricity. Because their guilt was so great they were determined to use their ghastly new invention to help the human race.” We could add to this that many of them also decided to help the human race by involving themselves in nuclear disarmament, where owing to their qualifications and the brilliance of their minds or personal charisma they became leaders, and perhaps inappropriate leaders. . 

The fact is that most if not all the historic personalities of the anti-nuclear movement have been people filled with regrets and also sometimes also with much to hide. The list goes from Einstein and Oppenheimer to Niels Bohr through figures such as the late Joseph Rotblat, founder of the Pugwash movement, to politicians like Olaf Palme. Perhaps it is time for e.g, Christer Larsson, the journalist who carried out the investigation into Olaf Palme’s real relationship with Swedish nuclear weapons, to become a personality of the anti-nuclear movement, not so as to encourage personal disrespect and cynicism but to help with investigation of the truth and with comprehension of what has turned out to be a serious source of weakness in our movement and a possible factor in our failure.

At the moment much of what is left of the anti-nuclear movement is focused on the task of opposing the United States Anti-Missile Defence and the associated installation of radar facilities and missile interceptors in Eastern Europe. The American activist Bruce Gagnon sees these moves as preparing American public opinion to support the idea of putting weapons in space. A recent London conference on Anti-Missile Defence saw it as the trigger for a new Cold War and it seems very obvious that one of its aims is to reactivate well-tested reflexes and get us back into the familiar scenario of hard Americans, soft Europeans and victimised Russians, Iranians, North Koreans or whatever. CND, who organized the London Conference, says that the National Missile Defence system will “allow the US to attack another state without fear of retaliation.” This defense of these alleged retaliatory capacities of Russian nuclear weapons is a restatement of the confusion that prevented the anti-nuclear movement from acting effectively in 1991 at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and from knowing what to do in 1996 when India refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. What is needed in our region is renewal of the commitment to a nuclear free Europe, the slogan that was used to lure the Soviet Union into the so-called common European home, and then – after the INF Treaty – forgotten.

Hans Blix, former Swedish foreign minister and present head of the Weapons of Mass Destruction commission acknowledges that abandonment of nuclear weapons by France and the UK would have a dramatic and beneficial effect in reducing the inclination of other countries to join the nuclear weapons club and reducing the addiction of existing members to nuclear weapons. 

We should make this abandonment our objective, winning over the climate change movement to it and making them – all of them, including the so-called “realists” – into anti-nuclear colleagues, not pro-nuclear competitors. 

Hans Blix of course opposes nuclear weapons but favours nuclear power generation. We can make ourselves more influential than him if we succeed in achieving what he wants to accomplish but cannot: a Europe free from nuclear weapons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *