Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin recently described U.S.-Russian relations as the worst since 1973, when Henry Kissinger placed U.S. nuclear forces on a high DEFCOM alert in the closing days of that Middle East War. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Perry has stated that the renewed nuclear arms race – including U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion for a new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems – and increased U.S.-Russian tensions make the possibility of nuclear war greater than during the Cold War. President Putin’s statement that he considered using nuclear weapons to reinforce Russia’s hold Crimea and the deployment of Russian nuclear capable missiles to Kaliningrad underline the dangers of 21st century nuclear war.
Public opinion has yet to become fully aware of or to respond to this existential danger as they did when Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt and others initiated détente in the 1970s and again when Prime Minister Olaf Palme launched his Common Security Report in the 1980s which provided the paradigm for ending the Cold War with the INF Treaty.
The authors of “Détente Now: A New Call for Peace, Security and Cooperation” have initiated a campaign, which I trust will be pursued by people at many levels society in order to bring the nuclear superpowers back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. Tensions between nations are inevitable, but they must not be permitted to lead to catastrophic war.
The pursuit of detente can be taken without illusions that the process will be simple. Both of the superpowers are engaged in arms races fueled by political forces and military-industrial complexes. NATO has expanded to Russia’s borders while the lessons of Napoleon’s, the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s invasions have not been forgotten. Russia’s covert actions in the Ukraine, its murderous bombing in Syria, and its possible intervention in the recent U.S. election will not be ignored.
Yet, the three recent International Conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War and the specter of potential nuclear omnicide should inspire governmental officials and civil society to persevere in the pursuit of detent, disarmament, and the eventual elimination of the world’s nuclear arsenals – an obligation already codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in traditional international humanitarian law.
Joseph Gerson (PhD): Director, Peace & Economic Security Program, American Friends Service Committee Co-Convener, Peace & Planet International Network