Second session. Nuclear weapons, present dangers, energy challenges.



Nine years ago, I was deeply affected by my first visit to Hiroshima.

No-one who has seen the Hiroshima Peace Park can fail to be deeply moved by the dreadful fate that befell that city on 6 August 1945.   The mute remains of the cataclysm – the scorched clothes; the burnt shadows on fragments of walls; the watches frozen forever at quarter past eight; – speak much more eloquently of the tragedy than words could ever express.

Hiroshima continues to haunt mankind.   It is not simply the devastation and the destruction. The fire-bombings of Tokyo, Dresden and Hamburg also left wastelands.   They also resulted in appalling casualties – 135 000 people died in a single night in Dresden – about the same number as the 140 000 people who died in Hiroshima.   More than 80 000 people died in the fire-bombings of Tokyo and Hamburg.  So it is not just a question of the loss of life.

Hiroshima transcends the horrors of conventional warfare because it starkly reminds us that our mastery of technology might hold within it the seeds of our own destruction.   It awakens the fear that the aggression and irrationality that seem to lie so deeply in the dark side of human nature, might with the help of weapons of mass destruction, ultimately lead to our extinction.

It is also a mistake to think that Hiroshima and the threat of nuclear holocaust can now be consigned to history – that with the disappearance of the cold war there is no longer a threat.

The supporters of nuclear weapons programmes argue that for forty years nuclear weapons succeeded with their prime goal of deterrence.  There was no nuclear exchange during the Cold War and there was no mass conventional invasion of Europe – precisely because of the knowledge that a nuclear war would lead to the “mutually assured destruction” of both sides.

However, such logic might not work with paranoid states that rightly or wrongly fear that their continued existence might be threatened.  It certainly does not hold for terrorist movements that proclaim that they “embrace death” and that have no identifiable homelands against which their victims of their attacks might retaliate.

Thus despite the end of the cold war seventeen years ago the possibility of another Hiroshima has not disappeared.  If anything, the situation now is more volatile than ever before.

The question is why the traditional nuclear states continue to cling to their arsenals.  The United States, Britain and France are peace-loving and generally benign democracies, all with a deep commitment to human rights.  Would their leaders really be prepared to unleash their still enormous nuclear arsenals against any other state?  Would they ever really send the order to their silos and submarines to launch their missiles and by so-doing destroy scores of cities and kill millions of civilians?

The answer is presumably that they would if they thought that another state might unleash a nuclear attack against them.   Fortunately, the threat of an all-out nuclear war has receded with the end of the cold war.  But as I have pointed out above, the possibility of a single attack by a terrorist movement or a rogue state cannot be ruled out.  What would the response be to such an attack?  In particular, of what use would the West’s nuclear arsenal be against an attack by a terrorist movement with no discernable national base?

New members of the nuclear club justify their development of nuclear weapons by arguing that they are necessary for the defence of their national sovereignty and as a deterrent to attacks by other members of the nuclear club.  Some also ask why the traditional nuclear weapons states should be the only countries to control such powerful weapons.    These were also some of the factors that led South Africa to develop its own modest nuclear weapons the early 1970s.

Our decision was taken against the background of a gathering global and regional threat to our national sovereignty.  We produced seven nuclear fission devices, which were considered to be the minimum for the maintenance of a credible deterrent capability.

However, we discovered with the passage of time that our real security lay in addressing the root causes of conflict in our region and within our own society – and not in the possession of weapons of mass destruction.  In the late 1980s we reached agreements on the independence of Namibia, linked to the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. Most importantly, we took the historic decision to reach a negotiated settlement with our own people in South Africa.   We knew that this, in turn, would greatly help to remove the growing confrontation with our neighbours in Southern Africa and with the international community.

In these circumstances a nuclear deterrent was not only superfluous: it had become an obstacle to the achievement of our domestic and international


Within this framework, we decided, toward the end of 1989, to dismantle our nuclear weapons capability.  We joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in July 1991 and signed a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

I believe that we, in our own small way, have illustrated that long-term security can be far better assured by addressing the root causes of conflict, rather than by taking shelter behind weapons of mass destruction.

In the same way, the security of other nuclear states would be far more effectively promoted by resolving their conflicts with their neighbours.

The challenge now for us and for all mankind is to show that we will be able to control the nuclear technology that we have created and harness it for the common good.   It is to show that we will be able to curb the dark side of human nature – the aggression, the fear, the greed, the ignorance – that have led to wars in the past.  We must all learn that even the most difficult and intractable problems can be solved through genuine negotiations and compromise.

There is no way that the genie of nuclear technology can be put back in its bottle.  There is no way that we can return to the past.  The correct approach should accordingly be to control, and finally eliminate, nuclear weapons as a thinkable option.  There are a number of ways of pursuing this goal:

We should all support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The Treaty should remain the corner-stone of all our endeavours.  Thus far it has succeeded quite well in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Thirty years ago there were widespread fears that by the turn of the millennium there would be 25 to 30 countries with nuclear weapons. This has not happened.  In recent years there has, in fact, been a decline in the number of nuclear-armed or nuclear threshold states. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, declined the option of retaining nuclear weapons after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Together with countries such as Argentina and South Africa, they have joined the NPT.  In addition to this, there has been a substantial reduction in nuclear arsenals of the major nuclear powers and we have reached important agreements banning future nuclear tests.  All this makes it more important than ever for the international community to take firm action against any state that now acquires – or attempts to acquire – nuclear weapons.  One thinks in particular of North Korea and Iran.

Still, a great deal remains to be done.  In particular, Nuclear Weapons States must move more rapidly toward the dismantling of their stockpiles.  A multi-polar world cannot for long endure the idea that some states should continue to possess weapons of mass destruction that all other states have agreed to forego.  The international community should continue to take practical steps to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by smaller states – and particularly by terrorists.  As South Africa has shown, the possession of such weapons does not enhance the security of the states involved and can, in fact, be counter-productive.

At the same time, nuclear energy continues to play an important role in the satisfying mankind’s rapidly growing energy needs.  In 2005 it accounted for 16% of global electricity production.

For many, it remains controversial source of energy. Some countries – like Germany and Sweden – are phasing out their nuclear energy programmes.   For others it represents one of our best options to meet our growing energy requirements without increasing the production of greenhouse gasses.  Some experts believe that global warming is now advancing so swiftly that only a massive expansion of nuclear power as the world’s main energy source can prevent it overwhelming civilisation.   As Dr Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency recently pointed out to the United Nations General Assembly “Climate change concerns have highlighted the advantages of nuclear power in terms of its minimal greenhouse gas emissions.  And the sustained nuclear safety and productivity record over the past twenty years has made nuclear operating costs relatively low and stable.

The potential environmental benefit from increased use of nuclear power is not just conjecture.  France, which produces 78% of its electricity from nuclear sources, has the lowest carbon dioxide intensity in the world.  If the rest of the world were to follow France’s example CO2 emissions would be reduced by half – with enormous benefits to the environment.

The challenge to the international community will be to ensure that the horror of Hiroshima is never repeated.  It will be to prove that we have the ability to control the technological wonders and horrors that we have created.  It will be to make the enormous forces of the atom bow to our will for peaceful purposes.