The Quest for Global Peace

Sir Joseph Rotblat

Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG CBE FRS (4 November 1908 – 31 August 2005) was a Polish physicist, a self-described "Pole with a British passport".


Rotblat worked on Tube Alloys and the Manhattan Project during World War II, but left the Los Alamos Laboratory on grounds of conscience after it became clear that Germany has ceased development of an atomic bomb in 1942.


His work on nuclear fallout was a major contribution toward the ratification of the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A signatory of the 1955 Russell–Einstein Manifesto, he was secretary-general of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs from their founding until 1973 and shared, with the Pugwash Conferences, the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize "for efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms."

"Our quest must be for global peace, because peace is indivisible; there cannot be peace in one part of the globe while war, or acts of terrorism occur in another part."


"Making war illegal is an urgent task: Remember your humanity and abolish war."

The tragic events of 11 September have reminded us that “No man is an island”, no country can isolate itself from all the others. Our quest must be for global peace, because peace is indivisible; there cannot be peace in one part of the globe while war, or acts of terrorism occur in another part. We live in a world of ever-increasing interdependence of all inhabitants of the earth, an interdependence largely due to the advances in science and technology. Globalization – whether in its positive or negative aspects – has brought about a situation whereby events in any part of the globe affect us all: in economic, cultural, or political issues, and certainly in military matters; in matters of war and peace.


This so because other advances in science and technology have resulted in the development of weapons of unprecedented mass destruction, the omnicidal weapons, first demonstrated in 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The destruction of these cities heralded a new age, the nuclear age. The chief characteristic of the nuclear age is that for the first time in the history of civilization we have acquired the technical means to destroy our own species, and to accomplish it, deliberately or inadvertently, in a single event. In the nuclear age the human species has become an endangered species.


Most of the people alive today – the post war generation – do not seem to appreciate the enormous gravity of the Cold War years; they are unaware that on a number of occasions we came perilously close to the ultimate catastrophe. Even now, twelve years after the end of the Cold War, the danger of a nuclear holocaust is still with us, and it will be with us as long as nuclear weapons exist.


We must sustain the pressure on the nuclear powers to fulfil their legal and moral commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to proceed to nuclear disarmament. There is no reason for any delay on this.


We have the technical means to dismantle and destroy all nuclear warheads within a decade. There is a draft of a Convention that would make the possession of nuclear arsenals illegal in international law; we also have the outlines of a safeguards system to ensure that there would be no cheating on the Convention. Its implementation may take some time, but it will never come unless a start is made. There is the need for a call loud and clear: all nuclear arsenals must be liquidated; any use of nuclear weapons in war must be declared a crime against humanity.


But this would not be enough. Nuclear weapons can be physically destroyed, but the knowledge of how to make them cannot. We cannot disinvent these weapons. Should there be a serious conflict, in the future, between the great powers of the time, nuclear arsenals could be rebuilt and we might find ourselves back facing the dangers of the Cold War. Moreover, research in science may lead to the invention of entire new weapons of mass destruction, perhaps more readily available than nuclear weapons.


How can we deal with the danger? How can we assure that the human species will not be brought to an end in a future war? The only sure way is not to have any.


Now that technological achievements have given us the potential for self-destruction, war must cease to be a recognized social institution; war must be delegitimized.


Most people view the concept of a war-free world as Utopian, a crazy idea of some fantasists. I am not surprised that people should think so. Our whole upbringing, our education, our political system, are all geared to the notion that our security demands military preparedness. The diabolical concept that in order to have peace we must prepare for war has been ingrained in us since the start of civilization. So much so that we have begun to believe that waging war is part of our natural make up. We are told that we are biologically programmed for aggression, that war is in our genes.


As a scientist, I reject this thesis. I see no evidence that aggressiveness is genetically built into our behaviour. In the distant past, under the harsh conditions in which primitive Man lived, he often had to kill for survival, in competition for food or for a mate. Later on, when communities were formed, groups of people killed other groups of people for the same reason, and war became part of our culture. But now this is no longer necessary. Thanks largely to the advances in science and technology, there is no need for people to kill one another for survival. If properly managed and distributed, there could be enough food and other life necessities for everybody, even with the huge increase in world population. The problem is that the resources are not distributed evenly, and thus many people are still starving, many children are still dying from malnutrition. We have still much to do before the basic cause of war is removed, not just virtually, but in reality.


Nevertheless, we are moving towards a war-free world, even if we do not do it consciously. We are learning the lessons of history. In the two World Wars of this century, France and Germany were mortal enemies. Young people of these countries – and many others – were slaughtered by the millions. But now a war between France and Germany seems inconceivable. The same applies to the other members of the European Union. There are still many disputes between them over a variety of issues, but these are being settled by negotiations, by mutual give-and-take agreements. The members of the Union have learned to solve their problems by means other than by military confrontation.


The same is beginning to take place in other continents. Military regimes are on the decline; more and more countries are becoming democracies. Despite the terrible bloodshed still going on – the recent tribal genocide in Rwanda; the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and Kosovo – the number of international and internal wars is decreasing. This is a fact. We are gradually comprehending the futility of war, the utter waste in killing one another.


Having presented such an optimistic picture, I must remind you quickly that we are still a long way from our goal. The trends that I have described are still very tenuous. They need to be consolidated and given more substance by systematic measures aimed at increasing confidence in relations between nations; enhancing adherence to international laws; and strengthening the United Nations apparatus for peacekeeping.


However, for the concept of a war-free world to become universally accepted and consciously adopted by making war illegal, a process of education will be required at all levels; education for peace; education for world citizenship. We have to change the mind-set that seeks security for one’s own nation in terms which spell insecurity for other nations; we have to think about security in global terms. We have to develop and nurture in each of us a new feeling, a feeling of belonging to humankind.


As members of the human community, each of us has acquired loyalties to groups amidst which we live. In the course of history we have been gradually extending our loyalty to ever-larger groups, from our family, to our neighbourhood, to our village, to our city, to our nation. This is where it stops now. The time has come to extend this loyalty to the largest group; to the whole of mankind.


In this respect too the prospects are becoming brighter. To a large extent this is due to the growing interdependence between nations. The fantastic progress in communications and transportation is transforming the world into an intimately interconnected community, in which all members depend on one another for their material well-being and cultural fulfilment. More and more people are acquiring the technical means, such as the internet, to talk to one another wherever they may be. This helps to remove prejudice and mistrust, which stem mostly from ignorance. We must utilize the new tools of communication to overcome chauvinism and xenophobia, those malevolent fomenters of strife and war.


At the threshold of a new Millennium we are facing a tremendous challenge, a challenge largely created by the advances in science and technology. We have now the means for everybody to live comfortably, in peace. We also have the means for everybody to die horribly, in war. Which is it to be?


I believe that we will make the right choice. A world without war is an idea whose time has come. We can achieve it and we will achieve it; but we must work for it.


Making war illegal is an urgent task: Remember your humanity and abolish war.


Joseph Rotblat