Nuclear Abolition Statement by International Civilian Leaders: An Assessment and An Appeal

February 1998

By Alan Cranston
Disarmament Diplomacy — Issue No 23

The abolition statement by international civilian leaders, made public on 2 February 1998 by General Lee Butler and the State of the World Forum – the full text of which follows this article – follows the pattern set by the two widely noted statements made by retired generals and admirals made public in late 1996 by General Andrew Goodpaster, General Butler and the Forum. Like the military professionals, the civilian leaders advocate that specific steps be taken now to reduce ongoing nuclear weapon dangers still facing us all after the end of the Cold War, and they urge that the nuclear powers declare umabiguously that their goal is eventual abolition.

The unexpected and surprising position taken by so many prominent generals gave a significant boost to the abolition cause. Drafted by leaders from several lands, primarily Americans and Russians, the civilian statement is designed to do likewise. Leaders are still adding their names to it. So far, as of 4 March, 128 noted individuals from 48 nations have signed it, including 52 past or present Presidents and Prime Ministers.Many of these heads of State guided their nations during the Cold War.

Among the signatories are former heads of State or Government from four of the five declared nuclear powers: Prime Minister Michel Rocard of France, President Mikhail Gorbachev and Prime Minister Egor Gaidar of the Soviet Union and Russia, Prime Minsiter Lord James Callaghan of the UK, and President Jimmy Carter of the US. All of these men are active today in public affairs.

China, the fifth nuclear power, is represented by two people, one a prominent leader of what the Chinese uniquely call a GONGO – a Government Organized Non-Governmental Organization. China’s official policy was stated at the UN on 25 September, 1996, by Vice-President and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen who said, “We always stand for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.”

The three principal nations under the nuclear ‘umbrella’ are represented by former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany, former Prime Minister Shin Hyon-Hwak of Korea and – not surprisingly – five former prime ministers of Japan, including the most recent, Tomiichi Murayama. These, too, remain active in public life. All five Japanese are members of the Diet at present. Particularly notable among the present heads of State on the list are President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, leader of the only nation to develop its own nuclear weapons and then abandon them, and President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, who as Soviet Foreign Minister did so much, along with President Gorbachev, President Reagan, and Secretary of State Schultz, to reverse the superpower nuclear arms race.

Also signatories are leaders of four nations known to have commenced and then abandoned programs to develop nuclear weapons: former president Raul Alfonsin of Argentina, former prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Paul Keating of Australia, former Prime Minister Jose Sarney of Brazil, and present Prime Minister Goran Persson of Sweden and his predecessor, Ingvar Carlsson. Also from Australia is Ambassador Richard Butler, who today as Chair of the UN Special Commission is directing the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Butler signed the civilian statement before taking on the Iraq task.

Among the signatories are past and present heads of State and important figures from other countries playing particularly active roles in the movement to steer the world toward abolition, countries such as Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and Sri Lanka that view this effort as vitally necessary if proliferation is to be prevented. One of the Sri Lankan signatories is Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, who is heading the international diplomatic team in the Iraq weapon search. Like Ambassador Butler, Dhanapala signed the statement prior to his UN appointment.

No past or present head of State was enlisted from the three threshold nuclear States where ambiguity about nuclear matters is deemed so important, India, Israel and Pakistan. However, prominent individuals are on the list from each of those nations.

Various individuals and NGOs in several countries and on several continents and islands lent a significant hand in signing up these leaders. It is clear that only lack of sufficient time and adequate access prevented many more countries and eminences from appearing among the signatories. The very task of seeking them out – and, when necessary, convincing them to sign on – in itself promotes the goal of abolition. Since gathering additional appropriate civilian signatures would strengthen the statement and the cause, we would welcome any efforts to add past or present heads of State, foreign and defense ministers, parliamentary leaders, and other prominent individuals whose qualifications and experience are comparable to those already enlisted. I thank those of you reading these words for whatever you might do to this end. We do not need actual signatures, just authority to use names. The names, past and present titles, affiliations and countries of any leaders who authorize adding their names to the statement should be sent to:

The Presidio
PO Box 29434
San Francisco, CA 94129
FAX: 415-561-2323
web site:

A few days after the release of the civilian statement in Washington, Moscow, and elsewhere, I traveled to Moscow with several other Americans for discussions with Russian leaders and experts from other countries regarding nuclear weapons and other matters related to global security. Great interest was shown in the statement and its proposals.

In these meetings and conversations – part of a systematic, ongoing effort to explore nuclear issues with decision makers and opinion leaders in key countries – the incredible financial cost to the US and to Russia of these weapons came up repeatedly. The difficulty Russia will face in maintaining not only the shrinking arsenal of nuclear weapons authorized in START II, if ratified, but even the lower levels agreed to at Helsinki by Clinton and Yeltsin as targets for START III, was stressed. Cited in turn was the total cost to the US of nuclear weapons and related expenditures since 1940, now estimated at $6 trillion, and a forthcoming estimate by the Brookings Institute that the cost in this year’s US budget will exceed $34 billion. This led to discussions of whether nuclear weapons really have any military or political value in today’s world. This point was considered in the context of the fact that the US and Russia have traded positions on nuclear weapons: during the Cold War the US placed primary reliance upon nuclear forces because of a perceived relative weakness in conventional forces, while now it is Russia that places primary reliance upon nuclear forces because of a perceived weakness in conventional forces. It was acknowledged that this new Russian posture led Russia to abandon the Soviet Union’s No First Use policy, and threatens to impede progress toward reducing mutual reliance on nuclear weapons. Several Russians expressed the belief, however, that these problems are transitory and in time will recede as the long road to abolition is traversed.

Jonathan Schell, the eloquent and thoughtful author of several remarkable books on nuclear weapons and the editor of the recent special issue of The Nation devoted to abolition, was a member of the US delegation, and several times he and I pointed out the following little noted fact: All five nations possessing nuclear weapons have refrained from using them while losing wars to nations that did not possess nuclear weapons: the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, China in Vietnam, France in Algeria, the UK at Suez.

“You can add Chechnya to the list,” muttered one Russian. Another remarked, “The weapons are not only useless militarily, they are useless politically as well. Who is now going to believe the threats that they might be used under almost any circumstances that can be imagined?”

In a public appearance in Washington on February 5, 1998, Robert McNamara rattled off the names of every US president since Harry Truman and flatly declared that no one of them under any circumstances would have ordered first use of nuclear weapons. McNamara told Jonathan Schell in a recent interview that while serving as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he advised both to threaten to follow NATO policy to resort to nuclear weapons if the Soviets launched a conventional attack on Western Europe – but that he also told them:

“Don’t ever do it…even if the Soviet Warsaw Pact is, in fact, overrunning West Germany.”

McNamara also said that during the Cuban missile crisis – in which he played a central role – the US and Russia “came within a hairbreadth of nuclear war” due to misinformation and miscalculation.

It is increasingly recognized that other incidents – many of them – have brought the world close to accidental nuclear war, and that there is a rising threat that nuclear weapons will be acquired by terrorists, rogues, or criminals who will not be likely to share the compunctions that have prevented any leader of a nation possessing nuclear weapons from ordering their use since World War II.

In is facts like these – above all the continuing reliance upon deterrence by the US, Russia and other nations, and the realization that if it ever fails the consequences will be apocalyptic – that are causing so many leaders to speak out for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. More leaders from other realms, leaders whose views cannot be ignored, will be heard from in the time ahead.

Alan Cranston represented California in the US Senate frrom 1969 to 1993. He is Chair of the State of the World Forum and the Gorbachev Foundation USA.

Reproduced here from Disarmament Diplomacy
© 1998 The Acronym Institute

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