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Bikini DayJoseph Gerson's Speech at International Forum

February 27, 2011

2011 Bikini Day International Forum


Joseph Gerson

Director of Programs, American Friends Service Committee – New England


I want to thank Gensuikyo for the opportunity to participate in this year’s Bikini Day commemorations. With Marshallese testimonies and those of Lucky Dragon #5 Hibakusha, we transform what we learn into powerful tools for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. I am also glad to report that the English language edition of Oishi-san’s memoir will be published in a few months. It will serve as an important resource for students and scholars, and we will use it as a mirror to help U.S. people confront what our nation has inflicted on the world and to build our movement for nuclear weapons abolition.


This year’s Bikini Day commemorations mark an important transition for Gensuikyo. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with Taka-san, and we have all benefited from his extraordinary movement building, diplomatic and leadership development skills, not to mention his thoughtfulness as a friend.  Fortunately, he will not be retiring to while away his days in pachinko parlors or to read manga. I look forward to continuing working with Taka, even as he pulls back to make way for Yasui-san and his leadership team As we see with the Appeal campaign launched just two weeks ago, it is clear that Gensuikyo will continue playing its leading role in preventing nuclear war, working to achieve nuclear weapons abolition, and providing support to Japanese and global Hibakusha.


Overcoming Nuclear Deterrence

Would that simply having the best and most truthful ideas were sufficient to prevail. As the people of Egypt taught us again, in addition to vision we need political organization and will. In our case, this means overcoming “deterrence theory” and mobilizing broad sectors of the public.


The belief that so-called “deterrence theory” can ensure security by preparing to wage genocidal or omnicidal war has been understood to be suicidal since the beginning of the nuclear era. Before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombings, Manhattan Project scientists feared they would lead to a catastrophic nuclear arms race and petitioned President Truman to seek other means to end the war.


A generation later the searing comedy Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb won four Academy Awards. Like the original version of Godzilla, which communicated the Japanese people’s horror in the immediate aftermath of the first A- and H-bombings, Dr. Strangelove lampooned Henry Kissinger and others who advocated “deterrence” by preparing and threatening to fight ostensibly “limited” nuclear wars. It also illuminated another flaw in “deterrence theory”: that rogue military officers can operate outside mandated command and control systems, thus increasing the likelihood of cataclysmic nuclear war. This wasn’t a theoretical possibility. It had happened two years earlier during the Cuban Missile Crisis.


And, soon after Cold War, a movement of U.S., European and other generals and admirals – including the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command – challenged reliance on nuclear deterrence and called for the elimination of nuclear weapons.


Let me begin by addressing some of the most obvious flaws of “deterrence theory,” not the least of which is that when systems fail, the lives of millions or billions of people are placed in immediate jeopardy.


Accidents happen. The world’s nuclear arsenals depend on inherently fallible human systems. Nuclear-armed planes crash or fall from aircraft carriers. Launch codes have been misplaced; computer disks have been inserted backwards. Flocks of geese were mistaken for incoming nuclear weapons. This past year fires and floods impacted U.S. missile sites. And fissile materials are stolen and sold on the black market.


One aspect of Gensuikyo that I greatly respect is its principled opposition to ALL nuclear weapons. Even as you rightly focuses on the most powerful and dangerous power – the United States – whose use and threatened use of nuclear weapons sparked the 60 year chain reaction of nuclear weapons proliferation, Gensuikyo has been clear that deterrence was not the answer for the Soviet Union, or now for China and Russia. You have challenged Britain’s and France’s ostensible commitment deterrence, belied by their first strike threats against Iraq, Argentina and Iran, And we all know that the North Korean, Indian and Pakistani “deterrent” arsenals have not enhanced their security.


Further, with militarists like Tokyo Governor Ishihara advocating that Japan “should develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against China and North Korea”, Gensuikyo’s opposition to deterrence and nuclear weapons is all the more important.


As I wrote in Empire and the Bomb, deterrence has not been the primary role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Beginning with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombings, Washington’s nuclear arsenal has served to expand or to enforce the domains of the U.S.-led Empire. Most people understand deterrence as preventing nuclear attack by threatening a cataclysmic, nation-destroying, second-strike attacks. However, in 2005, the Pentagon made clear that this is not its understanding. Its Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations stated that “the central focus of deterrence is for one nation to exert such influence over a potential adversary’s decision process that the potential adversary makes a deliberate choice to refrain from a COA [course of action.]”  This includes deterring nuclear attacks, but it has also meant ensuring that Saddam did not resort to using chemical weapons when attacked by the U.S. It has prevented nations from taking “courses of action” like challenging U.S. dominance of global oil, and it has menat preventing U.S. forces from being overrun during “conventional” wars, for example during the Battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam.  Preventing a nation from taking a “course of action” theoretically includes ensuring that China doesn’t use military force to restore its rule in Taiwan and that the dollar and not the Euro or renminbi remains the world’s principle reserve currency.


When he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David C. Jones testified that mutual assured destruction was not U.S. policy, saying “I think it is a very dangerous strategy. It is not the strategy that we are implementing today within the military….I do not subscribe to the idea that we ever had it as our basic strategy.”

Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense Harold Brown testified that with U.S. first-strike nuclear warfighting capabilities in place, U.S. conventional forces become “meaningful instruments of military and political power.” That’s not classical “deterrence theory.” Noam Chomsky put it well when he explained that this meant the U.S. has “succeeded in sufficiently intimidating anyone who might help protect people we are determined to attack”. We have seen this play out in the wars against Iraq, and it remains the foundation of U.S. “containment” of China.  Just two weeks ago,  the Chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Representative Turner, argued that nuclear weapons "contribute to our strategic freedom of action abroad," With "more threats to be deterred today than before”, he said we must be "more dominant" than ever before in order to maintain our "credible offensive deterrent" .


Then there are our disappointments with President Obama. What the President truly believes is beyond what we can know. We do know that he and leading members of his administration consistently reiterate their commitment to nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of U.S. policies, and that they are massively increasing spending in preparations for possible nuclear war.


After his Prague pledge that the U.S. is committed to seeking “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” President Obama was clear that “As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary”, had he has reinforced the commitment to so-called extended deterrence for allied nations like Japan.  Secretary of State Clinton told Washington’s NATO allies that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, we the United States will maintain a[n]…effective nuclear arsenal…And we will continue to guarantee the security of our NATO allies.”  And, just two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Gottemoeller promised that The New START Treaty will “fully maintain America’s nuclear deterrent.”


President Obama kowtowed to the Pentagon when the Nuclear Posture Statement was drafted. Despite his reported qualms, first-strike nuclear warfighting was reiterated as Washington’s official doctrine. Obama has not rescinded first strike threats directed against North Korea and Iran, and to win votes for ratification of the New START Treaty he pledged an additional $85 billion over the next decade for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure.


Worse, “The Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request calls for the United States to replace the land-, air- and sea-based components of its nuclear deterrent…that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars over five decades.” Even as President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget, with its massive cuts in essential social service programs, calls for reducing  the U.S. deficit by about $110 billion a year, and with Republicans calling for still more devastating cuts, the Pentagon’s budget will increase over the next two years. The Navy plans to replace its fleet Trident submarines. The Air Force is investigating development of the next generation strategic bomber, and the Pentagon is “considering blueprints for a potential successor to the nation’s Minuteman 3 ICBMs.”


The Obama Administration has served as a corrective for the arrogant self-defeating unilateralism of the George W. Bush Administration, but in doing so it has hewed to the demands of the Pentagon, the Military-Industrial Complex. The unhappy truth is that the Obama Administration is fulfilling the Bush-Cheney vision of ensuring that “nuclear weapons will remain the cornerstone of U.S. military power for the next fifty years.”


Mobilizing Public Opinion

When we assembled here a year ago our focus was mobilizing to ensure that the 2010 NPT Review Conference would bring us closer to achieving nuclear weapons abolition. With the powerful presence of nearly two thousand Gensuikyo activists, global movement partners, and with non-aligned and other nations we succeed in having the Review’s Final Document declare the importance of achieving “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” and to call for a “framework” to achieve that goal. As Gensuikyo’s “Appeal for a Total Ban on Nuclear Weapons” urges, “Now is the time to act to accomplish it.”


As Egypt’s world-shaking nonviolent revolution reminds us, we the people are sovereign, not P-5 rulers, not war ministries and not military-industrial complexes. We can dictate national policies and change governments.  With the inspiration of Hibakusha, we have transformed the international debate from arms control to the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. We have won the support of many nations and even the active engagement of the Secretary General of the United Nations, who at our international conference last May urged us  on, saying that “Our shared vision is within reach: a nuclear-free world.”


Part of Gensuikyo’s genius has been developing campaigns to address the needs and movements of people from all nations. Thus, in the U.S. we will do our part in building support for the Appeal for a Total Ban on Nuclear Weapons.”


Given the need to work within our unique national settings, in the U.S., where the political debate is focused on the struggle over the national budget and the right-wing campaign to dismantle what remains of the social safety net, our abolition movement sees the necessity of campaigning for significant reductions in military spending including the hundreds of billions of dollars for nuclear warfighting. This also provides movement building opportunities, opening the way to engage broader sectors of society and to do the education and organizing needed to develop the next generation of nuclear abolitionists. With more U.S. people enduring poverty than at any time in the last half century, it doesn’t take a Nobel Laureate to understand there is more security in preventing housing foreclosures and hunger and ensuring medical care than in building new nuclear bomb factories, a new generation of Trident submarines and nuclear bombers.


There are two exciting ways that we will be working with Gensuikyo in the coming months and using those occasions for movement building and promoting the Appeal. This June Kitagawa-Tetsu will be returning to Massachuttes, where we have arranged a concert as part of his 100 performances for Global Zero and against A and H Bombs concerts. And, in October, the powerful paintings by Kayashige-Junko, a Hiroshima Hibakusha, will be displayed in a central location at Harvard University. Harvard will be helping with media and public outreach – including the Web, and we will arrange a number of public events at which she and others can teach the lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s going to be quite an event.


In concluding, I want to point to four other initiatives. In early April, in association with Peace Action and other partner organizations, AFSC will bring together leading U.S. abolitionists to develop more coherent and collaborative campaigning. With partners in Europe, we have developed the International Working Group for Nuclear Disarmament which is exploring ways to collaborate campaigning for a nuclear weapons abolition convention, to support the call for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone conference scheduled for 2012, to win the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, and to reinforce our national campaigns to cut spending for nuclear war preparations. Finally, AFSC has nominated Nihon Hidankyo for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, and we have been encouraged by the campaign for the Appeal for the Total Ban on Nuclear Weapons.” We look forward to learning how we can be more helpful in building this very significant campaign.