Newsweek - Q&A, 'This Is A Dream I Have'
October 9, 2003

Nobel Laureate Joseph Rotblat Talks About How The World Can Rid Itself Of Nuclear Weapons And Find Its Way To Global Peace

At 94, Joseph Rotblat isn't letting age slow his razor-sharp mind. A Jewish emigre from Poland, the physicist was one of the first scientists to work on the development of the atomic bomb. He quit the Manhattan Project in 1944 in protest against the research and cofounded the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, devoted to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In 1995, he and the organization jointly won the Nobel peace prize.

The author of more than 20 books, his latest--"War No More: Eliminating Conflict in the Nuclear Age" (Pluto Press)--was written with Cambridge University biologist Robert Hinde. Rotblat spoke to NEWSWEEK in London about disarmament, the Bush administration and how to address the key issues that could bring global peace.

Newsweek: Given how much you have seen in your lifetime, how do you think the world stands in 2003 ?

Joseph Rotblat: If you compare the present time to when I was born, there is no doubt we live in much better times. There is still a great deal of inequality, but overall there has been great improvement in the quality of life. I put it down mainly to the advances in technology, [but] there are some harmful effects of science like the development of the atom bomb. We used to talk about nuclear weapons only as a deterrent. Now the policies pursued by the Bush administration say we need nuclear weapons as an actual instrument of war. This is a big change in policy and worries me a great deal.

But if the American people reelect George W. Bush next year, surely that counts for something ?

Then we did not manage to educate the public. People do not realize the dangers of [nuclear weapons.] I believe if we really got ourselves organized properly, it would have an effect. Remember with Vietnam it was the voice of the people that compelled a government to bring [the war] to a halt.

Have the complications resulting from invading Iraq changed the U.S. strategy ?

I sincerely believe if it were not for the troubles Bush has encountered in Iraq, by now Israeli bombers would have destroyed the enrichment plant in Iran and probably American missiles would have destroyed the Pyongyang reprocessing plants in North Korea.

Is a pre-emptive strike sometimes legitimate ?

There are no absolutes in the world. I cannot exclude the possibility that circumstances will arise when a pre-emptive attack may be necessary. But it should have a very low probability and certainly no provision should be made for this in our system of governance.

We live in a world where terrorist groups are not necessarily affiliated with a nation and therefore not signatories to treaties. How do we control proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in such a world ?

Through education and people interacting with each other through the Internet, through e-mail, mobile telephones and so on. People will feel less a subject of their own nation and more members of humankind. They will interact much more with people of other nations than of their own and gradually the role of nations will come to an end. This is a dream I have. Eventually it will mean some sort of world governance. People are fighting against it and do not believe in it, but I think we are inexorably moving in that direction.

Are we in another arms race ?

We are moving towards one. In America, a whole series of nuclear warheads are now being worked out. But the military will not accept a new nuclear warhead in their arsenals unless it has been tested. Therefore the next step will be testing. If one nation breaks the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, then other nations are bound to follow. The nation most likely to follow is China. If China becomes stronger, then India will feel vulnerable. And in each of these countries, voices are heard already about the need to go back to testing. Then, of course, Pakistan cannot be left behind. So again an arms race will begin.

Your new book proposes a world without nuclear weapons and ultimately a world without war. That has labeled you as a Utopian. What are the practical steps to make this a reality ?

The Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed by 187 nations, including all the declared nuclear-weapon states. They all undertook to get rid of their weapons. So the first thing to do is to get them to fulfill that commitment. This can only be done with a well-organized campaign to raise awareness to the dangers of nuclear weapons.

You have campaigned for nuclear disarmament for more than 50 years. What are your future plans ?

My short-term objective is the elimination of nuclear weapons. My long-term objective is the elimination of war as an institution. We always felt we must have an army and the army is there to fight. This is the basis of the nation state. There is an old Roman dictum: Si vis pacem para bellum, "If you want peace, prepare for war." This has been the policy of all these centuries. I believe "If you want peace, prepare for peace."