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Jimmy Carter Receives First Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, Addresses Nuclear Arms Issue

This lecture was delivered by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award presentation ceremony at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. Sept. 26, 2007, marked the 50th anniversary of Albert Schweitzer's call for an end to nuclear weapons.

It is an honor for me to be associated, even in this small way, with one of my heroes, Dr. Albert Schweitzer. In my foreword to the Johns Hopkins Press edition of his autobiography, I wrote:

"Albert Schweitzer brought to the early 20th Century one of the most powerful and wide-ranging intellects the world has seen. He not only studied but also mastered philosophy, music, theology, and medicine … Then Dr. Schweitzer demonstrated his gratitude for the gifts he had been given by devoting the majority of his life to relieving the suffering of the people of Central Africa."

As many of you know, Dr. Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952, but waited two years to deliver his lecture. His subject was "Problem of Peace," dealing incisively with this broad subject. He then began a personal crusade against the dangers of a nuclear holocaust, writing strong letters to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and other leaders and broadcasting similar messages through 140 radio stations throughout the world. In fact, while continuing his ministry to the villagers in Gabon, he adopted nuclear arms control as his major global commitment.

The year Dr. Schweitzer received his Nobel Prize, I was doing graduate work in nuclear physics and helping to build the first atomic power plant for the propulsion of ships. Later, as president, I inherited the awesome threat of a nuclear holocaust during the later years of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union faced each other with formidable arsenals of destructive weapons.

I knew that 26 minutes after an inter-continental ballistic missile was launched from a silo in Russia it could destroy Washington, New York, or any other target in America. The United States had an equally formidable nuclear response, including similar missiles on invulnerable submarines. Both President Brezhnev and I knew that the total warheads from one such ship could destroy every city in the Soviet Union with a population of 100,000 or more. This mutual threat strengthened our commitment to peace.

After I left the White House and formed The Carter Center, President Gerald Ford joined me in chairing our first major international conference, which included the foremost experts and authorities from the Soviet Union and the United States. Our goal was to analyze the existing nuclear threats and the opportunities to reduce these remaining dangers to human existence on earth.

Later, in 1994, I went to North Korea and convinced President Kim Il Sung to abandon his plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods into plutonium, which could be made into explosives. This was a successful mission, and an official agreement was consummated by President Bill Clinton to replace the decommissioned power plant with fuel oil and the technology for two modern atomic power plants under International inspection. This agreement was quickly abrogated by the new administration in Washington, and North Korea once again threatened to become a nuclear power.

Like every president since Dwight Eisenhower, I worked to limit and reduce these mutually destructive arsenals – efforts that brought Nixon's SALT I treaty, Kennedy's ABM treaty, Ford's Vladivostok agreement, my SALT II treaty, and the START treaties negotiated by Reagan and George Bush, Sr. But, so far as I know, there are no present efforts to reduce these arsenals, with mandatory goals and verification, and there are serious threats to existing agreements. In fact, START treaty ratification has not been seriously considered either by the U.S. Senate or the Russian parliament.

Another prevailing policy was a pledge not to attack a non-nuclear nation with these weapons. Unfortunately, America's rejection of this "no first use" policy in 2001 has aroused a somewhat predictable response in other nations.

In 1991, U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar sponsored legislation that pledged the U.S. and Russia to join in the proper disposal of Russia's enormous nuclear stockpiles, but this wise and effective program is in danger because of a recent lack of adequate financing and commitment of the two governments to fulfill their promises.

There are now almost 30,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, of which the United States is known to possess about 12,000, Russia 16,000, China 400, France 350, Israel 200, Britain 185, and India and Pakistan 40 each. (Some of these may be underestimated.) It is believed that North Korea has enough plutonium for a half dozen weapons. With massive arsenals still on hair-trigger alert, a global holocaust is just as possible now, through mistakes or misjudgments, as it was during the depths of the Cold War.

Let's consider the potential threats from other sources. It would be impossible for a poor developing country to deploy both nuclear warheads and intercontinental missiles to deliver them without the entire world becoming aware of this notable achievement. A much simpler technology would be to place a rudimentary warhead on a short-range rocket and launch it from a few hundred miles offshore. There are hundreds of such missiles available on the international market, including Iraq's highly publicized Scuds. In either of these scenarios, the assailant could most likely be identified – and destroyed.

It is much easier for a rogue attacker to make a small dirty nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon and smuggle it undetected into the harbor of New York or any other coastal city in a cargo container or in one of the many ships that enter seaports with no serious inspection. Such a weapon could also be loaded into a truck and hauled to an inland city before detonation. The identity of the attacker might be difficult or impossible to ascertain.

Although there are a number of nuclear arms control agreements in question, I'd like to discuss one that is designed to maintain minimal nuclear arsenals and constrain proliferation: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). First approved in 1970, this agreement envisioned the end of all nuclear weapons. A total of 187 nations have now agreed to accept its terms, including the five major powers that first had nuclear arsenals. Its objective is "to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament." This is the only binding commitment on non-proliferation between the nuclear-weapon states and nations that do not have nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for implementing the agreement.

One of its main provisions is a review of the NPT treaty every five years, and we convene meetings at The Carter Center prior to these anniversary dates to prepare for the formal conferences at the United Nations.

At the NPT session in 1995, a proposal was made to extend the treaty based on earlier commitments by the five nuclear powers:

  1. Adoption of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  2. Conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; and
  3. Reduction of nuclear arsenals with the ultimate goal of eliminating them.

Neither the U.S. nor others have honored any of these promises.

For the session in 2005, only Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea were not participating, three of whom are known to have nuclear arsenals, and North Korea having tested explosives. A proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency would have imposed a five-year moratorium on all new enrichment of nuclear materials, but the United States joined Iran in opposing the moratorium because of its "potential disruption of nuclear power projects."

Despite the importance of the issues, neither the president, secretary of state, nor any of their top deputies attended the conference.

Decisions by leaders from America and a few other nations have cast serious doubt on the future of the NPT itself. A recent United Nations report starkly warned: "We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the nonproliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."

In rejecting or evading almost all nuclear arms control agreements negotiated during the past 50 years, the United States has now become a prime obstacle to preventing nuclear proliferation. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has summed up his concerns in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine: "I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous."

In October 1999, after 10 years of intense negotiation, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Other developments are of great concern: There is a notable lack of enforcement of the extremely weak international agreements against transfer of fissile materials. The commitment by the United States to a miniature "Star Wars" missile defense system has led Russia, China, and other nations to declare that this would abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty negotiated by President Kennedy. The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency has been abolished, removing an ineffective but at least functional entity. So far as I know, these issues have not been mentioned in ongoing political debates involving America's next president.

Understandably, non-nuclear weapon states have grown increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of the nuclear nations. Decrying the lack of good faith efforts by the major nuclear powers, India and Pakistan used these failures as an excuse to join Israel as nations with nuclear arsenals. Not surprisingly, these three states are refusing to comply with NPT restraints.

Iran, an NPT signatory, has repeatedly denied its intentions to use enrich uranium for weapons, claiming that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. It is disturbing to remember that this explanation has been given before, by India, Pakistan, and North Korea, and has led to weapons programs in all three nations. At the same time, Israel's uncontrolled and unmonitored weapons status entices neighboring leaders in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab nations to join the nuclear weapon community.

Let me discuss one other specific concern. Currently proposed agreements with India, supported by the United States, will further undermine the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Knowing since 1974 of India's nuclear ambitions, other American presidents and I imposed a consistent policy: no sales of nuclear technology or uncontrolled fuel to India or any other country that refused to sign the NPT. Today, these restraints are being abandoned.

I have no doubt that India's political leaders are just as responsible in handling their country's arsenal as leaders of the five original nuclear powers. But there is a significant difference: the original five have signed the NPT, and have stopped producing fissile material for weapons.

India's leaders should make the same pledges, and join other nuclear nations in signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Instead, they have rejected these steps and insist on unrestricted access to enough fissile material from the U.S. and others for as many as 50 weapons a year.

If India's demands are accepted, why should other NPT signatories, such as Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Japan – to say nothing of less responsible nations – continue to restrain themselves?

Having received at least tentative approval from the U.S. for its policy, India faces two further obstacles: an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and an exemption from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), that – until now – has barred nuclear trade with any nation that refuses to accept international nuclear standards.

The role of these 45 nations and the IAEA is not to prevent India's development of nuclear power or even nuclear weapons, but to proceed as almost all other responsible nations on earth have done, by signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and accepting other reasonable restraints.

To face this broad pattern of serious threats, nuclear powers must show leadership by restraining themselves and by curtailing further departures from the NPT's international restraints. One by one, the choices they make today will create a legacy — deadly or peaceful — for the future.

Some American leaders are deeply concerned. Although careful not to criticize any official U.S. policies, a bipartisan group headed by Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, George Ball, and Bill Perry published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which I and many others endorsed. It declared:

"We believe that a major effort should be launched by the United States to … turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise. Such a joint enterprise ...would lend additional weight to efforts already under way to avoid the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran."

Some specific recommendations were:

  1. Substantial reduction of all nuclear forces.
  2. Elimination of short-range nuclear missiles.
  3. U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  4. High security for all weapons and nuclear materials.
  5. Tight control of nuclear fuel.
  6. No production of fissile material for weapons.
  7. Early resolution of regional conflicts.
  8. Increased warning time to prevent accidental use of a nuclear weapon.
  9. Ultimately, a world free of nuclear weapons.

It is important for all of us to pursue these goals.

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