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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Michael Douglas's speech: Westminster, 20 March 2000
Michael DouglasMichael Douglas, who is a well-known US film star, became committed to the nuclear issue when making The China Syndrome, a film about a nuclear disaster, made just prior to the problem at Three Mile Island, in the USA.
Keywords Nuclear industry, Defence
I have come to ask for your help at a time of great danger to world securiy - dangers which go largely unrecognised by the public, because they are difficult to see. For example, how many of us knew that as recently as January 1995 the nuclear briefcase of the Russian President was activated to fire nuclear weapons, for the first time in history. It happened because a weather rocket fired off the coast of Norway was misintereted by Russian radar as an incoming ballistic missile. The Russian "Launch-on-Warning" system was just four minutes away from being triggered when the mistake was realised.
This happened in one of the five established nuclear powers, with 50 years' experience in controlling nuclear weapons. During recent years two more countries - India and Pakistan - have become de facto nuclear weapon states; if the non-proliferation regime disintegrates, there could be many more by the end of the decade. Even if that doesn't happen - and the danger of it happening this year is greater than at any time in its 30-year history - it is increasingly likely that you and I will wake up one morning to find that a sub-state group with a grievance is threatening a major Western city with a "suitcase" nuclear bomb. It is considered by specialists to be only a matter of time before this happens. We have no defence whatsoever against it. The only significant way we can reduce this risk is to put the materials to make nuclear weapons under lock and key. That is possible, but the nuclear weapons nations have to do it.
Right now, the United States and Russia are in stalemate. The prospective adoption by the United States of a "Star Wars" missile defence system has already led Russia, China and other nations to declare that this would abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and lead to a more confrontational military posture between the US and Russia, and the US and China. In January, Russia also declared that it will now rely more than previously on nuclear weapons for its defence by further lowering the threshold for their use.
The tone of exchanges between my country and Russia sounds almost worse than during the Cold War. The tone of exchanges between my country and China sounds like the beginning of a new Cold War. There is an urgent need for world statesmanship on the nuclear issue, and few candidates to fill that role. That is why I have come to ask for your help. The assistance of British Parliamentarians and British leadership is sorely needed, and could be pivotal in stopping the unravelling of these three treaties which are fundamental to international security.
These three treaties - the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - underpin the current arms control regime. They are in danger of coming apart at a time when more material for making weapons of mass destruction is available worldwide than ever before. The horrific prospect opens up of a world of nuclear anarchy, where any feud between countries could degenerate into a death warrant for the entire planet.
There is still the possibility for these treaties to be saved, and for a return to progress on multi-lateral nuclear disarmament. But it will require leadership. Britain is uniquely placed to assume this leadership role: strong influence is required in Washington, and as a result of the special relationship between our two countries, the influence of the British is particularly strong. Tony Blair commands great respect. Given the impasse between the US and Russia, it is time for another nuclear power to take the initiative.
A firm hand and continuity of leadership will be required while our presidential elections take place. This would send a message to other world leaders of the importance of saving that Treaty. Britain could also, with no risk whatsoever, support negotiations at the United Nations on a convention with the ultimate aim of ridding the world of nuclear weapons entirely. I would like to ask you to inspire the Prime Minister to take the lead now in convening multi-lateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.
Nevertheless, there is little to lose and everything to gain. The British Government has done a great deal on the nuclear weapons issue in recent years, and is in an ideal position to do much more. Tony Blair could have much to gain by helping to save the three treaties currently in danger of unravelling and would find widespread political support, nationally and internationally.
A public opinion poll conducted last year shows that 70 percent of the British public "would think more highly of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, if he were to take a lead in negotiations to remove nuclear weapons worldwide". Multi-lateral nuclear disarmament is the policy on which the Labour Government was elected as stated in their 1997 Manifesto, and that is what is needed now.