3 May 2000


3 May 2000

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press conference this morning, Daniel Ellsberg, anti- nuclear activist and former analyst for the Rand Corporation, told correspondents that several non-governmental organizations this afternoon would present to the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) a programme of reducing the nuclear risk. The programme was not new. It had been promoted by non-nuclear States and recognized by the Unites States Government, but it had never been instituted. Further nuclear proliferation was inevitable, unless the current situation was reversed, he said.

The topic of the press conference was "Perspectives on Victims of the Nuclear Age". Also addressing the journalists were the Mayor of Nagasaki, Iccho Itoh; Deputy Mayor of Hiroshima, Koushi Morimoto; and Jacqui Katona of Mirrar Aboriginal People of Northern Australia. Monitoring the press conference was Kevin Sanders, Media Director of Reaching Critical Will -- a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Introducing the panellists, Mr. Sanders said that the press conference, which was made possible by the Department of Disarmament Affairs, was in a sense a preview of the presentation of non-governmental organization cases to the NPT Review Conference, which is going to take place in the afternoon.

The Mayor of Nagasaki, Iccho Itoh, said that nuclear tests by India and Pakistan represented a new challenge to the NPT. The Review Conference was of particular importance, because it was the last review of the implementation of the Treaty in the twentieth century. It was necessary to work very hard to achieve total elimination of nuclear weapons, and the non-governmental organizations had an important role to play in that respect. Unless that goal was achieved, humankind would be in big trouble in the twenty-first century.

The Deputy Mayor of Hiroshima, Koushi Morimoto, said that he was representing the Mayor of his city. Today, Mr. Itoh would be addressing the NPT Conference on behalf of the World Conference of Mayors for Peace through Inter- City Solidarity. His statement would be available to the press, as well as the book of messages from the member cities of that organization. He hoped that the Review Conference would reflect on the fate of the victims of the atomic bombs, which had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mr. Ellsberg said that at Hiroshima, there was a memorial with the words "Rest in peace" inscribed on it. Addressed to the victims, the memorial also said that the error (or crime, depending on translation) would not be repeated. "Have we kept that vow?" he asked. "I would say that with the current policies of my country, the United States, and the other nuclear-weapon States, there is no assurance whatsoever that that crime and error will not be repeated. Quite the contrary: unless we as citizens and humans mobilize and act to reverse and change drastically the present and past policies of our States, there is every expectation that the error and the crime will be repeated, and there will be other victims."

NPT Press Conference - 2 - 3 May 2000

Unfortunately, he added, despite internal warnings, the United States had been giving higher priority to its nuclear superiority and to its huge and developing arsenals than to the clear requirements for stopping proliferation. "I must say that my own country and all other nuclear-weapon States have actively and knowingly promoted proliferation and increased the risks of nuclear war", he said. One of the most shocking pieces of evidence in that respect had been leaked just a few days before, according to The New York Times, by a Russian source to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It concerned an American briefing given to the Russians by none other than John Holum, a man who had otherwise spent his life averting risks of nuclear war and yet had been pressed into a policy of clearly encouraging the Russians to continue in the most dangerous policy in the world today. That involved the maintenance of Russia's vulnerable and accident-prone forces in a state of hair-trigger alert and readiness to launch on warning. It was well known that their warning system was, in fact, subject to false alarms.

There was no greater risk to humanity today than a possibility of a major nuclear launch by Russia based on a false alarm, he said. Nevertheless, in order to advance a domestic political agenda in the United States, to satisfy a hawkish right wing that did not represent even the majority of the American people, the United States was encouraging the Russians to advance a launch-on- warning system. That was being done to advance towards an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system in violation of the ABM Treaty. The briefing implied that if a country did not have a launch-on-warning system, it was deprived of a deterrent force that the United States would regard as adequate. In the terrible half-century, the latest United States policy was the most reckless, irresponsible, dangerous and foolish one that he had ever heard of. It must be quickly reversed.

Jacqui Katona, of Mirrar Aboriginal People of Northern Australia, said that today, indigenous peoples would present their case to the NPT Review Conference, highlighting the effect of nuclear proliferation on their community. Indigenous peoples had much to contribute to the definitions of peaceful use of nuclear energy. In effect, such use implied conflict at source, for now there were no peaceful origins for peaceful use. Many thousands of indigenous people were irreversibly affected, as a result of the nuclear fuel cycle. Indigenous people required and respectfully requested from the Conference that a formal process be introduced, by which their concerns would be received. They would also request that the NPT review process be directly informed of the issues of uranium mining, testing, rehabilitation and toxic waste storage, which affected indigenous communities, through the establishment of relevant and formal reporting procedures and the provision of adequate resources.

It was also necessary, she added, to establish an indigenous committee, which would officially and accurately report to the non-proliferation process on actions of States relevant to indigenous communities. Today's presentation represented the indigenous communities of the South Pacific, the Americas, Australia and others who had been continuously affected by various aspects of the nuclear-fuel cycle.

Asked to elaborate on the exact request on behalf of indigenous peoples, Ms. Katona said that they were asking for a process to investigate the matters she had mentioned. The European Parliament had recently passed a resolution requesting States to prepare independent studies regarding the nature of indigenous rights and environmental standards at the source of their products.

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The indigenous peoples believed that it was vital to inform the NPT process of the effects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy on indigenous peoples.

A myth had been created in the NPT forum that peaceful use was "some sort of legitimate use of technology", she continued. However, indigenous peoples were suffering the effects of radiation. There were genetic mutations, which resulted from the nuclear-fuel cycle. The NPT must be formally informed about it, and resources should be allocated, so that the information could be received. There should also be a committee to deliberate on the issues in question.

Responding to a question regarding statistical data on the indigenous victims of radiation, Ms. Katona said that such information had been presented to every Preparatory Committee and Review Conference of the NPT. Statistical data did exist, and it would be made available to the correspondents this afternoon.

Asked about United States' plans for deploying a national missile-defence system, Mr. Ellsberg said that there was no question that the Pentagon was moving ahead with preparations to deploy such a system. It was acting on the assumption that there would be an agreement to deploy at least a limited system if the Republicans won in November, and probably prior to that in an effort to head off votes for the Republicans on behalf of the Clinton Administration. The Russians had stated clearly that such actions would violate the ABM Treaty and that their response to it would be essentially the same as American response would be in a similar case, namely, to maintain an assured retaliatory force by abrogating other limits, such as START II and possibly even START I, in order to overwhelm any anti-ballistic missile system. The chances were that all agreements, including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), would be in question under those circumstances. In that case, a collapse of all existing treaties among nuclear-weapon States was quite possible, and the international community would face a crisis.

He went on to say that the Pentagon was reassured by the notion that Russia could not economically respond in the same way it could have 20 years before. Such a position was extremely short-sighted, because by simply abrogating START II, Russia could reverse the dismantlement of the SS-18 missiles without much expense at all. That would increase the risk of a nuclear exchange based on a false alarm. An even more urgent reason to oppose changes to the ABM Treaty, even by a limited United States system, was the fact that Russia would continue its reckless launch-on-warning policy. That reason was sufficient to forego the supposed security advantages of a ballistic missile system.

Responding to a question about the significance of his addressing the Conference, Mr. Itoh said that 55 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world still had fears of nuclear weapons. The full effect and damage of nuclear radiation still had not been fully communicated to the people. Among the concerns today were the questions of nuclear armament and proliferation. With the advancement of science and medicine, there was still no cure for the victims of nuclear radiation. The Conference presented a good opportunity to warn the world about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The people should know that the threat of nuclear weapons was real and that a single explosion now would be two or three times more powerful than the bombs that had exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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For information media. Not an official record.