The Bold Voice of J&K

Threat is real, response surreal, self-destructive

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RK Pachauri
Scientists have, in recent years, been concerned about comets hitting the Earth and causing large-scale destruction of all life on this planet. Recent studies indicate that the risk of being hit by a comet is much higher than was estimated earlier. Stephen Hawking has been highlighting his fears on this subject, and has stated: “One of the major threats to intelligent life in our universe is high probability of an asteroid colliding with inhabited planets.” While there is little that we can do to prevent or minimise the damage from any such extraterrestrial occurrence, we are sadly negligent of frightening dangers that our own actions are creating, and which could lead to apocalypse in the not too distant future. The danger of human-induced climate change can result in collapse of some part of the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets, with sudden sea level rise of several metres. Consequently, coastal communities and those in the small island states would face complete destruction. Even more myopic is our neglect of the nuclear threat, which is growing ever more serious every day, and neglect of which is becoming ever larger with time.
On the nuclear threat, three disturbing developments cause deep concern today. Perhaps the most dangerous development globally is the accelerated drive of North Korea towards developing long range missiles. This clearly is the result of global inertia in halting North Korea’s efforts in producing nuclear bombs and delivery systems. The second fact which the world must take proper cognizance of is the warning sounded in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) stating that it is two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.
In its recent annual announcement on the Clock, the Science and Security Board of the BAS stated: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” The statement further mentions that in 2017, the danger seems to be even greater and the need for action more urgent. It ends with the appeal that “wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way”.
The third source of chilling concern is a video recently produced by the former US Defence Secretary, William J Perry, who probably knows more about the danger of nuclear war than any living person, because he was at the centre of the tension and actions that were taken during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Perry, who is now 89 years old, has stated “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War.” Perry’s video talks about terrorists working in a remote and clandestine location where they have 40 kg of uranium which they enrich to about 90 per cent. From there, the enriched uranium is quietly moved to another laboratory, where another group assembles a nuclear bomb. The bomb is then crated, marked as agricultural equipment and airlifted to Washington, DC, and unloaded at Dulles International Airport. It is then loaded on a truck and the bomb is detonated on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, instantly killing the President, the Vice President, the House Speaker and 80,000 others.
This is followed with a warning from the terrorists that five more bombs are set to explode in unnamed US cities, once a week for the next month, unless all US military personnel overseas are withdrawn immediately. William Perry’s video is not science fiction, and the scenario it describes moves closer to reality every day.
Unfortunately, human beings are inept in visualising and appreciating low probability but high impact events. This is as true of the impacts of climate change as it is in the case of a nuclear threat which could be engineered by a group of terrorists who are becoming progressively better informed and able to draw intelligent and well-qualified people to their ranks. With our apathy to these possibilities, we are living in a state of ignorance about developments that could wipe out life on this planet. Undoubtedly, any nuclear explosion has the potential of triggering a massive response which would lead to complete destruction of life on this
planet.
Like William Perry, many, who at some stage or the other have been responsible for war or its preparations, have become peaceniks in later life. Robert McNamara, one of the brightest human beings to have been involved in public policy, was candid and honest enough to admit the mistakes made by the US in waging war in Vietnam. Einstein and Oppenheimer were two scientists who realised their role in the development of nuclear weapons, and this caused them enormous anguish and concern.
The World Academy of Arts and Science was set up as an outcome of their trepidation and concerns, for which they felt an international association of scientists and academics for exploring major concerns of humanity in a non-governmental context was essential following World War II. The Academy was formally founded in 1960, and since then it has been working at the global level to sensitize human beings and decision makers on knowledge and wisdom in critical areas of human concern.
Yet, the dangers today clearly show that decision-makers have not quite grasped the grave danger of the existence and proliferation of nuclear weapons. On September 24, 2009, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution (1887) calling for the creation of “conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”. Has this been taken seriously by any of the existing potential nuclear weapons states? To the contrary, some nuclear powers have announced upgrading of their nuclear arsenals, and this has been accompanied with developments in the field of missile technology, which only enhance the dangers from nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

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