Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1959
Peace and the Arms Race
Yesterday I tried to express my gratitude for the honor which I have received. Why has it come? [Mr. Gunnar Jahn, in his presentation speech, gave part of the answer.] I have been of all men the most fortunate of all. I was my father’s son. I was close friends with Norman Angell. I spoke with him as a student at Cambridge in the Cambridge Union when he made his first and very brilliant public speech. On August 4, 1914, I was with him in his chambers in the Temple and listened to Big Ben strike midnight as the Horse Artillery thundered along the Embankment to Victoria to entrain for France. And we knew that the guns were already firing, that the First World War had come. When that war was over, fate decreed that I should work for Robert Cecil, for Arthur Henderson, for Fridtjof Nansen1.
I could tell a thousand stories of how Cecil and Henderson helped to create and shape the League of Nations, build up the International Court, develop world cooperation in many spheres; of how they turned the policy of all-round armament reduction from general phrases into practical proposals on which a treaty could be made; of how they built up and led the worldwide body of informed opinion which the major governments could have used in 1932 to carry through a plan of drastic disarmament, if they had had the vision and the nerve that were required; of how, when this great opportunity – the greatest in history – had been wasted, they still battled on for the cause for which they stood.
It was for these great achievements, for their unfaltering courage, that you honored them in days gone by, and I like to think that you are still honoring them today.
And Fridtjof Nansen? To all his friends and colleagues, Nansen was the most gifted and, in all true elements of human greatness, the greatest of great men. He was as great an international statesman as he was a great explorer of the frozen North. Indeed, the best way to understand his international work is to recall how he first won his immense, unprecedented fame.
The whole world still remembers how he crossed the Greenland ice cap when all others had failed; he decided, against the advice of other experts, to force his party through the dangerous drifting ice floes and to land them on the savage, uninhabited eastern coast; once they were ashore, there could be no turning back.
When he set out to reach the Pole, again with every expert voice against him, he called his ship Fram because once he had jammed her in the ice field of the Arctic Ocean, there was only one way which she could travel: Forward; again there could be no possibility of turning back.
When the Fram had accomplished half its journey, it was already farther North than men had ever been; it was certain that in another eighteen months, it would emerge victorious on the other side, with Nansen’s theories proved.
But it would miss the Pole; so Nansen, with Johansen2 – only one companion – set out with dogs and sledges to try to reach it, to return by kayak to Franz Josef Land, and to winter there. He had no wireless; he could never find the Fram again; it was a journey of 1.100 miles, with dangers of many kinds in every mile. Was there ever such courage and such resolution as Nansen showed when he said good-by to Sverdrup3, standing in the moonlight on the glittering ice field beside the Fram?
The Nansen who stormed the diplomatic fortress of Geneva was the Nansen who stormed the barriers of the Polar Sea.
When the Nobel Committee gave him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922, it was for the “humanitarian” work he did as High Commissioner of the League of Nations. How richly he had earned it! By what he did to help in cleaning up the wreckage left in Europe by the storms of war, he brought the League of Nations a new authority, made it an instrument of reconciliation, a symbol of hope and reconstruction to the peoples of the world.
And his success had long-term results when the United Nations replaced the League: UNRRA, the UN Refugee Organization, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the work he had begun; the High Commissioner for Refugees, World Refugee Year, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Technical Assistance and Economic Aid – it is not fantastic to suggest that they all stemmed from his achievements of long ago. And yet – all of this pales into insignificance beside the historical importance of what he did in the strictly political and diplomatic developments of his day.
Nansen believed with passion that the world needed a new international system based not on force but law; he knew, all too intimately, and he hated the inner workings of the power politics and the secret old diplomacy of the past; he threw all his strength and all his courage into battling for the new.
He went to the First Assembly of the League as leader of the Norwegian delegation, his Prime Minister as Number Two sitting by his side. An early episode showed what kind of delegate he was going to be.
He was a member, with Lord Cecil, of a small committee which examined the claim of Albania for admission to the League. Italy, for reasons of power politics which later years made plain, opposed admission; Britain and France gave Italy their support.
But Nansen and Cecil were convinced that Albania was a nation and should come in. They were defeated in the small committee; and Cecil asked Nansen if they should fight the question in the full Assembly.
“Certainly we should”, was Nansen’s quick reply.
“But we shall have all the great powers against us”, Cecil warned him.
“Of course we shall”, said Nansen, as if that were of no account at all.
To him, it was of no account, because he believed their case was right. As spokesman of one of the smallest members of the League, he was more than ready to challenge the powers that had just won the war, when they sought to introduce power politics in the League. And his contemptuous scorn was justified by the event. In the open debate in the full Assembly, Nansen and Cecil, Norway and South Africa, were victors. The great powers were routed, and Albania became a member of the League.
How often was that episode repeated!
Nansen and Cecil secured publicity for the Committees of the Assembly, and later for the Council and Commissions of the League. “Publicity”, said Cecil, “is the lifeblood of the League.” A maxim worth remembering today.
Motta of Switzerland urged that Germany should be invited to join the League; he called down upon his head a Gallic torrent of Ciceronian eloquence from Viviani, the ex-prime minister and the greatest orator of France. It was Nansen who followed Viviani and said that Motta had been right. Years later it was Nansen who persuaded Stresemann and Luther that they must come in4.
In 1923, Mussolini5 used a frontier incident as an excuse to seize the island of Corfu. Greece, in a panic, appealed both to the League and to the Allied Council of Ambassadors in Paris; Cecil, with his own government half against him, upheld the competence of the League; it was Nansen who rallied the Assembly in his support, who organized the smaller nations, answered Mussolini’s threats, spoke up in the Assembly and destroyed the specious arguments of the Fascist delegates6.
“Nansen”, said Cecil, “was a pillar round whom the whole of the representatives assembled gathered in order to enforce what they believed to be right and just.”
Nansen, at that grim Corfu Assembly, beyond all question saved the League, he may well have stopped a war; he rescued Corfu from an unscrupulous aggressor bent on empire building; Venizelos7 told me it was the League’s greatest triumph and that without Nansen it could never have been done.
The mandates, slavery, forced labor, the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court, collective security, the admission of Russia, the constitutional development of the League – on all these things he was a leader; on all, in Cecil’s phrase “he gave to others something of his courage and determination”; in all, in Cecil’s metaphor, “his ship was still the Fram“. But one issue, above all others, seemed to him most urgently important – disarmament.
Let me end this brief and halting panegyric of Norway’s modern Viking hero with a quotation from what he said in a Nobel speech in 19268.
“The problem of how to get rid of war is the first of all questions, not only in international, but in national politics as well…
If we do not get rid of war, if we do not end it altogether, if we do not reduce and limit armaments, then… we may be very sure that in the future, as in the past, armaments will breed counter-armaments; they will breed alliances and counter-alliances, suspicion and distrust;… they will produce international crises, they will lead at first, perhaps, to small local wars, but in the long run, and inevitably, to a great world war like that we have seen in our own day and generation.
If we retain our armaments, if we do not carry through the work of disarmament which the League of Nations has so successfully begun, war will certainly ensue.”
In 1926 these words were spoken; in 1933, when Nansen spoke no more in Geneva for Norway and for mankind, there came the failure of the Disarmament Conference, the abandonment of the Covenant system, the return to stark power politics, the melancholy sequence of Manchuria, the Chaco, Abyssinia, Spain, Austria, Munich, and the Second World War which Nansen had foreseen9.
And today, thirty-three years later, where do we stand about the arms race, which Nansen thought the supreme issue of the age? The arms race still goes on; but now far more ferocious, far more costly, far more full of perils, than it was then.
What are the perils of the arms race? I take an old and inoffensive illustration – the facts are well-established and the men are gone.
In 1905 the British Admiralty decided to produce a great deterrent, to make it plain that Germany could never win a war and had better drop her challenge to the British fleet. They laid down the Dreadnought, a battleship so powerful that it could sink the whole German Navy without peril to itself. [Even before the Dreadnought was commissioned, a prime minister newly come to power and Lord Balfour, the prime minister of the government which had agreed to its construction, admitted in the House of Commons that the Dreadnought might have been a grave mistake. And so it proved]
It had made obsolete overnight twenty-eight German battleships and armored cruisers. But the Germans built Dreadnoughts in reply; and they made obsolete not twenty-eight but eighty-three British battleships and cruisers that could have taken on even the most powerful vessel in the German fleet. [In 1906 we had an immense margin of thirty-four ships of the line over the German, Austrian, and Italian fleets combined.]
In other words, the Dreadnought was not needed for national defense10. But ten years later, in the Battle of Jutland11, where only Dreadnoughts counted, our margin was only two to one; if our commanders had made mistakes which fortunately they avoided, we might have lost the battle and the war.
Strategically, the Dreadnought was an error of the gravest kind; politically, it was an absolute disaster. It gave enormous power to Tirpitz12 and the elements in Germany who wanted war; year by year, the race in Dreadnoughts led to panics and to counter-panics in Germany and Britain; by 1909 our foreign minister, Lord Grey13, said it had become the most important single factor in increasing European tension and the risk of war.
In 1912 Sir Winston Churchill, then at the Admiralty, and Bethmann- Hollweg, the German chancellor14, both warned their governments that if it were not stopped, it would bring war within two years. Their prediction was fulfilled, almost to the very day.
When the war was over, Lord Grey wrote his famous verdict15: “The enormous growth of armaments in Europe, the sense of insecurity and fear caused by them – it was these that made war inevitable. This is the truest reading of history, the lesson that the present should be learning from the past.”
[It was because they, like all the statesmen who had fought the war, agreed with Lord Grey’s verdict, that Lloyd George and Balfour helped Hughes of the United States16 to make the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, a treaty that ended an angry and feverish naval race between the U.S., Britain, and Japan by making large reductions in their battleships and aircraft carriers and by establishing the famous ratio 15:15:9. This treaty provided a splendid prelude to the general disarmament agreement which, under the Covenant, the League of Nations was to make.] But, alas, no general disarmament treaty was ever made. When after lengthy preparations, the Disarmament Conference met in 1932, President Hoover17 put forward a proposal for a further cut in navies, with a ratio of 10:10:6; a drastic cut in armies, with the abolition of all tanks and heavy mobile guns; the abolition of all aircraft that could carry bombs – a first – stage plan, designed to lead at later stages to the level of armaments imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles.
That plan was enthusiastically welcomed by Germany, Russia, Italy, and all the middle and smaller powers. I well remember the joy of Dr. Christian Lange18 and his Norwegian colleagues when it was proposed. It might have led the Conference to full success, if Britain had agreed.
Many people in Britain wanted to agree, among them Mr. Baldwin, the deputy prime minister19 and leader of the Conservative Party. Indeed, he wanted to go much further, and to abolish all battleships of over 10.000 tons displacement, all aircraft carriers, and all military aircraft of every kind. This would have meant as well the abolition of the submarine, and with such a lead from the leading naval power, the Conference could not have failed. But there was a conflict in the British Cabinet; Mr. Baldwin was defeated by a narrow margin; a British admiral was allowed to say in the Conference20 that “battleships are more precious than rubies to those who possess them”; by those words he killed the Hoover Plan.
After having been so near success, the Conference failed; the arms race swiftly gained a new momentum; the major governments went back to the sordid principles of power politics; Abyssinia and the Covenant were betrayed; the Second World War came by precisely the process which Nansen and Cecil and Henderson had predicted.
And what happened in the war? What part was played by the battleships for which such great hopes had been destroyed? They were almost useless; while, as Norwegian sailors know as well as we do, the submarines, for the second time in thirty years, almost brought us to our knees.
And today? The arms race has gone on; aircraft have become a deadly menace to surface shipping; the nuclear-powered submarine, the nuclear missile have sealed the doom in any future war of the merchant convoys without which Britain cannot live.
Not only so: in 1906, before the Dreadnought was commissioned, Admiral Lord Fisher, its inventor, could say that it was “absurd to talk of anything endangering our naval supremacy”.
After a half-century of the arms race, in which battleships have played so regrettable a part, we are only third in naval power; we have learnt how a new weapon of great offensive power, introduced by one nation, spreads to other nations and undermines the national defense of the nation which introduced it first; how it stimulates the general arms race and brings new weapons which, in naval warfare, now threaten the very life of nations which depend upon the sea; how, even on the plane of naval armaments alone, at every stage, 1906, 1932, 1955, a treaty of armament reduction and limitation would have been an incomparably better measure of national defense than the launching or maintenance of more powerful vessels for naval war.
But all this is still more true of the other, “modern” means of war. Look at the facts of our present arms race.
Lord Grey thought the competition before 1914 was frenzied madness; before 1939 the pace was hotter still; since 1945 it has been far beyond what anyone could have dreamed of in 1939.
In 1914 the nations had something over five million men in their standing peacetime forces; today they have more than sixteen million. In 1914 they were spending about £500 million a year on preparing for war; today they are spending £40,000 million.
The most significant figure is what we spend on military research; on using scientists of genius to “improve” existing weapons and to develop new ones that are cheaper, more destructive, swifter in delivery than those we have today.
In 193821 Britain spent less than £6 million on military research; in 1953, £100 million; in 1959, £210 million – by official figures, and allowing for the change of prices, more than twenty times what we were spending twenty years ago.
The United States in 1940 spent £5 million on military research – even less than us. In 1958, they spent £1.900 million – nine times our figure; and no doubt the Soviet Union spent even more. The results, in every class of armament, have been revolutionary; Britain is now equipping her land forces with new weapons, from the rifle to tanks that will be transportable by air; France is making bombing aircraft with twice the speed of sound.
But the great changes since 1945 are in the so-called “modern” weapons. The bloodcurdling history of the nuclear bomb is familiar to us all. In 1945 the Hiroshima weapon multiplied by 2.000 the explosive power of the ten ton “blockbuster” which our pilots had dropped on Berlin; it is the yardstick of nuclear armament, so we must remember what it did.
It killed 100.000 people in an instant of time; it crippled, burnt, blinded, riddled with radiation sickness 100.000 more; in 1959 scores of people have died a lingering, hideous death as the result of a bomb dropped fourteen years ago. A city as large as Oslo was utterly destroyed: houses, factories, offices, barracks, docks – nothing remained.
In 1954 the so-called H-bomb – the first primitive, unliftable thermonuclear device – multiplied by almost a thousand the power of the Hiroshima bomb. A British Home Office Manual on Civil Defense tells us that a ten-megaton bomb – ten million tons of Nobel’s high explosive – much smaller than the weapon of 1954 – would wipe out London: total annihilation of the center, and around it an unbroken circle of roaring flame, from which it would be a miracle if anything escaped.
And the pace of the advance in weapons is still increasing. In four years, since the government ceased discussing “comprehensive” disarmament and started seeking for “partial” measures instead, we have seen: the production of the supersonic bomber; the development of the “intermediate” missile, to have a range of 1.200 or 1.500 miles; the intercontinental missile, which may be “operational” by 1961, with the Soviet Union then producing fifteen a month; the adaptation of the H-bomb into weapons which can be carried by a fighter-bomber, and into warheads for the intercontinental missile.
We have seen the introduction of the nuclear-powered submarine, with all its menace, and the Polaris nuclear missile, which may soon be fired from underwater. We have seen the great development of chemical and biological methods of conducting war.
The Pugwash Scientists, so generously helped by Mr. Cyrus Eaton of the United States22, have shown this year that poison gas and “biologicals” may well become weapons for the mass elimination of human life. Goering23 tried a nerve gas, which he called “Tabun”, on a herd of goats; they went mad and massacred each other, before the few survivors died, after hours of agonizing pain.
An American general has told us that our nerve gas is ten times as potent now; others say even more. “Biologicals” may be just as potent, and, if they start a large-scale epidemic, more horrifying still.
No doubt with the best of motives [- I say nothing against the General Staffs – no doubt] the major military governments have kept secret the facts about their chemical and biological work; General Staffs have used euphemistic phrases like the “tactical atomic bomb” or the “low-yield thermonuclear device” – phrases against which the scientists who made these weapons openly revolt.
But it is vital that the citizens of every country should realize the true nature of the present arms race. What are the salient facts?
First, it is by far the most potent factor in the conduct of our international affairs.
Second, it is the strangest paradox in history; every new weapon is produced for national defense; but all experts are agreed that the modern, mass-destruction, instantaneous delivery weapons have destroyed defense.
Third, it is a patent error to speak as though, for an indefinite future, there will be two military “giants”, and no more. If the arms race goes on, in ten years there may be six or even more, and who knows which nation will be the greatest giant.
Fourth, the advance in weapons has already brought us within measurable distance of the sudden, decisive, irreparable knockout blow.
Dr. Ellis Johnson, the head of the Johns Hopkins Operations Analysis Office, which does tactical and strategic studies for the American army, believes that such a crushing attack by Russia on the United States is possible today. Others believe that the United States, with 10.000 megaton bombs and a vast delivery system from land bases and from the sea, will soon be able to knock out Russia, without the danger of reply.
Fifth, military research is not standing still: the highest authorities tell us that weapon “progress” will be as great in the next fifteen years as in the past. The dangers of the weapons will continually increase.
Sixth, we are continually being “conditioned” to their use. Fifty years ago the Hague Conventions codified the laws of war, forbidding gas or other poison, the use of fire bombing from the air, attacks on open towns and civilians, either on land or sea.
Within ten years all these rules had been violated in the First World War. But the Second World War was incomparably more degraded and degrading than the First.
In the First War, we had poison gas – I was at Ypres when the chlorine cloud was first released – a gas wall a hundred feet high and two miles long; I saw the French Colonial Troops flying in terror and throwing away their weapons as they ran; I saw the Canadian soldiers choking to death, with an evil yellow froth oozing from their mouths; we had poison gas, but no gas chambers; we knew the ferocious cruelty that sometimes goes with dare – all heroism, but not the organized sadism of the concentration camp. We had spying and treason and executions, but not the Gestapo’s torture chambers, with the thumbscrew and the rack.
And what is happening to us now, as we prepare for the Third Great War?
When Hitler was exterminating seven million Jews in Poland, we had millions of German prisoners in our hands; we did not kill them; we took no reprisals of any kind. But now governments are constantly asserting that if they or their allies are attacked, they will instantly reply with weapons that will wipe out tens of millions of men and women and little children, who may bear no shadow of personal responsibility for what their government has done.
What is left of the morality on which our Western civilization has been built?
How can we end the arms race?
I start with a forthright proposition: it makes no sense to talk about disarming unless you believe that war, all war, can be abolished. The Western governments declared precisely that in the UN Commission in 1952. “The goal of disarmament”, they said, “is not to regulate, but to prevent war, by making war inherently, as it is constitutionally under the Charter, impossible as a means of settling disputes between nations. To achieve this goal, all states must cooperate to establish an open and substantially disarmed world, in which armed forces and armaments will be reduced to such a point… that no state will be in a condition of armed preparedness to start a war.”24
That was the objective declared by the Western governments eight years ago; it is the objective which Mr. Khruschev declared in the General Assembly in September last25.
Unless there is an iron resolution to make it the supreme object of international policy and to realize it now, I believe all talks about disarmament will fail.
This26 rules out attempts to “limit” war by new laws or understandings about how weapons will be used. I fear we should not get far with the kind of “partial” measures which have been debated for the last four years. Everyone would favor “partial” measures, if they were real, if they created confidence, if nothing better could be done.
Some people honestly believe that small steps will be much easier to take than large ones. They quote proverbs to support their point – the crude English: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”; the elegant French: “The better is the enemy of the good”; the Russian: “The slower you ride, the further you go”. Well, in Russia I should have thought it would depend on whether you had a pack of wolves howling hungrily at your horse’s heels. We have a pack of wolves, the modern weapons, howling at our heels.
I prefer the words of our great economist and political thinker, John Stuart Mill: “Against a great evil, a small remedy does not produce a small result; it produces no result at all.” Or the saying of Lloyd George: “The most dangerous thing in the world is to try to leap a chasm in two jumps.” There is a great chasm, a great gulf, between the armed world of today and the disarmed world which we must have on some near tomorrow.
I will not discuss the “partial” measures which have been debated in recent years: the “cut-off” of new nuclear weapons; measures against surprise attack; exchange of budgetary information; and the rest – in my view, except as part of a general disarmament treaty, they were almost bound to fail.
I rejoice that, for the present, they have been set aside, that the new Committee of Ten will meet to discuss a “comprehensive” plan for general and complete disarmament, and that its mandate is to prepare detailed proposals within the shortest practicable time27.
Some people say the Committee should work on Mr. Khruschev’s proposals made in the Assembly the other day. Others seem to think that it would be dangerous to start on a Kremlin basis, to appear to let the Kremlin have the lead. They remind me of a Scottish minister of the Kirk, who, after a period of draught, when the crops were withering in the corn fields, was asked by the farmers of his parish to pray to the Almighty to send some rain. “No, no”, he replied, “I cannot do that while the wind is in the East!”
Can we really not negotiate on proposals that come to us from the East? I should have thought that that might be the very moment when we had the greatest prospect of success; that, perhaps, Dr. Christian Lange’s “golden hour of opportunity” had come again. But first, they say, we must know: Is Mr. Khruschev genuinely sincere?
I answer the doubters’ question in three ways. First, perhaps no one knows if Mr. Khruschev is sincere, and we shall never know unless we start a serious negotiation with him without delay. Second, if we do negotiate, we shall know within a week if he is sincere or not; that is certain. Third, if we do not soon start a serious negotiation on the basis of the mandate which the General Assembly has defined, then he may say, and others will believe, that it is we who are not sincere.
The words “general and complete disarmament” are Mr. Khruschev’s; he proposed the elimination of all armaments and all armed forces within four years, leaving nations with militias bearing small arms to maintain order within their states. He proposed as well a general and complete inspection and control, with no reservations or limitations of any kind. In other words, he proposed an ultimate objective, and a timetable of the stages by which it should be reached.
His objective, I repeat, is simply that declared by the Western governments in 1952; and, unless I misread the speeches in the Assembly, there is no one who rejects this as the final purpose now.
Is the timetable too ambitious? Of course, there are dangers in avoidable delay; but four years is very short for so vast and revolutionary a change; in all good faith, it might take six, or eight, or ten; I hope Mr. Khruschev will be elastic about the point, provided real disarmament is being pursued.
In any case, I hope the new Committee of Ten will remember what was said by an American delegate some years ago: that the further you carry disarmament, the easier it becomes; the technical problems grow simpler, the inspection more certain to succeed.
Of course, there must be a first-stage treaty, by which the initial reductions will be made.
In our British United Nations Association Statement we set out what we believe would be a wise first-stage agreement: reductions of manpower army, navy, air force all together – to one or at most 1.5 million men for Russia, China, and America, with lower “ceilings” for other nations; a corresponding reduction of conventional weapons; agreement to abolish, by prescribed measures, all the weapons of mass destruction, including the existing stocks; budgetary reduction and limitation; and of course the appropriate measures of inspection and control.
We believe the first-stage treaty should also make quite clear, at least in principle, the further reductions to be made in stages two and three; the whole negotiation will be far easier if the steps to the ultimate objective are made plain in everybody’s mind.
How practical is this program? Are there vast, unsolved technical problems to be faced? Well, a treaty of general disarmament will be a long and complex document. But, broadly, Salvador de Madariaga’s28 words [spoken in 1932] are true [today]: “Technical difficulties are political objections in uniform”.
And, in fact, nearly all the technical problems of reducing armies, navies; and air forces, of reducing or abolishing conventional armaments, of reducing and limiting military budgets, were already solved long years ago. The London and Washington Naval Treaties29, the Reports of the Disarmament Conference of 1932, Sir Anthony Eden’s Draft Disarmament Convention30 of March, 1933 – these provide model [treaty] clauses from which the Committee of Ten might well begin.
But there is one new technical difficulty to be faced – the clandestine nuclear stock. Suppose the nuclear powers agree to abolish all their A- and H-bombs, how could they be certain a disloyal government, planning to conquer or blackmail the world, would not keep a part – ten percent, twenty percent – of their existing stocks in a lead and concrete hideout that no one could ever find?
“It is now a fact”, said Sir Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, “that a quantity of plutonium, perhaps less than would fill this Box on the table… would suffice to produce weapons which would give indisputable world domination to any great power which was the only one to have it.”31
This has been the crux of the deadlock of recent years. Some governments have argued that the only safeguard is for the nuclear powers to retain a great part of their stocks to act as a deterrent to aggression, that total abolition will only be safe when there is some new Geiger counter, some miraculous new instrument or method that will detect the faintly radioactive H-bomb behind its concrete shield.
But if we wait for this Geiger counter, we may wait for decades, as Mr. Stassen32 said in 1957; or we may wait forever. What happens while we are waiting?
Will France stop making nuclear weapons? Will China, with its vast potential power ? If France and China, then surely Japan, India, Pakistan, Germany, Italy, and others will join the nuclear club – there are now a dozen countries which, within a decade, could mobilize the necessary materials and skills. Simply waiting for a Geiger counter means the gravest risk of all. Is there nothing else that we can do?
Of course there is. We could abolish the “means of delivery”, the military aircraft and the missiles by which nuclear weapons can be used. That is quite easy; Mr. Khruschev has proposed it; there is no problem of control-bombers and missiles could not be made or tested without UN inspectors finding out, nor could troops be given training in their use.
Second, we can agree, as in principle I understand we have agreed, to abolish the land, sea, and air forces without which no government could embark upon aggressive war.
Third, we could set up general and complete control of all the means, including nuclear plants, by which war can be prepared; I discussed this in great detail with Mr. Khruschev and his colleagues, and I am sure that, for real disarmament, they will agree.
These three measures are the real safeguards, far better than any Geiger counter; they would remove the whole temptation to keep a secret nuclear stock. The risk of accepting such a system would be incomparably less than the risk of allowing the arms race to go on.
Disarmament is not a policy by itself; it is part of the general policy of the UN. But it is a vital part of that policy; without it, the UN institutions can never function as they should.
For every nation, it is the safest and most practicable system of defense. Defeatism about the past is a grievous error; the Disarmament Conference of 1932 was not inevitably bound to fail; failure was due to human errors we can plainly see.
Sir Winston Churchill called the Second War “the most unnecessary war in history”. [Defeatism about the past is a grievous error;] defeatism about the future is a crime. The danger is not in trying to do too much, but in trying to do too little. Nansen said here in 1926 that “in the big things of life, it is vitally important to leave no line of retreat… We must destroy the bridges behind us which lead back to the old policy and the old system, both of which are such utter failures.”33
In the age when the atom has been split, the moon encircled, diseases conquered, is disarmament so difficult a matter that it must remain a distant dream? To answer “Yes” is to despair of the future of mankind.
“Politics”, it is said, “is the art of the possible.” How often that weary cliché provides excuse for defeatist surrender, before the real difficulties of a problem have been faced! [Democracy is the art of mobilizing popular opinion in support of reforms that are technically possible and that the people want. Disarmament is technically – I repeat I – far simpler than any other method of national defense. Who doubts that all the peoples want it?]
Nansen was the first to say what others have repeated, that “the difficult is what takes a little while; the impossible is what takes a little longer”. If politics is the art of the possible, statesmanship is the art, in Nansen’s sense, of the impossible; and it is statesmanship that our perplexed and tortured humanity requires today.
But even with statesmanship of that high order, we may have a long and dangerous voyage still before us, full of hazards and, it may be, storms; if at last we are to reach our destination, our ship must be the Fram.
* This lecture was delivered by the laureate in the auditorium of the Nobel Institute. The text is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1959. Collation with the tape recording of the lecture shows that in delivery the speaker departed from the text at various points, making certain deletions, revisions, and additions. The more important additions have been inserted in brackets within the text itself, and the more significant revisions and deletions noted as they occur. The lecture was given no title; the one supplied here embodies the theme of the lecture.
1. This paragraph in the text reads: “Why has it come? Because I worked for Robert Cecil, for Arthur Henderson, for Fridtjof Nansen.” Angell, Cecil, Henderson, and Nansen were peace laureates for 1933, 1937, 1934, and 1922, respectively.
4. Giuseppe Motta (1871-1940), president of the Swiss Confederation (1915, 1920, 1927, 1932, 1937), opened the First Assembly of the League. René Raphaël Viviani (1863-1925), French premier (1914-1915), French delegate to the Assembly (1920- 1922), to the Council (1919, 1923). Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929), German foreign minister (1923-1929) and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1926. Hans Luther (1879-1962), German chancellor (1925-1926).
6. The Italian delegate, Antonio Salandra, raised the question of whether the League should deal with the question while it was also under consideration by the Council of Ambassadors; The incident itself ended when Italy evacuated its troops and Greece apologized.
9. The Disarmament Conference, convened under the auspices of the League of Nations in February, 1932, never fully recovered from Germany’s withdrawal in October, 1933. The League of Nations Covenant included recognition of the need for disarmament, enforcement of international obligations by common action, and settlement of international disputes by peaceable means. Japan attacked China in Manchuria in September, 1931. Bolivia and Paraguay fought the Chaco War (1932-1935) over disputed boundaries in the Chaco region. Italy invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), although a domestic struggle, became in effect a battleground for Russia on one side and Germany and Italy on the other. Hitler’s Germany announced the union of Austria and Germany (the Anschluss) in 1938. The Munich Pact of September, 1938, signed by Germany, England, France, and Italy, ceded territory from Czechoslovakia to Germany and destroyed Czech military power. Second World War (1939-1945).
16. David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British prime minister (1916-1922). Arthur James Balfour, Earl of Balfour (1848-1930), British prime minister (1902-1905); leading British delegate to Washington Conference (1921-1922). Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), U.S. secretary of state (1921-1925).
22. The Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, so called because it first met (1957) at Mr. Eaton’s Pugwash estate in Nova Scotia, was financially aided in holding several of its early meetings by Cyrus S.Eaton, a Cleveland industrialist.
25. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971), Russian Communist premier (1958- 1964). His speech is reported verbatim in UN General Assembly Records, 14th Session: Plenary Meetings, Sept.15-Dec.13, 1959, pp.31-38.
27. A four-power comminiqué of September 7, 1959, addressed to the Secretary-General, stated that agreement had been reached on the creation of a ten-nation disarmament committee composed of France, U.S.S.R., U.S., U.K., Bulgaria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Poland, and Rumania. (DC/144, 8 September 1959). The mandate is contained in General Assembly Resolution 1378 (xiv; 20 November 1959, item 70).
28. Salvador de Madariaga (1886- ), Spanish diplomat and writer, known especially for his studies on national and international psychology; in the 1920’s held posts in the League of Nations, including that of director of the Disarmament Section.
Watch the live stream of the announcements.