Einstein said, “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”
This week the world is intently watching developments in Syria hoping and praying for a peaceful solution. As the United Nations convenes its 68th general assembly there is a strong push for peace and hope that the UN can realize one of its most important missions, the prevention of war. All nations and particular those of the Security Council have an opportunity and obligation to promote this process. Ultimately the outcome of this crisis affects the fate of the planet. In adherence to international law with the ban on the use of chemical weapons and holding accountable those who use them we see parallels when it comes to the greatest existential threat we face, the use of nuclear weapons. This is a time for leadership by example.
This week provides the world two important opportunities to demonstrate this leadership.
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September 21 is the International Day of Peace observed around the world each year. It was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.
In 2001, the General Assembly by unanimous vote established September 21 as the official annual day of nonviolence and cease-fire.
The United Nations invites all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.
Each year, the day has a theme and this year it is “Education for Peace.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared, “On this International Day of Peace, let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. Let us invest in the schools and teachers that will build a fair and inclusive world that embraces diversity. Let us fight for peace and defend it with all our might.”
Thursday, September 26th the UN will host the first ever High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament.
Every nation in the world has been invited to participate at the highest political level. We have never been at such a moment of crisis and opportunity. Crisis because the two states with over 95 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals, the U.S. and Russia have decided to boycott the meeting, and opportunity because the vast majority of the world’s countries support the advancement of a convention banning nuclear weapons similar to the chemical weapons convention. These countries representing a majority of people on the planet are held hostage to the cold war policies of the nuclear dinosaurs.
Ultimately actions speak louder than words.
Instead of honoring the significance of these dates and working in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament, the United States has chosen to schedule two tests of its Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile on September 22 and September 26.
Just hours after the International Day of Peace ends, the U.S. plans to launch a Minuteman III – the missile that delivers U.S. land-based nuclear weapons – from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Then, on the same day that most countries will send their head of state or foreign minister to New York for the UN’s first-ever High-Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament, the U.S. plans to send another Minuteman III missile from California to the Marshall Islands.
These missiles are designed to carry nuclear warheads capable of killing thousands of times more people than the chemical weapons used in Syria.
The insensitive timing, indeed the provocation of these tests, is remarkable. Where is our credibility? Imagine if North Korea, Iran, Pakistan or China were carrying out these same tests at this time. What would our response be? The unexamined assumption that we can continue these tests and behaviors while demanding the opposite of others begs explanation and defies reason. As Gandhi is so often quoted, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”
We can and must demand better of President Obama and our elected officials. Change must begin at home. Let our collective voices be heard loud and clear. For ultimately the actions we take today define the world we hand to our children. The choice is ours.