Mikhail Gorbachev was the president of the Soviet Union and is the author of The New Russia.
When I became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, I felt during my very first meetings with people that what worried them the most was the problem of war and peace. Do everything in order to prevent war, they said.
By that time, the superpowers had accumulated mountains of weapons; military build-up plans called for “space combat stations,” “nuclear-powered lasers,” “kinetic space weapons” and similar inventions. Thank God, in the end none of them were built. What is more, negotiations between the U.S.S.R. and the United States opened the way to ending the nuclear arms race. We reached agreement with one of the most hawkish U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan, to radically reduce the arsenals.
Today, those achievements are in jeopardy. More and more, defense planning looks like preparation for real war amid continued militarization of politics, thinking and rhetoric.
The National Security Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review published by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration in February orients U.S. foreign policy toward “political, economic, and military competitions around the world” and calls for the development of new, “more flexible” nuclear weapons. This means lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons even further.
Against this backdrop, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his recent address to the Federal Assembly, announced the development in Russia of several new types of weapons, including weapons that no country in the world yet possesses.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, published in Chicago, set the symbolic Doomsday Clock half a minute closer to “Midnight” in January. As the scientists see it, we are now within two minutes of a global catastrophe. The last time this level of danger was recorded in 1953.
The alarm that people feel today is fully justified.
How should we respond to this new round of militarization?
Above all, we must not give up; we must demand that world leaders return to the path of dialogue and negotiations.
The primary responsibility for ending the current dangerous deadlock lies with the leaders of the United States and Russia. This is a responsibility they must not evade, since the two powers’ arsenals are still outsize compared to those of other countries.
But we should not place all our hopes on the presidents. Two persons cannot undo all the roadblocks that it took years to pile up. We need dialog at all levels, including mobilization of the efforts of both nations’ expert communities. They represent an enormous pool of knowledge that should be used in the interest of peace.
Things have come to a point where we must ask: Where is the United Nations? Where is its Security Council, its Secretary General? Isn’t it time to convene an emergency session of the General Assembly or a meeting of the Security Council at the level of heads of state? I am convinced that the world is waiting for such an initiative.
There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of people both in Russia and in the United States will agree that war cannot be a solution to problems. Can weapons solve the problems of the environment, terrorism or poverty? Can they solve domestic economic problems?
We must remind the leaders of all nuclear powers of their commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate reductions and eventually the elimination of nuclear weapons. Their predecessors signed that obligation, and it was ratified by the highest levels of their government. A world without nuclear weapons: There can be no other final goal.
However dismal the current situation, however depressing and hopeless the atmosphere may seem, we must act to prevent the ultimate catastrophe. What we need is not the race to the abyss but a common victory over the demons of war.