After Nuclear Disarmament – What?


Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Speech given at the reception for the Peace March 6 Aug 1981, UNESCO, Paris; and for the Perugia-Assisi Peace March 24-27 Sep 1981

Ten Proposals for Concrete Peace Politics

You who have now concluded your march for peace through Europe, you people are the conscience of Europe. If our governments, East and West, had pursued a rational, sensible policy of peace your heroic march would not have been necessary. But our governments, East and West, are pursuing an arms race for two reasons:

  • Because they have an enormous scientific, bureaucratic and industrial capacity all the time making the arms more destructive, more precise, more difficult to defend oneself against, and
  • Because they get frightened when the other side does the same.

To the East the SS20s are modernizations of the SS4s and the SS5s of earlier years, and reactions, for instance, to the Polaris system of the West; to the West the Cruise and Pershing II missiles are “modernizations” of present systems and reactions to the SS20s. The West, including–unfortunately–the government of this country, are now pursuing a policy, after the historical and disastrous NATO decision of December 12, 1979, of stepping up the arms level by trying to deploy 572 of Cruise and Pershing II – the idea being that this will make the Russians reconsider their deployment of SS20s, and then the two sides will together agree to lower the levels of nuclear overkill, and destruction of nature and civilization at the same time. Of course this will not work out. The Russians will do just the opposite: they will “modernize” their weapons further for the two reasons mentioned. It is all a part of an arms race with increasing tension and fear, there are no examples at all that one party is pressed to stop and enter an agreement in such a race, there is no compelling reason why he should. Our governments are pursuing something which does not exist: what they do is metaphysics; they are the true “idealists” in the sense of being truly unrealistic.

But that does not mean unilateral disarmament is realistic: as an isolated approach it can lead to attack from the other side, and it can lead to even more armament if the mood changes again. What seems to be realistic is a process of mutual unilateralism where one party stops and makes one step down the spiral, giving the other side a chance to follow – for instance with a nuclear-free zone starting in the Nordic countries and extended to include Soviet territory. Or: a no-first-use pledge for ABC weapons. Historical examples point to this as the only realistic possibility. But the condition is that initiatives are made and that responses in a positive direction, from the other side, are taken seriously – not just brushed aside as propaganda. Moreover, disarmament alone is never enough – it has to be combined with not only a sense of balance as just indicated, but also with efforts to solve the conflicts underlying the whole situation, and efforts to develop alternatives to the nuclear arms both parties are relying on – with the potentials of a mega-Hiroshima/Nagasaki built into them.

The following are ten proposals – short-term, entirely feasible given political will – along these lines with a very brief justification of each of them.

  • The best defense a country can have is to be as invulnerable economically as possible, and have only defensive means of defense.

This is the basis of the Swiss defense system: to be so self-sufficient in times of war in such basic fields as food and energy that there will be no temptation to pursue aggressive policies with intervention in neighbouring countries and rapid deployment forces for action all around the world. At the same time Switzerland has a defense system which is not based on trying to export the war and fight it on other people’s territory – which is what the Soviet Union tries to do with her system of buffer states and the US tries to do with her “modernization” of the European theater – a theater where the superpowers are supposed to be spectators, pushing buttons and we the victims of their failed politics.

  • A non-aggressive defense is fully possible: it probably consists of a combination of conventional military, para-military and non-military defense.

Both Switzerland and Yugoslavia have come far in this direction, and they are probably both among the safest countries in Europe today because their defense systems do not threaten anybody at the same time as any possible aggressor knows the population would go on fighting long after a possible military capitulation. They are incapable of nuclear retaliation, that is true – but precisely for that reason does not make any other country so desperately afraid of them that they might try a first strike to eliminate that threat.

  • Military blocs can hardly be abolished all of a sudden, but more countries members of the bloc could become more independent and become protest countries rather than client countries.

Both France and Romania are good examples of countries that are not automatic followers of the superpower line. They both played historical roles in the 1960s in bringing about détente and may play such roles again. But we need more countries. They do not have to declare themselves non-members, but it is quite clear that Poland and the Netherlands de facto are protest countries rather than client countries. New models should be found for membership in the pacts, with special relations to the superpowers. Thus, the four countries mentioned are for all practical purposes nuclear-free zones even though France has the force de frappe – it is the degree to which a country is willing to play the role given to it by the superpower and to be host to superpower bombs that counts.

  • Neutral countries in Europe should play a much more active role in the non-aligned movement, also in development questions to bridge the gaps.

The non-aligned movement consists mainly of countries trying to get out of the pattern of underdevelopment. They are offered only two models of development: capitalist and socialist, or private capitalist and state capitalist to be more precise. The superpowers are jealously watching that a country sticks to the correct model. What is desperately needed in the world today would be countries capable of developing a third or a fourth, a fifth development model so as to be not only non-aligned in a military sense, but also in development politics in general. Only by teaching the superpowers that there are alternatives to their policies can they possibly start giving up their interference in internal affairs. But if the Western bloc helps for instance Poland in developing a new strategy of development, more democratic, possibly more socialist, then this will be seen as an effort by the other side to subvert. Hence, the neutral countries have a great role to play, and some of them are also themselves in search of development alternatives.

  • Organize peace-building and war-avoidance conferences without superpower or with superpowers as observers only.

To entrust the peace process to superpowers is not only totally unrealistic, it is catastrophic – like entrusting the control of the traffic in narcotics to the major narcotics dealers. To the contrary, the neutral countries in Europe, and the protest countries, should take initiatives to organizing new types of conferences not dominated by superpower objectives and superpower thinking, for instance with all this superficial rocket counting that goes on. With superpowers even as co-presidents of such conferences no new ideas will ever be permitted to emerge. The superpowers should be less in the center of the process, more on the margin.

  • As an example of peace-building measure: new forms of cooperation.

A number of cooperative measures emerged in the former period of détente, the late 1960s. But they were flawed in an important way: there was little or no understanding of the danger of economically unbalanced cooperation. Countries, like Poland, importing increasingly expensive and exporting less valuable goods will become dependent and increasingly in debt; this, in turn, may increase the likelihood of superpower intervention. More symmetric forms have to be found, what they are is not so easily seen. The search is important and must continue.

  • Example of war-avoiding measure: a UN surveillance satellite.

Crimes are being committed  every day against the people of Europe and other countries as well as by superpowers and some of their allies who target their missiles on human beings anywhere, like fascists preparing genocide. These crimes should not pass unmasked. Each side knows through its system of spies and spy satellites more or less where the other side has its weapons of mass death. We, the possible victims, are entitled to share in this knowledge, to reveal it, to unmask it. The excellent French proposal in the last UN special session on disarmament went far in this direction and should be supported.

  • Example of war-avoiding measure: UN troops between East and West.

We all know that UN peace-keeping forces represent no guarantee. But they would, stationed in buffer zones between NATO and Warsaw Treaty Organization countries in Europe, be important symbols of a world society present and watching, and at least trying to help by being in-between.

  • Local, municipal councils represent a new force in the peace movement and could build up the support for nuclear-free zones and also for alternative forms of defense.

A number of them already exist in Britain – much more work could be done along these lines as it is quite clear that the old form of leaving it all to the national governments and parliaments,  which then leaves it to an alliance and/or a superpower government, leads to defense policies much too far removed from the people who supposedly are to be defended and might have very different opinions from their leaders who will be protected in their underground bankers.

  • Eventually, the action by people themselves is indispensable as a peace factor, and the most solid factor on which to build.

The peace movement in Europe, but so far mainly in the West and mainly in the North, is now a political factor nobody can afford to neglect. This means that people have power. In a democracy the peoples should also have the right of more than demonstrations, marches and other excellent consciousness-raising measures. They should also have the right to demand a popular vote over military policies that imply the transformation of European countries into guaranteed targets of nuclear rockets from the other side, in a desperate effort to eliminate missiles before they are fired. They should have the right to have such votes also on a local basis so that the communities with a population in favor of such disastrous policies can bear the risks themselves, and perhaps understand better what they favor. And they should, eventually, have the right to veto, with all nonviolent means, the introduction of any nuclear capability in their local community. There are risks in this. But the risks of yet another turn on the spiral of armament are infinitely higher: they spell the end of all of us.

So, let us liberate our politicians from their thought prisons, they are prisoners of their own much-too-simple logic. The situation is dangerous, difficult, but not yet hopeless. What has been mentioned above is completely possible – and so are many other peace policies. There are so many things that could be done; and, I think, more realistic than what we read from our politicians every day. Time to start doing them is now. If the politicians do not wan or are unable to do so from the top level of the countries and the alliances, then others have to show the way.

As you people have!


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. Prof. Galtung has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters, 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and more than 170 books on peace and related issues, of which more than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Oct 2017.

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6 Responses to “After Nuclear Disarmament – What?”

  1. Modus says:

    Like it or not. Nukes kept the cold war cold. It kept Soviet and China from embarking on a full-scale war in the 60’ies.

    Nukes ended WW2 and even though the cost of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to terrible to imagine, the cost of carrying on would have been at least 10 times higher in number of casualties. We know now that even after the a-bombings, only a narrow vote stopped the Japanese from continuing the war, which we know from Okinawa etc would have been far more terrible that the holocausts of August 6th and 9th.

    Nukes are horrible and terrible weapons. But they have also saved countless lives.

  2. I very much like Johan’s writings, teachings and his lectures, but there is one detasil where we’ll not agree: Switzerland. Johan thinks “Switzerland is a safe country today because their defense system does not threaten anybody”.

    Of course I understand what Johan is saying and agree as to the “safety” of living in Switzerland, but this is not due to the country not threatening other countries. Switzerland is safe, because it decided not to play games of war, but to make money by promoting wars elsewhere.

    To me, having lived in Switzerland for seven years, during which I had direct and indirect contact with the Swiss military industry, I can safely say, Switzerland is responsible for the death of millions. I had a Hungarian colleague (pianist) married to the daughter of Mr Bührle, one of the partners in the Oerlikon-Bührle huge military firm. Mr Bührle always laughed at the thought of Germans and French killing each other with the weapons he had sold to them.

    This was thanks to Switzerland’s “neutrality”. The Swiss even forced Mr Bührle to sell his killing toys to the Italians, so that more “export duties” were paid to them. World War II over, the Swiss offered Geneva for the establishment of the War-creating Club they called United Nations. In its 70 years, this Club has created over 200 armed conflicts. (I’m a witness to this statement, from my years in Geneva, from 1960 to 1967)

    The world is not in the state it is by accident. I insist: whilst arms – bombs, rockets, air-fighters, etc – are manufactured to be sold, talk of Peace is a waste of time and effort. We must work for a NON-MILITARISED

    Johan puts is very clearly and easy to understand “….. the risks of yet another turn on the spiral of armament are infinitely higher: they spell the end of all of us.”. This truth applies even if we destroy all nuclear capability on the planet.


  3. The UN Charter in my opinion is the heart and soul of the geopolitical mess we are in. Fatally flawed, the Charter must be replaced. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth (aka “Earth Constitution”) is ready to go — and could bring us a “new UN.” How?

    The Earth Constitution brings us a democratic world federal union governing structure. For the first time a “new UN” would have a potentially effective World Judiciary system with real enforcement powers. Democratic World Federalists (San Francisco) is demanding Charter Review and seeks popular support for this strategy. The Center for UN Constitutional Research (CUNCR) based out of Brussels provides the legal reasoning to open this door to a new world charter/constitution.

    The World Constitution & Parliament Association is central in the overall strategy with the Earth Constitution/Earth Federation movement. WCPA is working on forming a World Parliament in the event that the UN is unable, or unwilling to be reformed in a meaningful way. It is unacceptable for the UN Security Council’s P-5 to be the leading weapons dealers in the world!

    • You are right, Roger, but politicians and diplomata at the UN have a different Agenda. Don’t forget they, like so many politicians and diplomats wrorldwide, are supported by the Military Lobby. It is to Military manufacturers they owe favours. The ONLY way they can pay those favours back is by organising wars. The reality is, UN lies to us on a permanent basis. Take the case of the Refugee industry. It makes billions for the UN, both for the UN as a corporation as for the pockets of the negotiating officers. The more refugees the better. Antonio Guterrez was a very efficient High Commissioner for Refugees, increasing their number manyfold. His reward: the highest possiblr posirion: UN Secretary General.

      To change the Constitution we need one that says “NO COUNTRY IS ALLOWED ARMED FORCES”

  4. After sending my earlier comment on Johan’s Lecture, I read the input from Modus. I was truly shocked to see how, after the decades of dedication by so many people, to end the vicious cycle of wars, here we have someone who seems to enjoy them, as long as they are not nuclear.

    Modus says “Nukes kept the cold war cold”. This means to Modus, the millions killed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Korea, etc, did not raise his temperature.

    His interpretation of history is really bizarre to me. He says: “We know now that even after the a-bombings, only a narrow vote stopped the Japanese from continuing the war”. We now know that wars are agreed between the players. Japan stopped NOT because of votes; it stopped because she had no partners to continue the game.

    Modus tells us “Nukes are horrible and terrible weapons. But they have also saved countless lives” Without Hiroshima and Nagasaki we wouls still have had over 67 million dead. Is this how the 6-year war saved lives?

    When are people going to learn to respect human life. Life is sacred, for EVERYBODY. We only live once. There is nothing more inhuman and more absurd than millions of innocent people, of both sexes and of all ages die because our politicians like wars and ambitious military people can look forward to a successful poliotical career.

    • Mika Chang says:


      I think you misread Modus’ points. While I don’t agree with him on everything, I do think that there is a point or two. Hiroshima/Nagasaki terminated the war at a far lower cost than otherwise. The cost in blood of Okinawa was _larger_ than Hiroshima/Nagasaki _combined_.

      Without these bombings we would have seen at least several mor months (even years) of war and countless “Okinawa’s” over again.

      There has been spilled terrible amounts of blood in wars since WW2, but never in the scale of that war. Because nuclear weapons hindered it.