Nuclear Abolition: Q&A with Dr. David Krieger


David Krieger | Nuclear Age Peace Foundation – TRANSCEND Media Service


A special dialogue held at Nuclear Age Peace Foundation during our overseas fieldwork on 1 Feb 2019. This session was held between 13 Kansai Soka High School students and Dr. David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.


Dr. Krieger: In the discussion, you said that the reason for nuclear deterrence is that it protects a country against assault and possible assault. However, if you really think about it, deterrence cannot protect, not in the sense of physical protection, and that is the confusion about deterrence in most people’s minds. They think that nuclear deterrence actually protects, but deterrence is only a psychological concept, not a physical barrier. I think of deterrence as something like the Maginot Line in World War II. France built a strong wall and thought that it would protect them from Germans invading again. However, the Germans just went around the wall, attacked and occupied France. I think deterrence is misunderstood, and I don’t really think you can have a compromise between the people who support nuclear deterrence and those who do not.

Emi Kuroda: Why do you think nuclear deterrence supporters cannot compromise with people who don’t support deterrence?

Dr. Krieger: I think deterrence is a false premise. I don’t think deterrence can provide any protection. You mentioned in your slideshow that deterrence cannot provide 100% protection. I would say that deterrence cannot provide 50% protection or even 1% protection. Over time, deterrence will fail. If you do a statistical study and the level of chance where it can fail is 1%, you will have a failure over time. That is true. So I think you are right to come down on the side of abolition. I think you are right to look to ICAN, which we have supported from the beginning, as a partner organization. I think you are right to support the new treaty, which is a departure from deterrence, as it implicitly recognizes that deterrence cannot work over time. I think people who support deterrence actually have another agenda, and the other agenda is to give themselves an advantage over other countries and threaten them with the offensive use of nuclear weapons. So I would say that your presentation is very good, but I would be careful about thinking of nuclear deterrence as a way to add to the disarmament of nuclear weapons. Many countries believe in deterrence, but I believe it’s a magical fallacy.

Rei Hagihara: I would like to ask a question. We think that we should find a common ground between the two sides (nuclear deterrence supporters & nuclear abolition supporters). Do you think we should find a common ground? If you do, what do you think is the common ground?

Dr. Krieger: I’m very skeptical that you can find a common ground, because I think deterrence is based on a false assumption, which is that nuclear weapons can protect you. But the reality is they can’t protect you. I think people who have accepted the premise that deterrence can protect you believe in that. I don’t see them moving away from that to a common ground. I don’t know what the common ground would be. I think having a common ground is a nice idea, but I don’t see it working in the case of people who support nuclear deterrence.

The second president of Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, said nuclear weapons are an absolute evil. So how do you compromise with an absolute evil? Well, actually I have one idea of compromise. Sixty-six million years ago, a meteor hit the earth and caused mass extinction of most complex life at the time. It wiped out the dinosaurs, for example. It actually made it possible for our human ancestors to survive because they were so small. But possibly, if we eliminate the nuclear weapons down to one, two or three, and they are kept in international storage just in case the earth is threatened by a meteor, that is a kind of compromise. Although not really a compromise for deterrence, it is a compromise for those saying you might go to a very low number—on the way to zero—and decide that a meteor is a sufficient threat to maintain a couple of nuclear weapons under international control. But tell me how you think compromise is possible.

Emi Kuroda: We think that a possible common ground is human rights because nuclear abolition supporters think that human rights of all human beings should be protected, but nuclear deterrence supporters think that human rights of their own country is a priority. But we don’t think we can make nuclear deterrence supporters compromise by using human rights.

Dr. Krieger: Well, human rights include the right to life. That’s in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think nuclear weapons pose a threat not only to individual lives but also a threat of mass extinction to humans and other complex life. So I agree with you that human rights is an important element—because of the right to life. I think the people who advocate for nuclear deterrence ironically think that protecting their country is more important than human lives and human rights.

Let me say one more thing. There is such a widespread belief in nuclear deterrence that a lot needs to be done to challenge the logic of nuclear deterrence. That is a very important element. We had a symposium here on nuclear deterrence and created the Santa Barbara Declaration, which you might want to take a look at when thinking about nuclear deterrence. We also have a 4-minute video called “The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence.”

Emi Kuroda: We gathered the opinions of nuclear deterrence supporters, and we originally thought that those opinions would help us understand the reality. But we struggled with how to deal with those opinions. What do you think the role of the opinions of nuclear deterrence supporters is? How do we use those opinions to promote nuclear abolition?

Dr. Krieger: I think you need to educate people, starting with young people—and put a lot of emphasis on educating young people—because nuclear deterrence is a very common myth that nuclear weapons can protect a country. I just don’t think that is reality. I think you have to counter those opinions, and that’s why in the presentation we gave, we talked about malice, madness, mistake, miscalculation, and manipulation (hacking). So I think a dangerous aspect of nuclear weapons, going forward, is that skilled computer hackers will break into nuclear weapon systems. What if the systems are not that sophisticated? You only need to break into the weakest country’s system. What if a hacker could, for example, break into North Korea’s nuclear weapons? Probably North Korea doesn’t have the warheads connected to missiles right now, but it will eventually. What about Pakistan? What if a skilled hacker could break in and trigger the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan against India? And India, instead of trying to figure it out, attacks Pakistan, and they will go back and forth. Experts in climatology predict that if 100 nuclear weapons are used, with 50 on each side between Pakistan and India, it could result in a cut in food supplies, leading to 2 billion deaths globally. So, how good is deterrence against a hacker? It’s not at all. How good is deterrence against madness? What if you have a leader who is crazy, mad? We may have one now, in the US. What if there is a mistake? There have been many mistakes in interpreting nuclear launches. Russians, thinking nuclear weapons were launched against them, found out that actually it was just geese reflected against the cloud cover. Nuclear deterrence has no value against mistakes, miscalculation, madness or hacking. Maybe deterrence could dissuade a country from using nuclear weapons out of malice, but that is only a possibility. There is no assurance that it would work.

Emi Kuroda: Yesterday, during our presentation in Los Angeles, we said that deterrence doesn’t work because terrorists can use nuclear weapons. But yesterday we heard that it is really difficult for terrorists to have nuclear weapons. Is it true that it is almost impossible for terrorists to get nuclear weapons?

Dr. Krieger: A Christian nun and two anti-nuclear activists went to a nuclear weapons site in Oakridge, Tennessee. I think it was called the Y-12 National Security Complex. They cut through the outer fence, they hiked a quarter mile to the place where nuclear weapons were kept. They painted on the bunkers where the nuclear weapons were stored. The nun was 82 years old. So can terrorists get nuclear weapons? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t rule it out. And that’s in the United States, which supposedly has a good system of protection. What if there is a coup d’état in Turkey, where the US keeps 50 nuclear weapons? What if there’s a coup d’état in Pakistan?

Over time, I think the chances are more likely that terrorists can get nuclear weapons; the probability is not zero. We don’t know what the probability is, but over time, terrorists are a worry. That’s why it’s so important to be all in for abolition. That’s why it’s important to understand that abolition is the answer. It has got to be a negotiated abolition, a phased abolition and a verified abolition. It will take time, but the starting point is negotiations. Maybe that is a common ground—starting negotiations. People who don’t believe in deterrence could invite people who do believe in deterrence, to try to educate them on the importance of moving from deterrence to abolition. Terrorism could take the form of hacking.

Hiromi Hashide: I’d like to ask how you developed your sense of poetry. I have read the dialogue between yourself and Dr. Ikeda, and I was able to understand the importance of a sense of poetry. I think those who understand the importance of poetry can also understand the dignity of life, and I’d like more people to have a sense of poetry, including myself.

Dr. Krieger: Thank you. That’s a really good question. The more I work in the area of nuclear weapons abolition and peace and war, the more I think that the most important things in life are truth, beauty, love, family, and nature; those are all subjects of poetry. Maybe poets pay more attention to those concepts than ordinary people. I think when you study nuclear weapons and work for their abolition, it can be a very dark place, thinking about the devastation that is possible. So, for myself, I tend to rely on reason and logic, and I realized that reason and logic may not be enough to change people’s minds, so I began writing poetry as a way of reaching out more directly to a person’s heart. We have the faculties of our mind and faculties of our heart. I think that a mind, no matter how reasonable and logical one is, cannot really tackle fully issues like the danger of nuclear weapons, the danger of climate change, or the danger of destroying the environment. So, for me, poetry is a means of sharing my heart, which I hope has more effectiveness than my logic. Does that answer your question? Do you have another question?

Hiromi Hashide: Yes. How did you develop your poetry skills?

Dr. Krieger: By writing poetry. And also by reading poetry.

Kaz: Do you have a favorite poet?

Dr. Krieger: I have some favorite poets, whom I mentioned at the time when I was writing a book with Dr. Ikeda. I like Pablo Neruda. He was an Ambassador of Chile, and Chile has a nice tradition of inviting poets to be ambassadors. I like Denise Levertov, and I like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turned 100 this year. Actually, there are a number of poets I like, but I especially like poets who pay attention to peace, and I try, in my poetry, to pay attention to peace. My advice to you, if you want to be a poet, is to sit down and write poems, and read a wide variety of poets and find your style because there are so many different styles of poetry; so experiment with styles that you are interested in.

Kaz Iguchi: Any other questions?

Ayumi Otsuji: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. When I imagine a “peaceful world,” I imagine that everyone is smiling. If you imagine a peaceful world that you want to achieve, what would you imagine?

Dr. Krieger: I would not imagine everybody smiling. I would imagine that, in a peaceful world, you would still have conflicts, but the conflicts would be resolved peacefully, non-violently. Everyone would accept the idea that life is sacred, and nobody would try to injure or destroy. But it wouldn’t be a world where people didn’t have disagreements. Having disagreements, I think, is a valuable part of life. I mean, you learn from disagreements, you grow from disagreements, but you don’t try to settle disagreements with your fists or with guns. You start with respect for other human beings and you then have a sense of belonging. I think, in a peaceful world, your sense of belonging to the world and to humanity has to be greater than your sense of belonging to one nation or one group. You can still belong to different groups; you can be Japanese, I can be American, but we should not fight and destroy each other because our common humanity is greater than our individual sense of identity. That’s what I think.

Ayumi Otsuji: Thank you so much.

Dr. Krieger: But smiles are good. Everybody should smile more. You can experiment, walking down the street, just smile. And I think other people who see you will smile too.

Yuichi Matsuna: Thank you very much. I read Choose Hope, and I was impressed with the idea that “recovery of imagination” is important for nuclear abolition. Why should people have an imagination for the abolition of nuclear weapons?

Dr. Krieger: Why should people use their imaginations for the abolition of nuclear weapons? Well, there is a lot of ignorance and apathy around nuclear weapons. In your school, perhaps, if you say to someone that we should abolish nuclear weapons, maybe they will say “well, that’s a good idea, but I haven’t thought about it,” or “I’m too busy,” or something like that—expressing different kinds of reasons not to be involved. I think imagination is limitless, knowledge has boundaries. We don’t know certain very important things: we don’t know where we come from, or why we were born; we don’t know where we go when we die; we don’t know what is in the rest of the universe, or even in our own galaxy. But imagination can take you anywhere, and it’s an opportunity to try to figure out some puzzles. Einstein was a big advocate of imagination, and I think he was correct in thinking that “imagination is a great gift.” So how do you apply imagination to nuclear weapons’ abolition? Think outside the bomb, come up with new ideas. Peace Literacy is a new movement. I encourage you to look into the Peace Literacy idea. As Sarah said, Paul Chappell, who went to the US military academy, and was trained as an officer in a military, is now trying to apply the same principles of waging war to waging peace. I think that’s a great application of imagination, to take the principles of waging war and turn them to waging peace. Do you have anything to add, Sarah?

Sarah:  Thank you for asking. On Paul, I think something that is very significant about what he argues is that we have spent so much time and effort thinking about how to wage war; so as Dr. Krieger was saying, Why haven’t we spent as much time and effort—or have as many people—thinking about how to build peace instead? And so I think that’s a part of where Paul’s mind-set came from. Instead of spending all the time and effort to figure out how to better wage war, let’s figure out how to better wage peace. That’s using imagination.

Ryoma Masutani: Thank you very much. I’d like to ask about nuclear abolition. I think, even if all nuclear weapons are abolished, the knowledge or technique of creating nuclear weapons will still remain. So what is true nuclear abolition? And how can we achieve this?

Dr. Krieger: I think you are right. We can’t get rid of the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons, and probably the materials too. But I think abolition is when we have no nuclear weapons. I think we have to understand that even with no nuclear weapons, they could come back because people understand now the physics of making nuclear weapons. And I think the way to deal with that is through verification. So, first of all, abolition will be negotiated; secondly, it would be done in phases, increments, and with each increment, you will build support, and build confidence that the system is working. Verifications could be spot inspections. So if the United States says that it was down to 500 nuclear weapons, and Russia says “we want to verify that,” the United States, as part of the agreement, will have to let Russian inspectors go wherever they want to, and whenever they want, to check whether the United States is doing what it claims, and vice versa. I think negotiations, verification, inspections, phased reductions to build confidence—all those things will help in going to zero nuclear weapons, trusting that it will lead to zero nuclear weapons. You have to trust. Ronald Reagan, one of our most conservative US presidents, said “trust, but verify.” Verification is extremely important. Okay?

Ryoma Masutani: Yes.

Dr. Krieger: Do you have another question?

Takuma Furukawa: Thank you. Many countries have nuclear weapons, and one of them is North Korea. The United Nations decided to give North Korea an economic penalty, but I think the situation in North Korea will become worse. The people in North Korea will suffer more because of it. Could you please share your opinions about how developed countries should deal with North Korea?

Dr. Krieger: There have been times when there have been agreements with North Korea to end sanctions. I think about 20 or 25 years ago, we were close to an agreement with North Korea to give them nuclear power plants, and give them something in exchange for them doing away with developing nuclear weapons. But the US never followed through, and it has tried to deal with North Korea with sanctions; and now maybe it is too late to change North Korea’s nuclear power with sanctions. Really, I’m not sure if there are any more reasons for North Korea to disarm its nuclear arsenal. I mean, if any country that has nuclear weapons can argue that deterrence works, I would say the country would be North Korea. But I don’t believe in deterrence, as I said, so I’m not supporting that. But I do think we should use our imaginations and try to get all countries to abolish nuclear weapons, not just North Korea, which is in a very precarious situation from which to go for abolition. I don’t know what the practical argument is for North Korea to abolish its nuclear weapons, while the United States, Russia and other countries that have them shouldn’t also do so. If they want North Korea to abolish its nuclear weapons, the rest of the world has to be ready to abolish their nuclear weapons. That’s my belief. Does it make sense to you?

Takuma Furukawa: Yes, thank you.

Takuto Yoshii: Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you. My name is Takuto Yoshii. My question is, as you said, each country will try to protect itself. As I have read in Choose Hope, each country has to be altruistic to realize a sustainable and peaceful world, and I learned that people need to change their hearts, and have thoughtfulness towards others. I think it is very difficult for people to think that way. So how do you think people can learn how to think altruistically? What kind of education do you think is necessary?

Dr. Krieger: That is a great question. Altruism is very important. I think we have to learn it. This may sound silly, but I think we have to learn to love each other. I think the way we practice that is by smiling, by acts of kindness, by empathy, where you feel for other people’s difficult situations. I think that question requires a lot of imagination. How do you put altruism, kindness, and empathy into the learning that you do in school, for example? Most religions make a claim to teach those things, but I’m not sure if they really do. I’m not sure if schools are really prepared to teach altruism, kindness, and empathy. One way they could do so would be to teach about the lives of great peace leaders, such as the life of Gandhi, the life of Martin Luther King, Junior, the life of Nelson Mandela, and many more. There are so many lessons to be learned in those lives which are dedicated to peace and nonviolence. We give an award every year for distinguished peace leadership, and we have given an award for world citizenship from time to time. I am happy to say we gave the world citizenship award to Dr. Ikeda one year. He is one of our distinguished awardees. I think SGI does something similar, where it gives awards. So, that’s another way you can learn about altruism and empathy—through people who have lived distinguished lives, in which they have given and sacrificed in the pursuit of peace and world citizenship. From there, I think you can use your imaginations to think of other ways to instill altruism.

One other way that I can think of right now, and it has already been done, but it can be done even more, is to videotape the thoughts of such people, including the Hibakusha. So many Hibakusha have impressed me by the suffering that they’ve gone through, and the kindness in the lives that they have led. One of the poems that I wrote is called “The Deep Bow of a Hibakusha,” and it is about a particular Hibakusha whose name is Miyoko Matsubara. She came here to Santa Barbara to study English so that she could share her experience with young people in the United States. I think that’s very altruistic. Most of the Hibakusha that I have met don’t have any feelings of hostility, or revenge; they are all kind. And what they want to say is, “don’t let what happened to me happen to anybody else.” So that’s another thought: meeting with and interviewing Hibakusha. But you can interview many other people, and you might choose to interview somebody who you think is very altruistic, like a parent, an uncle or aunt, or a grandparent, someone not widely known to the world. Those are my thoughts on altruism. It is a fertile area to continue to develop and think about and practice. Small acts of kindness take you so far. There’s a movie called “Pay it Forward,” about doing something kind for somebody, and not expecting to get paid back, but rather expecting the recipient of the kindness to do something kind for another person. It’s a good movie. I recommend it.

Atsushi Saitou: I think everyone understands the danger of nuclear weapons, but maybe that is not enough to make people really understand that we don’t need nuclear weapons. So rather than just saying nuclear weapons are bad, because everybody understands that, is there another more powerful way to reach out to people to stop nuclear weapons?

Dr. Krieger: I don’t agree with the assumption that people know that nuclear weapons are bad. It’s not enough to spread the knowledge of the dangers. I think it is only when enough people understand and take seriously the dangers of nuclear weapons, will it make a difference. Nuclear weapons have got to go. Right now, we are educating people about these dangers, but they have to be taken seriously enough to become a political project. Here in the United States, virtually no one who is running for the presidency talks about doing something about nuclear weapons. Most are believers in nuclear deterrence. Nuclear weapons are a danger, and understanding that they are a danger is a starting point, but it’s not enough. We have to keep using our imaginations and building the number of people who think that nuclear weapons are a serious danger. We have to do that to the point that it makes a difference politically. Right now, people’s priority here and in most other places—probably in Japan as well—puts greater emphasis on the economy, the environment, social issues, and education. Those are all important, and I don’t disagree that they are important. But nuclear weapons could end civilization in an afternoon, and I think that’s something that should make an impact in people’s minds. In a certain way, working for nuclear abolition is an act of faith, because we don’t see the results immediately, so we have to believe that enough people will catch on before nuclear weapons are used—not after—to make a difference. A lot of movies are about post-apocalyptic societies, and I think it would be a great failure of imagination if we end up in a post-apocalyptic world because we can’t use our imaginations to see that such a world is a real possibility if we don’t act. So it is as an act of faith and an act of hope that we do this work, and we do this work on behalf of not only schools and organizations, but on behalf of all humanity. Humanity has been at risk from nuclear weapons for almost 75 years. That is not a very long time. We haven’t had a nuclear war for almost 74 years, which is good, but it shouldn’t give us confidence that a nuclear war, nuclear accident, or nuclear terrorism couldn’t begin anytime.

Emi Kuroda: How can we encourage people around us to have confidence that they have the power to achieve nuclear abolition?

Dr. Krieger: I think we have to recognize the power that each of us has. Any person on this planet has power. I would like to talk about the power of one. One person can make quite a difference in the world, and we’ve seen that in the lives of many people, including Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. I think, though, with nuclear weapons, it’s not going to be the power of one, it’s going to be the power of many, or many ones. When we build a movement that’s strong enough, that movement can take many shapes: it can take the form of petitioning, it can take the form of educating, or it can take the form of protesting. It can take a lot of different shapes. But I don’t think we can convince people that they have that power. We can only say that unless you join us, and add your power, it is unlikely that we will ever build a movement large enough and strong enough to abolish nuclear weapons. By not participating, by not joining such a movement, you are actually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we need a big movement, and we need people to care. Abolishing nuclear weapons may sound negative because it’s getting rid of something, but it’s really very positive because we are getting rid of something that is evil, something that could destroy us. So I would tell people that nuclear weapons are the ultimate human rights issue. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate environmental issue. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate altruism issue. And we need you. If each of you would join us and use your imagination, we will be one person closer to a nuclear weapons free world. That’s what I think.

Sarah: Do you know about this old Japanese saying that goes, “if all of us cross the street in front of the red light, it isn’t scary”? Are you familiar with this saying?

Dr. Krieger: I’m not familiar with that saying. I thought you were going to say the Japanese proverb, “if you fall down seven times get up eight.” I think that is good advice. “Seven times down, eight times up.” It’s not going to be easy to abolish nuclear weapons. Nothing important is going to be done just like that. You are going to be challenged if you work for any great goal.

Sometimes I think of the medieval people who built cathedrals in Europe. When you build a cathedral, it is usually not done in one lifetime. It has to go through many generations. I don’t know if we have that capacity to last through generations on nuclear weapons, but I do think that each generation should do its part, and I know the kind of education all of you have had makes you prime prospects for doing something really worthwhile in the world. And I hope that you will make working towards the abolition of nuclear weapons one of those goals that you seek to achieve, no matter how difficult. Join with others. Join with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Join with ICAN. SGI is already doing a lot. So, I think you have great opportunities. Don’t be disheartened. Choose hope, and get up that last time, even if you get knocked down. Get up and come up, struggling altruistically, non-violently.

Students: Thank you.

Dr. Krieger: All right, you had great questions. I’m very impressed.

Kaz Iguchi: Lastly, would you like to give a message to those students in Japan, as well as Dr. Ikeda, that we can bring back home?

Dr. Krieger: In my message for the students, I would say this: Your fellow students have represented Kansai Soka High School very well. I’m impressed by the students who came here. I hope that they will share with you the questions and answers, and what we talked about in Santa Barbara. I hope all of you will do something great in your lives. Please use your imaginations to set your goals high and then do what’s in your power to create a better world and never give up, never give up.

And to Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, I would say:  You are an amazing leader, and I’m so proud to know you and to be your friend. I know you have just celebrated your 91st birthday, and yet your ideals are as high and strong as ever. I know your message of peace focuses again on young people, and I share very much your desire to see young people pick up the baton from all of us older people and finish the job that we have worked so hard on. I admire you greatly for your courage, your compassion, and your commitment to creating a world free of nuclear weapons and at peace.


David Krieger, Ph.D. is founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. Amongst several of his wide-spanning leadership endeavors in global peacebuilding, he is a founder and a member of the Global Council of Abolition 2000, councilor on the World Future Council, and is the chair of the Executive Committee of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility. He has a BA in Psychology and holds MA and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science from the University of Hawaii as well as a J.D. from the Santa Barbara College of Law; he served for 20 years as a judge pro tem for the Santa Barbara Municipal and Superior Courts. Dr. Krieger is the author of many books and studies of peace in the Nuclear Age. He has written or edited more than 20 books and hundreds of articles and book chapters. He is a recipient of several awards and honors, including the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology Peace Writing Award for Poetry (2010). He has a new collection of poems entitled Wake Up.  For more visit the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation website:

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