Robert Oppenheimer once exclaimed as he watched the first test bomb mushroom cloud rise over the New Mexico desert, "We are all sons-of-bitches now!" Five decades on, and nothing much has really changed - the threat of nuclear war still hangs over us.

As worldwide movements go, the nuclear disarmament campaigners have failed dismally. Not only has the world witnessed a proliferation of nuclear weapons whose destructive capacity is now gauged in how many times over the planet can be obliterated, but the potential for nuclear conflict remains, albeit in a new post-Cold War dynamic. The fact that weapons of such mass destruction exist at all places us in a perilous position. Yet to all this, the rulers of the nuclear cartel have consistently said 'fish'.

But this year, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima, is a pivotal one as regards the future direction of nuclear politics. 1995 will see two events of historical proportions: the Conference on the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the World Court ruling on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons.

The Conference on NPT is a meeting of 120 odd national signatories to the Treaty gathering to decide on whether to extend or not to extend a basically discriminatory agreement in which nearly every significant article has been broken at some stage by those who posses the nuclear goodies.

Currently, the National Government supports an indefinite extension of such folly (coincidentally the same line the US is pushing). Yet the other extreme of a total breakdown in the NPT is not attractive either, for the reason that the Treaty at least provides a framework within which chaos seems to rule. Without such a framework, dialogue between the nations would be difficult. A limited extension of the Treaty incorporating stronger mechanisms for nuclear weapons elimination, for example, removing the nuclear powers' rights of veto, is probably the best way to go as a reasonable step between idealistic anarchy and the what the ruling élites want.

The second major event of 1995 will be the World Court ruling on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons. Considering our Nuclear-Free stance, it was surprising that the National Government should have made such a weak submission to the Court earlier. Once again, NZ-US relations were the priority, I believe.

A positive result at the World Court condemning the morality of nuclear weapons would mirror the first steps taken in the successful campaign to curb the use and development of chemical weapons.

Now it would, unfortunately, be naive to pin all hope on positive NPT and World Court developments leading to complete global nuclear disarmament. They may only turn out to be small steps towards removing the nuclear threat from our consciousness. But small steps of progress they do represent and in an arena too fragile to make mistakes, it pays to step carefully.

Those of us who have commanded or managed conventional war operations know the mistakes we've made. We've killed individuals. We've killed thousands of individuals, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. But we have never destroyed a nation. You make one mistake with nuclear weapons, and you will destroy at least one nation and very likely more...[I] believe that it can be predicted with high confidence that the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons carries a very, very high risk of the destruction of societies. (Robert McNamara)

Robert Bentz Ashe

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