Skip to content

Breaking News

Opinion |
Peace Train: Are we sleepwalking to our doom?

Ralph Hutchinson of the Environmental Peace Alliance weighs in on weapons

“Humanity will be sleepwalking to its doom,” Joseph Gerson wrote in an opinion piece for Massachusetts Peace Action. Gerson is an American peace and disarmament activist as well as the president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, among other peace positions.

I agree deeply with his reasoning that we must replace this new ice age of a Cold War with a new Euro-Atlantic order — in which no nation seeks to ensure its security at the expense of other nations. Somehow we must fully waken to the fact that our precious world is in deep trouble and needs every one of us to tend to her — and each other — every minute.

My friend Ralph Hutchinson is coordinator of the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Environmental Peace Alliance, and below, he weighs in on nuclear weapons and their role in the Ukraine war:

On the one hand, nuclear weapons don’t seem to have much of a role in the current invasion of Ukraine, other than being used as a veiled threat by Putin. On the other hand, they have everything to do with what we are watching unfold in horror.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has an eerie resonance; it was almost two decades ago that another superpower brazenly invaded the sovereign territory of a state on a pretense to devastating effect, deposing its leader and destroying its government, plunging the country into political, economic, and social chaos that persists even today.

One small difference. In the days after Sept. 11, when the U.S. waged war on Iraq — is it still necessary to point out that none of the 9/11 attackers was from Iraq? Or that Iraq had zero weapons of mass destruction? Because we could and because we wanted to, we had no interest in annexing that country.

But that doesn’t erase the fact that we launched an unprovoked invasion of another country, wiping away the international norms that forbade such an action as though they were mere dust on the coffee table.

This is not to excuse Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, or his earlier invasion of Crimea, or before that Georgia or before that Chechnya. None of this is acceptable. It’s wrong when he does it and it’s wrong when we do it and it’s wrong when anyone does it.

But as should be crystal clear by now, the consequences go beyond the immediate conflict, regardless of the success or failure of the military campaign. The erosion of international norms that demand respect for boundaries has devastating and far-reaching consequences.

And the erosion of some international norms inevitably undermines the holding power of other international norms.

Which is why, as we all stare in shock and deep dismay at the current war in Ukraine, I am bringing up nuclear weapons. The current crisis should remind us of two terribly important truths about these weapons that have the power to destroy all human and most animal life on Earth.

The first truth is that nuclear weapons enable Vladimir Putin to act with impunity and they are useless to prevent such action. That’s what it means to be a nuclear-armed state — the weapons convey great power when their offensive use is threatened, and the second truth, they are utterly impotent as defensive weapons or counter-offensive threats. Norms preventing the use of nuclear weapons are as fragile as any other global norm. They are a binding moral agreement between nations that is in effect, right up until the moment when it isn’t.

This, of course, is why the nuclear-armed states are not inclined to give up their weapons. And this, just as surely, is why we must compel them to do it. Our future and the future of the Earth depend on it.

–Ralph Hutchinson, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance