political revue


Year XXX, 1988, Number 2, Page 108




Much has been written on the consequences of total nuclear war since the end of the Second World War. In particular, studies, some with a solid scientific basis, some without, have proliferated in recent years. This is, firstly, due to the abnormal dimensions that nuclear arsenals have reached — a factor which, objectively, is fairly irrelevant, given the level of destructiveness of even a small fraction of the nuclear weapons available in the world, but which, emotionally, is highly significant. Secondly, it is due to the birth of the Peace Movement, which from the early eighties has contributed to keeping the debate alive.
But we must not be led into lowering our guard by the fact that so much has been written and that in consequence little can be added except that mankind has learned about the dangers it faces and is therefore alive to them. Nor should we become lackadaisical, encouraged by the fact that, albeit within this awareness, the world is witnessing with some optimism what seems to be a turn for the better in the relationships between the superpowers who are currently focusing on arms’ control and disarmament.
The road to be followed if we are to solve the nuclear emergency definitively is still very long and though the current generations have set out on this road, the last step in what will probably be a long sequence of events will occur, if indeed it ever occurs, only after many generations. Until then, until the creation of a World Federation, the possibility of self-destruction will always be present.
One of the directions in which scientists from all over the world are working relates to the environmental impact of total nuclear war. In this context, an important issue are the changes in the world’s climate: the so-called “nuclear winter” causing a considerable drop in both temperature and rainfall. In its October 1987 issue the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists dedicates an article to this problem (Mark A. Harwell-Christine C. Harwell, “Updating the ‘nuclear winter’ debate”), illustrating the conclusions of a study planned by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ENUWAR Project) since 1983.
Of course, the real extent of this phenomenon cannot be predicted precisely, since the forecasts are necessarily based on possible scenarios that cannot be experimented, but when the premises on which we base our thinking are real, certain consequences are unquestionable. One of these premises is that a nuclear deflagration of vast proportions produces such a quantity of smoke and particles that if they rose to the uppermost layers of the atmosphere, which are much more stable than the lower layers, they would stagnate for a long period of time, allowing only 10 per cent or 20 per cent of sunlight to filter through. Hence the temperature would fall and rainfall would be reduced. Now the natural ecosystem is much more vulnerable to major changes in climate than mankind, whose cultural traditions have led to a great capacity to adapt. One of the conclusions of this sequence of events is clear: the production of food would suffer a drastic setback, and only the great cereal producers (the United States, Canada and Australia) could feed their population for a certain period of time using their reserves. For the rest of the Earth’s population (and if the new climate persisted, all the Earth’s population) there would be insufficient food or indeed starvation. The emblematic image of the catastrophe that would follow a total nuclear war, say the authors of the article quoted above, would be a world of wretched, hungry human beings, replacing the image of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This is certainly not the most catastrophic situation possible in that it isolates various factors (and hence some of their consequences) from many others which are equally or more destructive, which, by acting concomitantly, could lead to the extinction of all living things, man included. But concentrating on the ecological consequences of a total nuclear war allows us to widen the horizons of the thinking of ecological movements, and hence all those who struggle to create conditions for a more harmonious relationship between man and his environment.
Naturally the urgency of ecological questions is beyond any doubt, given the ever accelerating pace of crisis in the world ecosystem, but we must deal with this problem by facing up to the problem of war at the same time, particularly war in the nuclear age. There are at least two good reasons for this.
The first is very simple but nevertheless most important and cogent: the fact that battles to save the environment make sense only if there is a reasonably predictable certainty that the environment will not collapse following a nuclear war, a collapse that would be hard to reverse except in the very long term, and that mankind really does have a future and cannot become the victim of a holocaust. The second relates to the cost of protecting the world’s natural reserves: in this anarchic world the need to arm oneself or at least concentrate much energy and money on the military problem (e.g. SDI), channels funds away from highly costly environmental protection and scientific research (e.g. fusion, solar energy etc.), whose results would make it possible to tackle one of the greatest problems in terms of the environmental impact that it implies, namely the problem of “clean”, renewable energy supplies (the current American research programme on nuclear fusion provides for investments which amount to 3.5 per cent of those earmarked for SDI).
But as regards the ties linking ecologists and federalists we need to consider the following essential issue relating to the fulfilment of two goals: peace and defence of the environment. In particular, we need to reflect on the dimensions of the problem: the nuclear age, by endangering the destiny of all mankind, forces us to think of peace in world terms. In the same way, ecological problems have now taken on a planetary dimension (we often hear nowadays of the world ecosystem) and only when viewed as such is it conceivably possible to tackle them.
The concept of world interdependence has now become deeply rooted in all interpretations of the current historical period. The political leaders responsible for the future of nation-states are compelled to introduce this into their speeches. As regards statements of principle, for example, there is now not much difference between what the European federalists and World federalists have been saying for some time and Gorbachev’s position: “And we have not only read anew the reality of a multi-colored and multi-dimensional world. We have assessed not only the difference in the interests of individual states. We have seen the main issue — the growing tendency towards interdependence of the states of the world community. Such are the dialectics of present-day development” (M. Gorbachev, Perestroika, New York, Harper & Row, 1987, p. 137).
But what distinguishes us, and what distinguishes all those who do not have positions of power to defend, from these affirmations? What needs to characterize our thinking and analysis is objectiveness, the capacity of removing ourselves from the ideological conditionings of nationalism, the main obstacle to the identification of means which are adequate to the ends. “Reasoning” in terms of interdependence is not enough: from this concept we need to draw the inevitable political consequences and express forcefully the problem of ending the political division of mankind into sovereign nation states. If we do not set out in this direction, the requirements of the democratic control of the new course of history will remain a dead letter and any attempt to intervene runs the risk of being wishful thinking. Today, citizens of a state can certainly protest if they are subjected to ecologically destructive decisions taken by another state, but they cannot use the only instrument of effective democratic control, namely withholding consent.
If we see that the common value for ecologists and federalists (the defence of life) and that the specific goals towards which the two movements are struggling are simply two aspects of the same battle (the battle against self-destruction), then we must reflect on the possible strategic decisions which could solve the problem of the institutions that are able to manage the complexity of the world in which we live. We need to go beyond the anachronistic national battles, and prospectively, also go beyond the concept of international co-operation (which all too often hides the defence of egoistic interests), to turn a need aroused by the new supranational direction in history into a concrete political plan.
Nicoletta Mosconi




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