This weekend sees a series of services and vigils held by the World Disarmament Campaign, Brian Wicker of Pax Christi examines the issues facing world leaders as they try to find a way of deterring war without threatening nuclear destruction.
WHERE DOES THE WORLD now stand on nuclear weapons?
At the summit meeting between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in Moscow a couple of weeks ago, it was apparently agreed that their nuclear missiles should henceforth be pointed, not at each other but into the sea.
Earlier, Clinton had been at a NATO summit in Brussels, reassuring his colleagues of America's undying links with Europe. He had to do so because NATO itself has been in search of an identity, and a role for its nuclear weapons, since the Cold War ended.
After Clinton left Moscow, however, Mr Gaidar, leading spirit of the Russian economic reforms, struck an ominous note by resigning. It is too soon to know how far this is a sign of the growing influence of the oafish Zhirinovsky, but some commentators seem to think that it signals the beginning of the end of the attempt to turn Russia into a Western-style democracy.
Where does all this leave the nuclear menace we thought we had got rid of only a year or two ago?
Since 1989, an accelerating procgss of nuclear disarmament has been taking place. In July 1991, after ten years of painstaking negotiation, the USA and USSR agreed for the first time to cut their nuclear arsenals by 30 per cent.
But only 18 months later, agreement had been reached for much deeper cuts, this time not just between USA and Russia, but vvith Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan as well.
This acceleration occurred because in the interval the USSR had disintegrated, so that the original treaty-making process had been overtaken by events. The two-bloc world had gone, and with it a Cold War concepts of deterrentnent.
The ink was hardly dry on the first treaty before Bush and his Russian oppositenumber began talking about making cuts without waiting. for the complex process of treaty-ratification to take its course. Yeltsin began talking
euphorically of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether from the world.
The result today is that many Russian and American systems have been destroyed already, and more are scheduled to go in the next decade. By 2003 AD not more than about 3,000 3,500 warheads will remain on each side.
As the nightmare of new conflicts began to close in, particularly among the former Soviet republics, Cold War dreams of preventing war by threatening nuclear vengeance took root once more in the minds of the politicians.
Consider for example the problem of Ukraine today a sovereign independent state which still has a lot of former USSR nuclear missiles on its soil. Over the last two years, its government has been wondering whether to give up these weapons or hang on to them. Given the terrible state of Ukraine's economy the inducements to go nonnuclear that the Americans and others have been offering were tempting.
But Ukrainian national pride and endemic fear of Russia have been prompting a contrary approach. At the recent Moscow summit Ukraine's President Kravchult finally decided to accept the inducements. But he has yet to get the agreement through a hostile Parliament.
Meanwhile, the "big five" nuclear states still have no intention of giving up their most valuable nuclear weapons, although the USA, Britain, France and Russia have been cutting out obsolete systems.
If Ukraine does not get rid of its nuclear weapons it will be not able to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a "non-nuclear" state. This will enhance the credibility of that treaty, which comes up for review, and perhaps renewal on a permanent basis, in 1995.
The treaty is extremely important because the spread of nuclear weapons is among the greatest dangers to world peace. If Ukraine becomes a non-nuclear state, the most immediate threats of proliferation will come from North Korea, and certain other would-be nuclear states, notably in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the continuing stand-off between India and Pakistan means that those two states are unlikely to give up their nuclear ambitions until their squabbles are resolved.
One piece of the disarmament jigsaw which has been missing until now is -a comprehensive and permanent ban on the testing of nuclear weapons.
Such a ban is essential for the extension of the nonproliferation treaty beyond 1995 because at present the big five nuclear states want to hang on to their own weapons while demanding that others give up all hope of ever getting any for themselves.
This is widely seen by the rest of the world as grossly unfair. Unless the "big five" show a willingness now to stop testing for ever, the whole Non-Proliferation Treaty regime may collapse after 1995. Under Thatcher, Britain was against any such ban. But things have changed and we now say we want a one.
To sum up: nuclear disarmament has gone quite a long way in recent years, but further progress hangs in the balance. The world is poised on a brink: in the next year or two it will either have to pull back further, or slip into the abyss of a "proliferated world". What it cannot do is stay still.
This is why symbolic gestures, like the decision of the US and Russia to stop targeting each others' cities, as well as substantive decisions, such as the abandonment of testing, are so important now. Ordinary citizens can do something to help here, for example by joining the "Test Ban Coalition" in Britain, which has just handed in a massive position to Parliament. What is the Church saying?
A remarkable recent speech by the Vatican observer to the UN, Archbishop Martino, shows a radical move forward from earlier positions.
In 1982 John Paul H suggested that, under the Cold War conditions of that time, nuclear deterrence could be regarded as conditionally acceptable. But of course, the conditions no longer exist.
According to Archbishop Martino there is, today, no reason for the retention of any nuclear weapons at all. The world needs a "post nuclear" form of security: and this must come from the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Indeed the widespread belief that nuclear deterrence is still essential to national security provides the greatest danger of all to world peace. Reliance on deterrence prevents genuine disarmament, because it means maintaining an unacceptable hege
mony by the nuclear "haves" over the "have-nots".
A permanent ban on nuclear tests is essential, but it is not enough. World leaders must "instigate a global ban on the production as well as the transfer of all weapons of mass-destruction".
The Archbishop's words can hardly be music to the ears of Malcolm Rifkind, who recently outlined a defence policy in which Britain's "Trident" nuclear systems, albeit on a reduced scale, will be retained into the next century, thus helping to maintain the "hegemony" to which the Archbishop referred.
There is no sign that the Government will be taking any notice of the words of the Holy See.
Is this because only keen Vatican watchers knew about it? The Archbishop's speech has not yet been reported by even the Catholic press in Britain.
I wonder why?