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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

Text of Michael Douglas Speech

Text of Michael Douglas address, March 20, 2000.

"Thank you for this honour. It is a great privilege to be here tonight. First of all I would like to thank Malcolm Savidge and the All-Party Group for hosting this meeting.

I was first confronted with nuclear issues when I was involved with the making of the film 'The China Syndrome'. Three weeks after the movie opened the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster occurred. I was deeply concerned when nuclear physicists told me that 135 of the 160 fail-safe steps had failed, almost exactly as had happened in the film. This started me on this cause.

I have come here tonight to ask for your help at a time of great danger to world security - dangers which go largely unrecognised by the public, and by your constituents perhaps, because they are difficult to see. For example, how many of us knew that as recently as January 1995 the nuclear briefcase of the Russian President was activated to fire nuclear weapons, for the first time in history. It happened because a weather rocket fired off the coast of Norway was misinterpreted by Russian radar as an incoming ballistic missile. The Russian 'launch-on-warning' system was just four minutes away from being triggered when the mistake was realised.

This happened in one of the five established nuclear powers, with 50 years' experience in controlling nuclear weapons. During recent years two more countries - India and Pakistan - have become de facto nuclear weapon states: if the non-proliferation regime disintegrates, there could be many more by the end of the decade. Even if that doesn't happen - and the danger of it happening this year is greater than at any time in its 30-year history - it is increasingly likely that you and I will wake up one morning to find that a sub-state group with a grievance is threatening a major western city with a 'suitcase' nuclear bomb. It is considered by specialists to be only a matter of time before this happens. We have no defence whatsoever against it. The only significant way we can reduce this risk is to put materials to make nuclear weapons under lock and key. That is possible, but the nuclear weapons nations have to do it.

Right now, as we sit here in Westminster in March of the millennium year, the United States and Russia are in stalemate. The prospective adoption by the United States of a 'Star Wars' missile defence system has already led Russia, China and other nations to declare that this would abrograte the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and lead to a more confrontational military posture between the US and Russia, and the US and China. In January Russia also declared that it will now rely more than previously on nuclear weapons for its defence by further lowering the threshold for their use.

The tone of exchanges between my country and Russia sounds almost worse than during the Cold War. The tone of exchanges between my country and China sounds like the beginning of a new Cold War. There is an urgent need for world statesmanship on the nuclear issue, and few candidates to fill that role. That is why I have come to ask for your help. The assistance of British Parliamentarians and British leadership is sorely needed, and could be pivotal in stopping the unravelling of these three treaties, which are fundamental to international security.

These three treaties - the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - underpin the current arms control regime. They are in danger of coming apart at a time when more material for making weapons of mass destruction is available worldwide than ever before. The horrific prospect opens up of a world of nuclear anarchy, where any feud between countries could degenerate into a death warrant for the entire planet. During recent years two more countries - India and Pakistan - have become de facto nuclear weapon states; if the non-proliferation regime disintegrates, there could be many more by the end of the decade.

There is still the possibility for these treaties to be saved, and for a return to progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament. But it will require leadership. Britain is uniquely placed to assume this leadership role: strong influence is required in Washington, and as a result of the special relationship between our two countries, the influence of the British is particularly strong. Tony Blair commands great respect. Given the impasse between the US and Russia, it is time for another nuclear power to take the initiative.

A firm hand and continuity of leadership will be required while our presidential elections take place. I would like to ask you to encourage Tony Blair to speak at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York in May. This would send a message to other world leaders of the importance of saving that Treaty. Britain could also with no risk whatsoever support negotiations at the United Nations on a convention with the ultimate aim of ridding the world of nuclear weapons entirely. I would like to ask you to inspire the Prime Minister to take the lead now in convening multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

There is little to lose and everything to gain. The British Government has done a great deal on the nuclear weapons issue in recent years, and is in an ideal position to do much more. Tony Blair could have much to gain by helping to save the three treaties currently in danger of unravelling and would find widespread political support nationally and internationally. A public opinion poll conducted last year shows that 70 per cent of the British public "would think more highly of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, if he were to take a lead in negotiations to remove nuclear weapons worldwide". Multilateral nuclear disarmament is the policy on which the Labour Government was elected, as stated in their 1997 Manifesto, and that is what is needed now."

Reports: Douglas warns Westminster of nuclear anarchy, The Guardian, March 21; Ministers split over British role in US missile defence shield, The Guardian, March 22; Douglas warns MPs of nuclear dangers, The Independent, March 21; Douglas visit provokes row over 'Star Wars', The Independent, March 22; Star begs Blair to save the world, The Times, March 21; Hollywood actor sees disarming role for Blair, The Daily Telegraph, March 21; The night a £150m film star came to lecture MPs on his fear of nuclear anarchy, Daily Mirror, March 21; Douglas plea to Cook, London Evening Standard, March 21; Luvvy-doveys of peace, Daily Express, 9 March; Douglas on peace mission, Daily Express, March 21; Michael's nuke plea, Daily Star, March 21; Douglas, star peace envoy, Daily Mail, March 21; Michael Douglas visits the House of Commons, OK!, March 23; UN Goodwill Ambassador Michael Douglas makes heartfelt pleas to British MPs on his anti-nuclear mission, Hello!, April 4; Star warns of 'nuclear anarchy', Edinburgh Evening News, March 21.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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