The Human Survival Project

You have to think like a hero in order to act like a human being. (Vaclav Havel)


The Human Survival Project (HSP) was adopted by the Council of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University in June 2012 as a joint initiative of CPACS and PND (People for Nuclear Disarmament). MAPW (the Medical Association for the Prevention of War) in Australia has already signalled support and other organisations have expressed keen interest. The Project was officially launched by Colonel Valery Yarynich, formerly of the Soviet Union and Russian Strategic Rocket Forces and a world authority on “the [outrageously high] operational status of [ex superpower] nuclear weapons”, at its inaugural lecture (delivered by him) in August 2012. Valery was a strong supporter of the HSP initiative until his much-lamented death in December 2012, and the HSP continues to seek global partners for its research and advocacy effort.

Goals I: The ultimate goal of the Project is to save humanity and all other living and prospective sentient species on the planet (together with the environments and habitats they depend upon) from nuclear holocaust and its aftermath of civilisational collapse and deadly somatic and environmental effects. The latter effects include both catastrophic climate change (nuclear winter) and world-wide, long-lasting radiation hazards, as well as massive destruction of the atmospheric ozone layer.

Explanation: The Threat That Can End All Threats

The splitting of the atom marked a turning point for humanity. For the first time we created the possibility of destroying not only ourselves, but the ecological fabric of planet Earth. Since then, other threats to global survival have emerged, including climate change, global fiscal collapse and depletion/destruction of ecosystems through human overconsumption. The threat of nuclear holocaust has retreated from public and political consciousness. Yet the risk of nuclear catastrophe – by accident, miscalculation or intent – is if anything increasing, and the consequences of any nuclear weapons use we now know to be much worse than we ever envisaged.

The “supreme” threat to Earth’s biosphere—including its human populations, cultures and civilisations--remains the anomalous thermonuclear standoff between the Cold War rivals of yesteryear, the United States and Russia. Each of these froids monstres, as the French used to call them, holds more than a thousand strategic nuclear missiles on seemingly permanent high alert, and each is capable separately of terminating the planet. As Arnold Schwarzenegger noted while Governor of California in 2007: A nuclear disaster will not hit at the speed of a glacier melting. It will hit with a blast. It will not hit with the speed of the atmosphere warming but of a city burning. Clearly, the attention focused on nuclear weapons should be as prominent as that on global climate change.”

Or, as John Hallam persistently and insistently asks: Why is nuclear holocaust still on the agenda? )

The supposedly subaltern threat of even a ”small” nuclear war, say between India and Pakistan, involving scores rather than thousands of weapons (less than half a per cent of the world total), is likely to cause hundreds of millions of deaths globally from starvation and exposure as the stratospheric clouds of soot and ash thrown up by burning cities (incinerating tens of millions, of course) blot out the sun and hence a large fraction of global agriculture for months at least and probably years. That is why a Big Two nuclear war involving over 95 per cent of the global nuclear arsenal is practically a guarantee of human and multi-species extinction by nuclear winter even independently of the effects of firestorm, blast, radiation and fallout on six continents.

Alan Robock, leading global and US authority on nuclear winter, covered this tragically neglected topic for the HSP at a CPACS lecture event in January 2013.

The threat of such a holocaust involving “deep” nuclear winter has been real since the late 1950s and has been barely avoided more than once thanks to recurring diplomatic, technical and human failures. These failures always carry a chance, even a near certainty on several past occasions, that nuclear weapons might actually be launched “mutually” (!) in anger a second time since Nagasaki and Hiroshima for deluded reasons. (Peter King offers a list of possible sources for nuclear oblivion in seven Ms: Mistake, Misperception, Mania, Malice, Malfunction, Malfeasance and Malware, and also logically suggests a strategy of Unconditional Nuclear Withholding for any Power actually subjected to nuclear attack.)

The title of a 2008 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article sums up our goal presciently: 'Minimising the Probability of Human Extinction'. Top of this article's consequential “to do” list—which includes measures to combat climate change, watching briefs on biotech, nanotech and 'experiments in universe-creation' at LHC (the Large Hadron Collider, underneath the Swiss-French border) as well as more resources to look for large incoming asteroids–is the lowering of operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems and their abolition.

Key players in the global movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons now regard the 'human survival' aspect of abolition as a potential game-changer in the international politics of abolition. The HSP will tap into that growing discourse and will strive to restore a moral as well as a pragmatic dimension to the debate, echoing Helen Caldicott (quoted below) on the need to change the priorities and passions of our lives in the interests of a planetary future. (In the words of another legendary peace activist: “I am not making history—I am making history possible.”)

School syllabuses and university courses; research funding and priorities, media orientations; career, life and identity choices; foreign, defence and disarmament policies—all must change drastically if we are to avoid the perilous trap for any human-like creature in the cosmos (and there may be trillions) who gets as far as E=MC2.

Goals II : The proximate goal of the project is to undertake and encourage research in neglected areas of nuclear survival concern and help bring about radically new policy settings and weltanschauungen of peoples, governments and global civil society to cope with the master threat of nuclear war. A transformed global mentality towards nuclear affairs must be the guiding light for advocacy and research, and a first step is to comprehend and overcome the danger of denying, ignoring, overlooking, minimizing or rationalizing our common nuclear danger. Given the current post Cold War state of widespread ignorance and complacency, research in the area must be heroic, as Vaclav Havel would have it, in tackling the nuclear lacunae in historical, sociological, ecological and politological studies as they are presently practised.

Two obviously neglected areas of research here are: (a) The actual likelihood of an accidental nuclear war, on which valuable work has been done by Prof Martin Hellman at Stanford University, by Colonel Valery Yarynich, dearly lamented above, and currently by Anthony Barrett and others, and (b) the actual effects of nuclear weapons use, particularly more wide-ranging and better funded research on the global climatic impact of readily imaginable nuclear wars. (As Steven Starr, another US expert who lectured on nuclear winter for CPACS in 2009, suggests, any development of nuclear weaponry should come with full, free and frank environmental impact assessment.)

Denying the urgency and primacy of nuclear threats to the planet is a compound of multi-sourced ignorance and willed forgetting —also misplaced complacency and blind optimism (we have survived following a single —well, double-- use of the Bomb for 58 years: why not another 100?); grand distractions (many), but perhaps above all because we are in the thrall of an entrenched and dangerous will to nuclear weaponry and war. This has been largely thanks to the moral-intellectual disorder known as deterrence theory which fuels a bizarre willingness to legitimate the place of nuclear weapons in current diplomacy and strategy, especially for current well-established possessors and their all-too-deferential allies—supposed beneficiaries of “extended deterrence” and complicit in the potential multiple genocide of actual weapon use.

The Human Survival Project is dedicated to confronting, deconstructing, satirising, demonising, demolishing and/or ridiculing as appropriate the entrenched strategic canon about what it is supposed to take to keep the nuclear peace, and why and how one must allegedly be prepared to fight nuclear in some circumstances. But above all ultimately we must strive to show a way OUT of the nuclear quagmire.

Thus the rationale for grotesquely large Big Power arsenals and their outrageously high alert status (the potential End of the World in three minutes of decision-making time) is that destroying an opponent’s missiles by pre-emption or even prevention can be meaningful and that deterrence can only be upheld by threat of, and willingness to carry out, nuclear annihilation, and by actually undertaking it in some circumstances. (EP Thompson diagnosed the nuclearized mentality decades ago as a case of “exterminism”.)

In the age of Potential Nuclear Winter these hackneyed ideas in reality amount to saying that “deterrence stability” –for the Big Two rests–and must rest--on a threat of mutual double suicide followed by human omnicide. Any initial or retaliatory attack is doubly suicidal in that it invites the destruction of one’s own society by the Other and also guarantees that destruction even in the absence of the Other’s retaliation, thanks to the global environmental, economic, social and health effects of one’s own first strike.

Thus are genocide, omnicide and ecocide tacitly legitimated in strategic discourse, but the task of deconstruction is not only moral. A most urgent priority is to show the absurdity, the logic-free fantasy of received deterrence theory and nuclear “defence” postures. (The “rational man” of deterrence theory turns out to be a purblind idiot and/or a moral monster if he thinks that nuclear retaliation or anticipation could ever make sense.)

And the payoff for accomplishing this deconstruction and successfully advocating it, if a Human Survival Project can help bring that off, could be a new or renewed global willingness to accomplish some long-identified and painfully urgent tasks: not only negotiating and legislating radical nuclear deproliferation and disarmament (”Global Zero”), but also laws and conventions that would see nuclear weaponry and even its threat arsenal declared inhuman and illegal both nationally and internationally in our lifetimes before they become our death times.

To this end the nuclear abolition movement globally is committed to the creation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would outlaw nuclear weapons forever, just as biological weapons have been. As things stand a healthy and head-clearing first step would be to prosecute one or more nuclear proliferationists before a World Citizens’ Tribunal under an extended version of the UN Genocide Convention which would make planning or arming for nuclear war a crime against humanity. Alternatively, as Alyn Ware has pointed out, employment—or even, eventually, deployment—of nuclear weapons could be included in the crimes over which the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction.

Past and Ongoing Activism

The HSP grew out of efforts by Steven Starr, Peter King and John Hallam in 2009-10 to lobby the ICNND (International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament), an excellent initiative of the Rudd government in Canberra, on the twin issues of nuclear hyperalert and nuclear winter—efforts which met with some success.

The HSP has had discussions with the principals and is keen to cooperate with the ICNND’s follow-up initiative to monitor key nuclear developments world-wide --the Australian National University’s Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament under the leadership of Gareth Evans and Ramesh Thakur.

Ever since 2006 John Hallam has represented PND and, after October 2012, also the HSP at UN First Committee disarmament sessions. In April 2013 Hallam together with King will be attending and presenting on Human Survival at NGO briefings during the Geneva Prepcom (Preparatory Commission) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference due in 2015.

Human Survival Project Personnel

Co-Conveners

Steering Group

  • Peter King
  • John Hallam
  • Anne Noonan (Vice President, MAPW)
  • Jingdong Yuan (Centre for International Security Studies)
  • Frank Hutchinson (CPACS Council)
  • Jake Lynch (CPACS Director)

US representative

  • Steven Starr
    Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility; the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (Santa Barbara); University of Missouri

Europe representative

  • Alyn Ware
    World Future Council/Basel Peace Office (Switzerland); Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons; Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament

Patron

  • Helen Caldicott
    Founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility; subject of If You Love this Planet (National Film Board of Canada)
    Quotation: “ It’s appropriate to be passionate….You are going to have to change the priorities of your life if you love this planet.”