J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Tragedy―and Ours

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Tragedy―and Ours

The July 21, 2023 theatrical release of the film Oppenheimer, focused on the life of a prominent American nuclear physicist, should help to remind us of how badly the development of modern weapons has played out for individuals and for all of humanity.

Oppenheimer’s Rise and Fall

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus, written by Kai Bird and the late Martin Sherwin, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of young J. Robert Oppenheimer, recruited by the U.S. government during World War II to direct the construction and testing of the world’s first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  His success in these ventures was followed shortly thereafter by President Truman’s ordering the use of nuclear weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the immediate postwar years, Oppenheimer, widely lauded as “the father of the atomic bomb,” attained extraordinary power for a scientist within U.S. government ranks, including as chair of the General Advisory Committee of the new Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

But his influence ebbed as his ambivalence about nuclear weapons grew.  In the fall of 1945, during a meeting at the White House with Truman, Oppenheimer said: “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.”  Incensed, Truman later told Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson that Oppenheimer had become “a crybaby” and that he didn’t want “to see that son of a bitch in this office ever again.”

Oppenheimer was also disturbed by the emerging nuclear arms race and, like many atomic scientists, championed the international control of atomic energy.  Indeed, in late 1949, the entire General Advisory Committee of the AEC came out in opposition to the U.S. development of the H-bomb―although the president, ignoring this recommendation, approved developing the new weapon and adding it to the rapidly growing U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In these circumstances, figures with considerably less ambivalence about nuclear weapons took action to purge Oppenheimer from power.  In December 1953, shortly after becoming chair of the AEC, Lewis Strauss, a fervent champion of a U.S. nuclear buildup, ordered Oppenheimer’s security clearance suspended.  Anxious to counter implications of disloyalty, Oppenheimer appealed the decision and, in subsequent hearings before the AEC’s Personnel Security Board, faced grueling questioning not only about his criticism of nuclear weapons, but about his relationships decades before with individuals who had been Communist Party members.

Ultimately, the AEC ruled that Oppenheimer was a security risk, an official determination that added to his public humiliation, completed his removal from government service, and delivered a shattering blow to his meteoric career.

The Threat to Human Survival

Of course, the development of nuclear weapons had far broader consequences than the downfall of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  In addition to killing more than 200,000 people and injuring many more in Japan, the advent of nuclear weaponry led nations around the world to enter a fierce nuclear arms race. By the 1980s, spurred on by conflicts among the major powers, 70,000 nuclear weapons had come into existence, with the potential to destroy virtually all life on earth.

Fortunately, a massive grassroots citizens campaign emerged to counter this drive toward a nuclear apocalypse.  And it succeeded in pressuring reluctant governments into an array of nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, as well as unilateral actions, to reduce nuclear dangers.  As a result, by 2023 the number of nuclear weapons had declined to roughly 12,500.

Nevertheless, in recent years, thanks to a sharp decrease in citizen activism and increase in international conflict, the potential for nuclear war has dramatically revived.  All nine nuclear powers (Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) are currently engaged in upgrading their nuclear arsenals with new production facilities and new, improved nuclear weapons.  During 2022, these governments poured nearly $83 billion into this nuclear buildup.  Public threats to initiate nuclear war, including those by Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin, have become more common.  The hands of the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, established in 1946, now stand at 90 seconds to midnight―the most dangerous setting in its history.

Not surprisingly, the nuclear powers display little interest in further action for nuclear arms control and disarmament.  The two nations possessing some 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons―Russia (with the most) and the United States (not far behind)―have pulled out of nearly all such agreements with one another.  Although the U.S. government has proposed extending the New Start Treaty (which limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons) with Russia, Putin reportedly responded this June that Russia would not engage in any nuclear disarmament talks with the West, commenting:  “We possess more weaponry of such sort than the NATO countries.  They know that and are always trying to persuade us to start negotiations on reduction.  Nuts to them . . . as our people say.”  The Chinese government―whose nuclear arsenal, while growing substantially, still ranks a distant third in numbers―has stated that it sees no reason for China to engage in any nuclear arms control talks.

The Demand for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World

To head off a looming nuclear catastrophe, non-nuclear nations have been championing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).  Adopted by an overwhelming vote of nations at a UN conference in July 2017, the TPNW bans developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, and threatening to use nuclear weapons.  The treaty went into force in January 2021 and―though opposed by all the nuclear powers―it has thus far been signed by 92 nations and ratified by 68 of themBrazil and Indonesia are likely to ratify it in the near future.  Polls have found that the TPNW has substantial support in numerous countries, including the United States and other NATO nations.

Numerous organizations are working to create a nuclear weapons-free world, including Citizens for Global Solutions, Peace Action, and Physicians for Social Responsibility in the United States and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the International Peace Bureau, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), and Parliamentarians for Global Action on the international level.

There does remain some hope, then, that the nuclear tragedy that engulfed J. Robert Oppenheimer and has long threatened the survival of world civilization can still be averted.

How Strengthened Global Governance Could Produce a Nuclear-Free World

How Strengthened Global Governance Could Produce a Nuclear-Free World

It should come as no surprise that the world is currently facing an existential nuclear danger.  In fact, it has been caught up in that danger since 1945, when atomic bombs were used to annihilate the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Situation Today

Today, however, the danger of a nuclear holocaust is probably greater than in the past.  There are now nine nuclear powers―the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea―and they are currently engaged in a new nuclear arms race, building ever more efficient weapons of mass destruction.  The latest entry in their nuclear scramble, the hypersonic missile, travels at more than five times the speed of sound and is adept at evading missile defense systems.

Furthermore, these nuclear-armed powers engage in military confrontations with one another―Russia with the United States, Britain, and France over the fate of Ukraine, India with Pakistan over territorial disputes, and China with the United States over control of Taiwan and the South China Sea―and on occasion issue public threats of nuclear war against nuclear nations.  In recent years, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Kim Jong-Un have also publicly threatened non-nuclear nations with nuclear destruction.

Little wonder that, in January 2023, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at 90 seconds before midnight, the most dangerous setting since its creation in 1946.

A Reprieve, But Only a Temporary One

Until fairly recently, this march to Armageddon was disrupted, for people around the world found nuclear war a very unappealing prospect.  A massive nuclear disarmament campaign developed in many countries and, gradually, began to force governments to temper their nuclear ambitions.  The result was banning nuclear testing, curbing nuclear proliferation, limiting development of some kinds of nuclear weapons, and fostering substantial nuclear disarmament.  From the 1980s to today, the number of nuclear weapons in the world sharply decreased, from 70,000 to roughly 13,000.  And with nuclear weapons stigmatized, nuclear war was averted.

But successes in rolling back the nuclear menace undermined the popular struggle against it, while proponents of nuclear weapons seized the opportunity to reassert their priorities.  Consequently, a new nuclear arms race gradually got underway.

And What of the Future?

Even so, creating a nuclear-free world remains possible.  Although an inflamed nationalism and the excessive power of military contractors are likely to continue bolstering the drive to acquire, brandish, and use nuclear weapons, there is a route out of the world’s nuclear nightmare.

We can begin uncovering this route to a safer, saner world when we recognize that a great many people and governments cling to nuclear weapons because of their desire for national security.  After all, it has been and remains a dangerous world, and for thousands of years nations (and before the existence of nations, rival territories) have protected themselves from aggression by wielding military might.

The United Nations, of course, was created in the aftermath of the vast devastation of World War II in the hope of providing national security.  But, as history has demonstrated, it is not strong enough to do the job―largely because the “great powers,” fearing that significant power in the hands of the international organization would diminish their own influence in world affairs, have deliberately kept the world organization weak.  Thus, for example, the UN Security Council, which is officially in charge of maintaining international security, is frequently blocked from taking action by a veto cast by one its five powerful, permanent members.

But what if global governance were strengthened to the extent that it could provide national security?  What if the United Nations were transformed from a loose confederation of nations into a genuine federation of nations, enabled thereby to create binding international law, prevent international aggression, and guarantee treaty commitments, including commitments for nuclear disarmament?

How a Federation of Nations Could End the Nuclear Menace

Nuclear weapons, like other weapons of mass destruction, have emerged in the context of unrestrained international conflict.  But with national security guaranteed, many policymakers and most people around the world would conclude that nuclear weapons, which they already knew were immensely dangerous, had also become unnecessary.

Aside from undermining the national security rationale for building and maintaining nuclear weapons, a stronger United Nations would have the legitimacy and power to ensure their abolition.  No longer would nations be able to disregard international agreements they didn’t like.  Instead, nuclear disarmament legislation, once adopted by the federation’s legislature, would be enforced by the federation.  Under this legislation, the federation would presumably have the authority to inspect nuclear facilities, block the development of new nuclear weapons, and reduce and eliminate nuclear stockpiles.

The relative weakness of the current United Nations in enforcing nuclear disarmament is illustrated by the status of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Voted for by 122 nations at a UN conference in 2017, the treaty bans producing, testing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, and using or threatening the use of nuclear weapons.  Although the treaty officially went into force in 2021, it is only binding on nations that have decided to become parties to it.  Thus far, that does not include any of the nuclear armed nations.  As a result, the treaty currently has more moral than practical effect in securing nuclear disarmament.

If comparable legislation were adopted by a world federation, however, participating in a disarmament process would no longer be voluntary, for the legislation would be binding on all nations.  Furthermore, the law’s universal applicability would not only lead to worldwide disarmament, but offset fears that nations complying with its provisions would one day be attacked by nations that refused to abide by it.

In this fashion, enhanced global governance could finally end the menace of worldwide nuclear annihilation that has haunted humanity since 1945.  What remains to be determined is:  Are nations ready to unite in the interest of human survival?

Martin Sherwin’s “Gambling With Armageddon”

Martin Sherwin’s “Gambling With Armageddon”

The development and the deployment of nuclear weapons are usually based on the assumption that they enhance national security.  But, in fact, as this powerful study of nuclear policy convincingly demonstrates, nuclear weapons move nations toward the brink of destruction.

The basis for this conclusion is the post-World War II nuclear arms race and, especially, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962.  At the height of the crisis, top officials from the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union narrowly avoided annihilating a substantial portion of the human race by what former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, an important participant in the events, called “plain dumb luck.”

The author of this cautionary account, Martin Sherwin, who died shortly after its publication, was certainly well-qualified to tell this chilling story.  A professor of history at George Mason University, Sherwin was the author of the influential A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies and the co-author, with Kai Bird, of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which, in 2006, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.  Perhaps the key factor in generating these three scholarly works was Sherwin’s service as a U.S. Navy junior intelligence officer who was ordered to present top secret war plans to his commander during the Cuban missile crisis.

The Rise of Nuclear Weapons in International Affairs

In Gambling with Armageddon, Sherwin shows deftly how nuclear weapons gradually became a key part of international relations.  Although Harry Truman favored some limitations on the integration of these weapons into U.S. national security strategy, his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, significantly expanded their role.  According to the Eisenhower administration’s NSC 162/2, the U.S. government would henceforth “consider nuclear weapons as available for use as other munitions.”  At Eisenhower’s direction, Sherwin notes, “nuclear weapons were no longer an element of American military power; they were its primary instrument.”

Sherwin adds that, although the major purpose of the new U.S. “massive retaliation” strategy “was to frighten Soviet leaders and stymie their ambitions,” its “principal result . . . was to establish a blueprint for Nikita Khrushchev to create his own ‘nuclear brinkmanship.’”  John F. Kennedy’s early approach to U.S. national security policy―supplementing U.S. nuclear superiority with additional conventional military forces and sponsoring a CIA-directed invasion of Cuba―merely bolstered Khrushchev’s determination to contest U.S. power in world affairs.   Consequently, resumption of Soviet nuclear weapons testing and a Soviet-American crisis over Berlin followed.

A Crisis Emerges Over Cuba

Indeed, dismayed by U.S. nuclear superiority and feeling disrespected by the U.S. government, Khrushchev decided to secretly deploy medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles in Cuba.  As Sherwin observes, the Soviet leader sought thereby “to protect Cuba, to even the balance of nuclear weapons and nuclear fear, and to reinforce his leverage to resolve the West Berlin problem.”  Assuming that the missiles would not be noticed until their deployment was completed, Khrushchev thought that the Kennedy administration, faced with a fait accompli, would have no choice but to accept them.  Khrushchev was certainly not expecting a nuclear war.

But that is what nearly occurred.   In the aftermath of the U.S. government’s discovery of the missile deployment in Cuba, the Joint Chiefs of Staff demanded the bombing and invasion of the island and were supported by most members of ExComm, an ad hoc group of Kennedy’s top advisors during the crisis.  At the time, they did not realize that the Soviet government had already succeeded in delivering 164 nuclear warheads to Cuba and, therefore, that a substantial number of the ballistic missiles on the island were already operational.  Also, the 42,000 Soviet troops in Cuba were armed with tactical nuclear weapons and had been given authorization to use them to repel an invasion.  As Fidel Castro later remarked:  “It goes without saying that in the event of an invasion, we would have had nuclear war.”

Initially, among all of Kennedy’s advisors, only Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested employing a political means―rather than a military one―to secure the removal of the missiles.  Although Kennedy personally disliked Stevenson, he recognized the wisdom of his UN ambassador’s approach and gradually began to adopt his ideas.  “The question really is,” the president told his hawkish advisors, “what action we take which lessens the chance of a nuclear exchange, which obviously is the final failure.”  Therefore, Kennedy tempered his initial impulse to order rapid military action and, instead, adopted a plan for a naval blockade (“quarantine”) of Cuba, thereby halting the arrival of additional Soviet missiles and creating time for negotiations with Khrushchev for removal of the missiles already deployed.

U.S. military leaders, among other ostensible “wise men,” were appalled by what they considered the weakness of the blockade plan, though partially appeased by Kennedy’s assurances that, if it failed to secure the desired results within a seven-day period, a massive U.S. military attack on the island would follow.  Indeed, as Sherwin reveals, at the beginning of October, before the discovery of the missiles, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were already planning for an invasion of Cuba and looking for an excuse to justify it.

Sliding Toward Disaster

Even though Khrushchev, like Kennedy, regarded the blockade as a useful opportunity to negotiate key issues, they quickly lost control of the volatile situation.

For example, U.S. military officers took the U.S.-Soviet confrontation to new heights.  Acting on his own initiative, General Thomas Power, the head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, advanced its nuclear forces to DEFCON 2, just one step short of nuclear war―the only occasion when that level of nuclear alert was ever instituted.  He also broadcast the U.S. alert level “in the clear,” ensuring that the Russians would intercept it.  They did, and promptly raised their nuclear alert level to the same status.

In addition, few participants in the crisis seemed to know exactly what should be done if a Soviet ship did not respect the U.S. blockade of Cuba.  Should the U.S. Navy demand to board it?  Fire upon it?  Furthermore, at Castro’s orders, a Soviet surface-to-air battery in Cuba shot down an American U-2 surveillance flight, killing the pilot.  Khrushchev was apoplectic at the provocative action, while the Kennedy administration faced the quandary of how to respond to it.

A particularly dangerous incident occurred in the Sargasso Sea, near Cuba.  To bolster the Soviet defense of Cuba, four Soviet submarines, each armed with a torpedo housing a 15-kiloton nuclear warhead, had been dispatched to the island.  After a long, harrowing trip through unusually stormy seas, these vessels were badly battered when they arrived off Cuba.  Cut off from communication with Moscow, their crews had no idea whether the United States and the Soviet Union were already at war.

All they did know was that a fleet of U.S. naval warships and warplanes was apparently attacking one of the stricken Soviet submarines, using the unorthodox (and unauthorized) tactic of forcing it to surface by flinging hand grenades into its vicinity.  One of the Soviet crew members recalled that “it felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel while somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer.”  Given the depletion of the submarine’s batteries and the tropical waters, temperatures ranged in the submarine between 113 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit.  The air was foul, fresh water was in short supply, and crew members were reportedly “dropping like dominoes.”  Unhinged by the insufferable conditions below deck and convinced that his submarine was under attack, the vessel’s captain ordered his weapons officer to assemble the nuclear torpedo for action.  “We’re gonna blast them now!” he screamed.  We will die, but we will sink them all―we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

At this point, though, Captain Vasily Arkhipov, a young Soviet brigade chief of staff who had been randomly assigned to the submarine, intervened.  Calming the distraught captain, he eventually convinced him that the apparent military attack, plus subsequent machine gun fire from U.S. Navy aircraft, probably constituted no more than a demand to surface.  And so they did.  Arkhipov’s action, Sherwin notes, saved not only the lives of the submarine crew, “but also the lives of thousands of U.S. sailors and millions of innocent civilians who would have been killed in the nuclear exchanges that certainly would have followed from the destruction” that the “nuclear torpedo would have wreaked upon those U.S. Navy vessels.”

Although the Crisis is Resolved Peacefully, the Lesson is Lost

Meanwhile, recognizing that the situation was fast slipping out of their hands, Kennedy and Khrushchev did some tense but serious bargaining.  Ultimately, they agreed that Khrushchev would remove the missiles, while Kennedy would issue a public pledge not to invade Cuba.  Moreover, Kennedy would remove U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey―reciprocal action that made sense to both men, although, for political reasons, Kennedy insisted on keeping the missile swap a secret.  Thus, the missile crisis ended with a diplomatic solution.

Ironically, continued secrecy about the Cuba-Turkey missile swap, combined with illusions of smooth Kennedy administration calibrations of power spun by ExComm participants and the mass communications media, led to a long-term, comforting, and triumphalist picture of the missile crisis.  Consequently, most Americans ended up with the impression that Kennedy stood firm in his demands, while Khrushchev “blinked.”  It was a hawkish “lesson”―and a false one.  As Sherwin points out, “the real lesson of the Cuban missile crisis . . . is that nuclear armaments create the perils they are deployed to prevent, but are of little use in resolving them.”

Although numerous books have been written about the Cuban missile crisis, Gambling with Armageddon ranks as the best of them.  Factually detailed, clearly and dramatically written, and grounded in massive research, it is a work of enormous power and erudition.  As such, it represents an outstanding achievement by one of the pre-eminent U.S. historians.

Like Sherwin’s other works, Gambling with Armageddon also grapples with one of the world’s major problems:  the prospect of nuclear annihilation.  At the least, it reveals that, while nuclear weapons exist, the world remains in peril.  On a deeper level, it suggests the need to move beyond considerations of national security to international security, including the abolition of nuclear weapons and the peaceful resolution of conflict among nations.

Securing these goals might necessitate a long journey, but Sherwin’s writings remind us that, to safeguard human survival, there’s really no alternative to pressing forward with it.

Nations Of The World Unite!

Nations Of The World Unite!

Russia’s war upon Ukraine should remind us that violent international conflicts not only persist, but constitute a plague upon the world.

Over thousands of years, wars have brought immense suffering to people around the globe.  In addition to the widespread annihilation of human life, wars have produced vast material losses, including the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, entire cities, the environment, and much of what people value as civilization.  They have also channeled enormous financial resources into military buildups that, even if not employed in battle, deprive other public and private programs of adequate attention and funding.  Also, since World War II, when nuclear weapons were first developed and used with terrible effect, the means of waging war have entered a new dimension, giving it the power to destroy virtually all life on earth.

Although, in recent centuries, many people have lamented war’s squandering of blood and treasure, as well as the suicidal nature of modern war, they have not yet found an effective way to stop it.

Public Efforts to Avoid War

One popular response to war is isolationism, which is designed to keep one’s nation out of the conflict.  But this policy (labeled “America First” in the United States) ignores the suffering of other people and, of course, does nothing to stop a war elsewhere.  In addition, it is often accompanied by a military buildup of one’s own nation, a policy that has a poor track record when it comes to preventing war.

Pacifism is on a higher ethical plane, for it deplores the horrors produced by militarism and war.  Furthermore, if most people around the world accepted the absolute pacifist position (which rejects military force in all circumstances), pacifists might be able to prevent wars from occurring or continuing.  But this is not the case and, given widespread public support for “just wars” (including defense against invasion), seems unlikely to become so.  Nonviolent resistance, a form of radical pacifism, has greater potentiality as an alternative to war or surrender, although its full promise has yet to be realized in coping with international war.

Effective Governance and Violent Behavior

By contrast, within nations there are alternatives to violent behavior that, although not always totally effective, do reduce it substantially.  Legislative bodies enact laws, while police and judicial institutions enforce these laws.  Unfortunately, on the global level, these institutions are so rudimentary and limited in power that they fail to produce an effective check upon violence.  Thus, on the national level, governments can restrain violence by individuals, mobs, or insurrectionists.  But, on the international level, things proceed much as they did in the American Wild West of yesteryear.  In this state of international anarchy, strong nations all too often threaten or wage war upon the weak, and nations often feel insecure unless they maintain a substantial capacity for war.

In short, while nations have established useful governance at the national level, the world lacks effective governance at the international level.  As a result, when nations have an international conflict, they are tempted, in the absence of the force of law, to invoke the law of force.

Strengthening Global Governance

Even so, the nations of the world could unite in the interest of their common security and bolster institutions of global governance.  To strengthen the UN Security Council, they could abolish the veto and substitute a rotating membership for the permanent membership of Russia, China, the United States, Britain, and France.  To strengthen the General Assembly, they could give it additional legislative power, including the power to fund the United Nations through taxation.  To enhance the democratic nature of the United Nations, they could establish a world parliament, with representatives elected by the public rather than selected by national governments.  Additional power could also be granted to the International Criminal Court and to the International Court of Justice to conduct investigations, deliver judgments, and enforce their rulings.

These kinds of reform measures have been advocated for years by the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy and by its U.S. member organization, Citizens for Global Solutions.  Strengthened governmental authority on the global level is also supported by world public opinion.

A stronger array of international institutions is not a cure-all for international war.  But, like the enforcement of gun control within nations, it would significantly reduce the number of violent incidents.  It would help prevent international aggression.  And it would save the world from nuclear war by enforcing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  After thousands of years of blood and plunder, topped off in recent decades by the looming danger of a nuclear holocaust, isn’t it time to give strengthened global governance a try?

Nations of the world unite!  You have nothing to lose but your wars.

China, Russia, And The Bomb

China, Russia, And The Bomb

Even international alliances can unravel when nations confront the insanity of a nuclear holocaust.

An illustration of this point occurred recently, after Vladimir Putin once again threatened Ukraine and other nations with nuclear war.  “To defend Russia and our people, we doubtlessly will use all weapons resources at our disposal,” the Russian president said.  “This is not a bluff.”  In response to this statement and to sharp UN condemnation of Russian nuclear threats, Chinese president Xi Jinping issued a public statement early this November, assailing “the use of, or threats to use nuclear weapons.”  To “prevent a nuclear crisis” in Europe or Asia, he insisted, the world should “advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used” and “a nuclear war cannot be waged.”

Aren’t these two nuclear-armed nations currently aligned in their resistance to U.S. foreign policy?  Yes, they are, and when it came to Putin’s war upon Ukraine, Xi refrained from suggesting a Russian withdrawal.  But nuclear war, as the Chinese leader made clear, was simply not acceptable.

This was not the first time a Russian-Chinese alliance was ruffled by a dispute over the use of nuclear weapons.  An even deeper conflict occurred during the late 1950s and early 1960s when, ironically, the roles of the two nations were exactly the reverse.

At that time, the Chinese government, led by Mao Zedong, was embarked on a crash program to develop nuclear weapons.  In October 1957, China’s weapons program secured a major gain when the Russian and Chinese governments signed the New Defense Technical Accord, in which the Russians agreed to supplementing the nuclear assistance they had already provided to the Chinese by supplying them with a prototype atomic bomb, missiles, and useful technical data.

But Russian officials soon had reason to doubt the wisdom of assisting China’s nuclear weapons development program.  As Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev recalled, the following month, at a Moscow conclave of Communist party leaders from around the world, Mao gave a speech on nuclear war that startled those in attendance.  According to the Soviet leader, the “gist” of Mao’s speech was:  “We shouldn’t fear war.  We shouldn’t be afraid of atomic bombs and missiles.  No matter what kind of war breaks out―conventional or thermonuclear―we’ll win.”  When it came to China, Mao reportedly said, “we may lose more than three hundred million people.  So what?  War is war.  The years will pass, and we’ll get to work producing more babies than ever before.”

Khrushchev found Mao’s remarks “deeply disturbing,” and recalled with irritation:  “Everybody except Mao was thinking about how to avoid war.  Our principal slogan was ‘On with the Struggle for Peace and Peaceful Coexistence.’ Yet here came Mao . . . saying we shouldn’t be afraid of war.’  In early 1958, as Soviet doubts increased about the reliability of China’s leadership in dealing with nuclear weapons, Khrushchev decided to postpone shipment of the prototype atomic bomb to China.

Eventually, the Soviet government not only withdrew its assistance to the Chinese nuclear weapons program in 1960, but took steps that placed the Soviet Union at loggerheads with the Chinese leadership.  Key among these steps was working out an agreement on a nuclear test ban treaty with the governments of the United States and Britain—an agreement that, in part, was designed to block the ability of China to become a nuclear power.  This Soviet shift toward a nuclear arms control and disarmament treaty with the West was bitterly opposed by China’s rulers, who were determined to develop nuclear weapons and, by 1964, succeeded in doing so.  Meanwhile, the Sino-Soviet rift grew ever more heated, with the Chinese pulling out of the Soviet-dominated World Peace Council and ferociously competing with the Russians for leadership of the world Communist movement.

There are some lessons that can be learned from these incidents, in which major powers displayed signs of veering toward nuclear war.  The obvious one is that even military allies might balk, at times, when they see an international confrontation slipping toward a nuclear disaster.  Another, less evident, is that nations with access to nuclear weapons are not necessarily restrained from threatening or waging nuclear war by the prospect of nuclear retaliation from other nuclear powers.  Or, to put it another way, nuclear deterrence is unreliable.  Above all, these events and others underscore the fact that, while nuclear weapons exist, the world remains in peril.

Fortunately, abolishing nuclear weapons before they destroy the world is not an utterly utopian prospect.  Thanks to popular pressure and disarmament treaties, the number of nuclear weapons around the globe has been reduced since 1986 from about 70,000 to 12,700.  Moreover, a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, crafted and approved by an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations, went into effect in January 2021.

Unfortunately, none of the world’s nine nuclear powers has signed or ratified this nuclear weapons abolition treaty.  Until they do so and, therefore, stop producing, stockpiling, and distributing nuclear weapons to other countries, the world will continue to live in a state of nuclear peril, subject only to occasional flashes of sanity by these same nuclear-armed nations.

Surely, people around the world deserve a better future.

Bye-Bye World: While Nuclear Weapons And Wars Exist, Annihilation Beckons

Bye-Bye World: While Nuclear Weapons And Wars Exist, Annihilation Beckons

It’s been a long time since the atomic bombings of August 1945, when people around the planet first realized that world civilization stood on the brink of doom.  This apocalyptic ending to the Second World War revealed to all that, with the advent of nuclear weapons, violent conflict among nations had finally reached the stage where it could terminate life on earth.  Addressing a CBS radio audience in early 1946, Robert Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago, summed up the new situation with a blunt warning:  “War means atomic bombs.  And atomic bombs mean suicide.”

The Public Uprising Against Nuclear War

With millions of people jolted awake by the atomic bombings and anxious to stave off worldwide catastrophe, calls for banning nuclear weapons and for building a federation of nations strong enough to keep the peace were widespread.  Organizations among antinuclear scientists, world government advocates, and peace proponents emerged and flourished in the United States, as well as in much of the world.  Often working together in the same peace and disarmament campaigns, activists in these organizations frequently adopted a common rallying cry:  “One World or None!”

For a time, these activists had public opinion on their side.  In August 1946, a Gallup poll found 54 percent of American respondents favored (and only 24 percent opposed) turning the United Nations into “a world government with power to control the armed forces of all nations.”  Similar polls in other nations during the late 1940s reported comparable results.

In practice, the efforts of activists went toward transforming the new United Nations into an institution that had the power to rid the world of nuclear weapons and to end the ancient practice of war.  Thus, in the United States, where, by 1949, United World Federalists had some 47,000 members, it managed to get 111 members of the House of Representatives and 21 Senators to co-sponsor a resolution to turn the United Nations into “a world federation” with enough power “to preserve peace and prevent aggression.”

The Response of the “Great Powers”

Even so, while giving lip service to nuclear disarmament and peace, the world’s governments―and particularly those of the “great powers”―weren’t ready for this dramatic a departure from their traditional practices.  After all, for thousands of years, competing territories, and later, nations, had been accustomed to waging wars and using the most powerful weapons available to them in these conflicts.

Yes, at times, the governments of the great powers were forced by popular pressure to curb their nuclear ambitions.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, public protest campaigns against nuclear weapons testing led to the world’s first nuclear arms control agreement (the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963), to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970, and to the beginning of Soviet-American détente.  Similarly, public protest campaigns in the early 1980s against the revived nuclear arms race led to major nuclear disarmament agreements (the INF Treaty and the Start I and II treaties) and to the end of the Cold War.

But, despite these concessions, the governments of the major powers weren’t ready to dispense with nuclear weapons or, for that matter, with war.  Consequently, as popular protest ebbed, they gradually returned to their customary behavior.  Starting about a decade ago, they ceased signing nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements.  Instead, they began scrapping them, including the INF Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the Iran nuclear agreement.  Meanwhile, they commenced a race to “modernize” their nuclear arsenals with the production of new nuclear weapons possessing greater speed, maneuverability, and accuracy.  Also, to intimidate other nations, their leaders—most notably Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, who commanded the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals―openly threatened to attack these nations with nuclear weapons.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the hands of their famed “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight, the most dangerous setting since the clock’s appearance in 1947.

The Alternative to Nuclear Destruction

Of course, the world could yet be saved by what Albert Einstein termed “a new type of thinking” and, decades later, by what Mikhail Gorbachev called “the new thinking.”  Based on the threat nuclear weapons pose to human survival, this approach entails abolishing nuclear weapons and enhancing global governance to end their motor force, war.  The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, snubbed by the nine nuclear powers but now signed by 91 nations and ratified by 68 of them, would, if enforced, finally lift the nightmare of nuclear destruction from the people of the world.  And a strengthening of the United Nations as the guarantor of international security would help to end the long-term practice of powerful nations waging war whenever their governments felt like it.

As things now stand, however, we’re once more enmeshed in the dire situation so starkly revealed in August 1945:  While nuclear weapons exist, any war can turn into a nuclear holocaust.  Unless the people of all nations, recognizing the peril of universal death, demand the establishment of an international organization capable of enforcing policies of disarmament and peace, then, sooner or later, the time will come to say “bye-bye world.”

Anthony Vance

Anthony Vance

Senior Representative, Bahá'ís of the U.S. Office of Public Affairs

Anthony oversees the development of the Bahá'ís of the United States Office of Public Affairs programs and strategic direction. He joined the office in 2010 after spending four years at the Baháʼí World Center in Haifa, Israel representing it to the diplomatic community, civil society, and parts of the host government. A lawyer by training, he spent 21 years in the U.S. Agency for International Development in legal and managerial positions in Washington, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Botswana, and Egypt. Anthony holds a B.A. in Economics, an MBA, and a J.D. from Harvard University.

Tanner Willis

Tanner Willis

Operations Officer

Tanner Willis has a master’s degree from United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) in international affairs and diplomacy. During his time at UNITAR he has been part of two fellowships, one with Al Fusaic as an information and communication technology and international affairs fellow. Al Fusaic is a non-profit who aims to provide education and career advancement to promote peace and security in Southwest Asia and North African region. His second graduate fellowship was with the United Nations Association – National Capital Area (UNA-NCA). UNA-NCA advocates alongside UNA-USA for further partnership with the United States and the United Nations to achieve goals surrounding global issues and uphold the UN charter.

Tanner’s research experience focuses on how information & communications technology influences social and political dynamics with civil society and their relationship with governments. His experience will help CGS utilize digital technologies to promote CGS' mission in promoting peace, international law, and human rights in a responsible and ethical manner. 

In his spare time Tanner is an avid basketball fan of his home team of the University of Kentucky Wildcats. He has played, refereed, broadcasted, and coached basketball and enjoys all levels of the game. He also loves going to art museums, hiking, and traveling with his wife

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts


Bruce Knotts was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, worked for Raytheon in Saudi Arabia (1976-80) and on a World Bank contract in Somalia (1982-4), before he joined the Department of State as a U.S. diplomat in 1984. Bruce had diplomatic assignments in Greece, Zambia, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and The Gambia, where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission. While in Cote d’Ivoire, Bruce served as the Regional Refugee Coordinator for West Africa. Bruce worked closely with several UN Special Representatives and observed UN peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone from 2000-2003. Bruce retired from the Foreign Service in 2007 and began directing the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) in 2008. Bruce founded faith-based advocacy for sexual orientation/gender identity human rights at the United Nations and continues to advocate for the rights of women, indigenous peoples and for sustainable development in moral terms of faith and values. Bruce is co-chair of the UN NGO Committee on Human Rights, the chair of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, a member of steering committee of the NGO UN Security Council Working Group. Bruce retired from the UUA September 30, 2022. Bruce is currently the UN representative of the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women. In 2006, Bruce and Isaac Humphrie were wed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

James Lowell May

James Lowell May

Program Officer

James May is a programme and project development specialist. He has lived in Serbia since 2005, and prior to joining Citizens for Global Solutions, worked across the Western Balkans on a broad range of issues including human, minority and child rights, accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Holocaust commemoration, democratic participation, social justice and economic empowerment, and environmental restoration.

James began working in the Western Balkans on issues related to accountability for human rights violations, first for the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a coalition of NGOs active in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as the network’s development coordinator, then the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, leading a research project documenting the nomenclatural of the Milosevic Regime, and then the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia, running a Holocaust research and education project.

James then transitioned from accountability to efforts to protect and fulfil the rights of marginalised communities. For a decade James worked for the Centre for Youth Integration, an NGO that provides specialized services for children and youth in street situations in Belgrade, where he began as a volunteer before taking up a permanent role, while concurrently volunteering for community mental health organizations, as well as consultancy work for a number of local and international organizations, and most recently branched out to apply his experience to the environmental sector, focussing on social impact assessments and community-oriented nature-based solutions projects.

James has a degree in Archaeology from University College London. He was born and grew up in Great Britain. He is an avid cyclist.

Honorable David J. Scheffer

Honorable David J. Scheffer

Former U.S. Ambassador

Amb. David J. Scheffer is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), with a focus on international law and international criminal justice. Scheffer was the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law (2006-2020) and is Director Emeritus of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He is Professor of Practice at Arizona State University (Washington offices). He was Vice-President of the American Society of International Law (2020-2022) and held the International Francqui Professorship at KU Leuven in Belgium in 2022. From 2012 to 2018 he was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Expert on UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, and he was the Tom A. Bernstein Genocide Prevention Fellow working with the Ferencz International Justice Initiative at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (2019-2021).

During the second term of the Clinton Administration (1997-2001), Scheffer was the first ever U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues and led the U.S. delegation to the UN talks establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). He signed the Rome Statute of the ICC on behalf of the United States on December 31, 2000. He negotiated the creation of five war crimes tribunals: the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the ICC. He chaired the Atrocities Prevention Inter-Agency Working Group (1998-2001). During the first term of the Clinton Administration (1993-1997), Scheffer served as senior advisor and counsel to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Madeleine Albright, and he served on the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council. Ambassador Scheffer received an A.B. (Government and Economics) from Harvard College, B.A. (Honour School of Jurisprudence) from Oxford University (where he was a Knox Fellow), and LL.M. (International and Comparative Law) from Georgetown University Law Center.

Alex Andrei

Alex Andrei

Director of Technology and Design

Alex is an experienced professional in designing digital products, managing online applications, and providing IT consulting services. Their background is in working with online applications design, digital accessibility, learning management platforms, user experience and interface design for online and mobile applications. They have over 10 years of experience working with higher-education institutions, nonprofits, and business.

He believes that in today’s rapidly evolving landscape, organizations need to adapt and thrive in the digital realm to gain a competitive edge and be as successful as they can be. Alex specializes in supporting organizations in their digital transformation initiatives and creating effective user experiences and driving efficiency through technology to empower people.

As Director of Technology and Design, Alex focuses on identifying opportunities to integrate various technologies in ongoing operations and new initiatives at CGS to support programs, partners, and team members in achieving their goals.

Alex has a passion strategically leveraging cutting edge technologies to maximize the value of what can be done with limited resources to create a lasting impact and great experiences for people.

Jon Kozesky

Jon Kozesky

Director of Development 

Jon brings over 17 years of experience in development and fundraising in both the public and private sectors.  He started his career in politics working in the Ohio Statehouse and later in the office of U.S. Congressman Steven LaTourette, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. After leaving Capitol Hill, Jon pursued his passion of helping nonprofits secure the resources they needed to best serve their constituents. This passion led to his founding of Jon Thomas Consulting, a boutique nonprofit management and development firm serving organizations across the United States and throughout the world in streamlining their processes and maximizing their revenue growth through grant writing, government affairs, donor stewardship, and major event planning.

Prior to his fundraising career, Jon proudly served his community as a firefighter and water rescue diver. In his personal time, Jon is a champion competitive sailor and a bit of a thrill-seeker, having skydived and bungee jumped on 6 continents.

Jacopo Demarinis

Social Media & Communications Coordinator

Jacopo De Marinis is a 2022 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in Public Policy and Law, and is pursuing a career in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. While studying at UIUC, he co-founded a student chapter of Chicago Area Peace Action, CAPA UIUC, and spearheaded student campaigns for climate justice, justice for Black farmers, and a Chicago Department of Peacebuilding. He currently sits on the boards of Anne's Haven, a Chicago community-based organization dedicated to women's empowerment, and Chicago Area Peace Action. Jacopo has published articles on topics including conflict diplomacy, US-China relations, and United Nations reform in CounterPunch, Countercurrents, the LA Progressive, and on the Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement's website, among others. Jacopo joined the CGS team in September of 2022, as he strongly believes that stronger global governance and UN reform is necessary if we are to realize a more peaceful and just world.

Marvin Perry

Accounting Manager

Marvin has been working in the areas of HIV/AIDS, international peace and human rights. He has worked with both national and international non-profits in the DC area. Marvin brings years of experience in non-profit finance and administration. Marvin is a certified human resources professional and holds an MBA from Howard University School of Business.

Peter Orvetti

Communications Consultant

Peter Orvetti is an editor and political analyst who has spent most of his career providing daily intelligence briefings for the White House across four presidential administrations, as well as multiple Cabinet agencies, trade associations, and Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of several “Young People’s Guides” to various U.S. federal elections and is a former daily columnist for NBC Universal’s Washington, D.C., website.

He has been involved with CGS and other world federalist organizations for more than a decade and publishes the daily “One World Digest” email newsletter. He is also a theater reviewer and an actor in both professional and amateur productions.

Drea Bergman

Director of Programs

Drea Bergman has been shaping world citizens developing global youth programs as Director of Programs for CGS. She is a public policy researcher with master’s degrees from Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and the United Nations University-MERIT (Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology). She specializes in evidenced-based public policy programs using mixed-methods research and has focused especially on spearheading digital transformation for a variety of NGOs and foundations. Some of her other projects have included research in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. More recently, she has lent her expertise by providing strategic planning for social enterprise start-ups.

Bob Flax

CGS Education Fund President

Bob Flax, Ph.D. is the former Executive Director of Citizens for Global Solutions (now retired). He has spent a lifetime addressing human suffering, first as a psychologist, then as an organization development consultant, and for more than a decade, as a global activist through the World Federalist Movement. He also teaches in the Transformative Social Change Program at Saybrook University.

Bob has a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from New York University (1977), an M.A. in Psychology from Long Island University (1980), a Ph.D. in Psychology from Saybrook Institute (1992), an M.A. in Organization Development from Sonoma State University (2007), a Certificate in Global Affairs from New York University (2015) and a Diploma in Global Leadership at the UN Peace University in Costa Rica (2019).

Bob’s love of adventure has led him to international trekking, scuba diving, and climbing the tallest mountains on 3 continents. He also maintains a Buddhist meditation practice and lives in a co-housing community in Northern California.

Rebecca A. Shoot

Executive Director

Rebecca A. Shoot is an international lawyer and democracy and governance practitioner with more than 15 years of experience in the non-governmental, inter-governmental, and private sectors supporting human rights, democratic processes, and the rule of law on five continents.

In nearly a decade with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Rebecca held numerous positions in headquarters and the field supporting and leading democracy and governance programs in Central and Eastern Europe and Southern and East Africa. She subsequently moved to a leadership role steering NDI’s Governance projects globally and directing programming for the bipartisan House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rebecca created a global parliamentary campaign for Democratic Renewal and Human Rights as Senior Advisor to Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), an international network of legislators committed to collaboration to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Prior to that, she directed PGA’s International Law and Human Rights Programme and ran PGA’s office in The Hague. Most recently, she helmed global programming to promote gender equality and criminal justice reform for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).

Rebecca has spoken at high-level conferences and events on five continents (and increasingly, globally through online platforms). Her publications include the first Global Parliamentary Report (IPU & UNDP 2012), Political Parties in Democratic Transitions (DIPD 2012), and Navigating between Scylla and Charybdis: How the International Criminal Court Turned Restraint Into Power Play (Emory Int’l L. Rev. 2018), which was honored with the Emory International Law Review’s Founder’s Award for Excellence in Legal Research and Writing.

Rebecca is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and is a member of several bar associations, including the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA), where she serves as Advocacy Director for the International Criminal Court (ICC) Committee. She served as a Visiting Professional in the Presidency of the ICC and has provided pro bono legal expertise to The Carter Center, International Refugee Assistance Project, United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and U.S. Marine Corps University, where she helped develop the international humanitarian law curriculum.

Rebecca earned a Juris Doctorate with Honors from Emory University School of Law, where she received several academic distinctions, including the David J. Bederman Fellowship in International Law and Conley-Ingram Scholarship for Public Interest Leadership. She earned a Master of Science in Democracy & Democratisation from University College London School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts Magna Cum Laude in Political Science from Kenyon College. She holds certificates in Conflict Analysis from the U.S. Institute of Peace and in Public International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law.

As Executive Director of CGS, Rebecca will continue her current role as Co-Convener of the Washington Working Group for the International Criminal Court (WICC), a diverse coalition of human rights organizations, legal associations, former government officials, and leading legal professionals. CGS and WICC have a rich and intertwined history that this dual appointment brings full circle, with CGS formerly serving as host for the coalition and with several current and former common Board and National Advisory Committee members.

She also acts, directs, and writes for the theater.

Helen Caldicott

Physician, Author, and Speaker

Helen Caldicott is a physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate. She founded several associations dedicated to opposing the use of nuclear power, depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, and military action in general. In 1980, she founded the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND), which was later renamed Women’s Action for New Directions. In 2008, she founded the Helen Caldicott Foundation for a Nuclear Free Future.

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Professor, Author, and Historian

Blanche Wiesen Cook is a Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. She is author of a three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as The Declassified Eisenhower: A Divided Legacy of Peace and Political Warfare.

David Cortright

Author, Activist, and Leader

David Cortright is director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and chair of the Board of the Fourth Freedom Forum. In 1977, Cortright was named the executive director of he Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy (SANE), which under his direction became the largest disarmament organization in the U.S. Cortright initiated the 1987 merger of SANE and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and served for a time as co-director of the merged organization. In 2002, he helped to found the Win Without War coalition in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

He is the author or co-editor of 19 books including Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the WarGandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for a New Political Age, and Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas.

Andrea Cousins

Andrea Cousins

Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, and Anthropologist

Andrea Cousins is a psychologist and psychoanalyst who has practiced for more than 30 years. She has a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University and a Doctor of Psychology degree from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Her father, journalist and peace activist Norman Cousins, served as president of the World Federalist Association and chairman of the Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy, and was honored with recognitions including the United Nations Peace Medal.

Gary Dorrien

Gary Dorrien

Professor, Author, Social Ethicist

Gary Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. An Episcopal priest, he has taught as the Paul E. Raither Distinguished Scholar at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and as Horace De Y. Lentz Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School. He is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Religion and Socialism Commission and the author of 18 books on ethics, social theory, philosophy, theology, politics, and intellectual history.

Daniel Ellsberg

Lecturer, Writer, and Activist

Daniel Ellsberg is a political activist and former military analyst. While employed by the RAND Corporation, Ellsberg precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of the U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, to The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, Ellsberg has continued his political activism, giving lecture tours and speaking out about current events. Ellsberg was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2006. In 2018, he was awarded the 2018 Olof Palme Prize for his “profound humanism and exceptional moral courage.”

Oscar Andrew Hammerstein

Oscar Andrew Hammerstein

Painter, Writer, Lecturer, and Historian

Oscar Andrew Hammerstein is a painter, writer, and lecturer. He has taught graduate-level courses on New York theatre history and general musical theatre history as an adjunct professor at Columbia University. He is the author of The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family.

Randy Kehler

Randy Kehler

Pacifist Activist

Randy Kehler is a pacifist activist who served 22 months in prison for returning his draft card in 1969 and refusing to seek exemption as a conscientious objector, seeing that as a form of cooperation with the Vietnam war effort. He played a key role in persuading Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers, and later served as executive director of the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. Kehler and his wife Betsy Corner refused to pay taxes for military expenditures, resulting in the federal seizure of their Massachusetts home in 1989. They continue to withhold their federal income taxes.

Gordon Orians

Gordon Orians


Gordon Orians, an ornithologist and ecologist for more than half a century, has focused his work on behavioral ecology and the relationships between ecology and social organization, as well as on the interface between science and public policy. He was director of the University of Washington Seattle’s Institute for Environmental Studies for a decade and has also served on the Board of Directors of the World Wildlife Fund and on state boards of the Nature Conservancy and Audubon.

Orians was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990.

William Pace

International Organizer

William Pace was the founding convenor of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court (ICC) and a co-founder of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. He has been engaged in international justice, rule of law, environmental law, and human rights for four decades, serving as executive director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, secretary-general of the Hague Appeal for Peace, director of the Center for the Development of International Law, and director of Section Relations of the Concerts for Human Rights Foundation at Amnesty International, among other roles. He is the recipient of the William J. Butler Human Rights Medal from the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the ICC.

James T. Ranney

Professor, International Legal Consultant, and Author

James T. Ranney is an adjunct professor of international law at Widener Law School. He co-founded the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Montana and served as a legal consultant to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He has written extensively on the abolition of nuclear weapons and the establishment of international dispute resolution mechanisms.

Rick Ulfik

Rick Ulfik

The Founder of WE, The World, and the WE Campaign

Rick Ulfik is the founder of We, The World, an international coalition-building organization whose Mission is to maximize social change globally. He and his organization work closely with the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication, where he has been a facilitator since 2004. He is also the co-creator of the annual 11 Days of Global Unity - 11 Ways to Change the World, September 11-21.

He is an award-winning composer and keyboard player who has written, arranged, produced and orchestrated music for television networks, feature films, commercials, and albums. He has performed with Queen Latifah, Phoebe Snow, Carlos Santana, Bernadette Peters, and Judy Collins.

John Stowe


John Stowe is the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. He is a member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, a mendicant religious order founded by Francis of Assisi. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Stowe bishop of the Diocese of Lexington. He is the Episcopal President of the U.S. board of Pax Christi, an international Catholic Christian peace movement with a focus on human rights, disarmament, nonviolence, and related issues.

Barbara Smith

Author, Activist, and Scholar

Barbara Smith has played a significant role in Black feminism in the U.S. for more than 50 years. She taught at numerous colleges and universities for 25 years and has been published in a wide range of publications including The New York Times Book ReviewMs.Gay Community NewsThe Village Voice, and The Nation.

Among her many honors are the African American Policy Forum Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Stonewall Award for Service to the Lesbian and Gay Community. In 2014, SUNY Press published Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith.

William J. Ripple

Conservationist, Author, and Professor

William J. Ripple is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. He has published two books and has authored more than 200 scientific journal articles on topics including conservation, ecology, wildlife, and climate change. He was the co-lead author on the 2020 paper “The World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” which was endorsed by more than 14,000 scientist signatories from around the world. He is the director of the Alliance of World Scientists, which has approximately 26,000 scientist members from 180 countries.

Mark Ritchie

President, Global Minnesota

Mark Ritchie is Chair of Minnesota's World Fair Bid Committee Educational Fund. From 2019 - 2022 he served as president of Global Minnesota, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to advancing international understanding and engagement. Ritchie was Minnesota's elected Secretary of State from 2007 to 2015. Since leaving elected public service, he has led the public-private partnership working to bring a world exposition (World's Fair) to Minnesota and he has served on the board of directors for LifeSource, Communicating for America, U.S. Vote Foundation, and Expo USA. He is also a national advisory board member of the federal Election Assistance Commission, where he serves as National Secretary.


Kim Stanley Robinson


Kim Stanley Robinson is the author of many works of science fiction, including the internationally bestselling Mars trilogy, and more recently Red Moon, New York 2140, and The Ministry for the Future. His work has been translated into 25 languages, and won awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. In 2016, asteroid 72432 was named “Kimrobinson.”

Leila Nadya Sadat

Special Advisor to the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Professor, Author

Leila Sadat is the James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law at Washington University School of Law and the director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute. She is an internationally recognized expert on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and served as Special Advisor on Crimes Against Humanity to Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the ICC. She is also the director of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, a multi-year project to study the problem of crimes against humanity and draft a comprehensive convention addressing their punishment and prevention. She is a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, served as the Alexis de Tocqueville Distinguished Fulbright Chair at the University of Cergy-Pontoise in Paris, and is the author of several books.

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen

Actor, Activist, and Leader

Martin Sheen is an Emmy Award-winning and Golden Globe Award-winning actor who has worked with directors including Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone, in addition to starring as the U.S. president on the long-running television drama “The West Wing.” In his early days as a struggling actor in New York, he met activist Dorothy Day, beginning his lifelong commitment to social justice.

The self-described pacifist was an early opponent of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and has been a consistent opponent of nuclear arms. As honorary mayor of Malibu, California in 1989, he declared the city a nuclear-free zone. Nearly 20 years later, Sheen was arrested during a protest at the Nevada Test Site. Sheen said in 2009 that he had been arrested 66 times for acts of civil disobedience, leading one activist to declare Sheen to have “a rap sheet almost as long as his list of film credits.”

Sheen has also been active in anti-genocide and pro-immigrant causes, as well as in the environmental movement. In 2010, he told a crowd of young people, “While acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive.” In a 1963 episode of “The Outer Limits,” he portrayed a future astronaut wearing a large breast patch that read “UE. Unified Earth.”