What do nations and governments rush towards as they build up their capabilities to kill greater numbers of people with bigger bombs, and to destroy more and more property and wealth with them?
What do they want? Is it total control of their own borders and populace? Or is it expansion and domination over other peoples and territories? Do they want bragging rights, or to provoke fear, or just to prove their supposed superiority?
Absurdly, nations developing greater means of destruction say they only do it to “Protect our national sovereignty and maintain our integrity against incursions by others.” This self-defeating process means as one nation increases their war-making capabilities, other nations escalate theirs to keep pace—hence the absurd term “arms race.”
But who can ever win that race?
This mindset is ancient. History offers us a thousand examples of wars between factions and nations. In order to avoid invasion and deter actions of aggression by others, nations built up their armies and military might. Military might—seen as a sign of strength and not weakness, power and control over one’s people and resources, a source of national pride and security—has built a false sense of security today. The acts of terrorists have challenged that false sense when they strike anywhere, even in shopping malls, hotels, schools, neighborhood bars and dance clubs or public gatherings. As has always been the case, no matter how much we try to prepare, unforeseen events will always be just that—unforeseen. All we can do is react.
Ironically, that’s what an arms race comes down to—reaction. “You bomb or invade me, and I will hit you back harder.”
Many attempts have tried to slow down this deadly race. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START) of the 1990s between Russia and the United States made history as bilateral agreements on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. The treaties barred their signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers. Note: only 6,000!
The START I treaty expired 5 December 2009. On 8 April 2010, the replacement “New START” treaty was signed in Prague by United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Following ratification it went into force on 26 January 2011. From a high of 70,300 active nuclear weapons in 1986, as of 2018 approximately 14,485 total nuclear warheads exist in the world—so the treaties did accomplish significant reductions.
But we all still fear the thousands of nuclear weapons ready for use. In 2019 six nation-states have confirmed nuclear weapons, and at least four more probably possess them but haven’t said so publicly. The whole world is watching North Korea’s armaments right now, and development of new capabilities in states like Iran are a concern, too.
But having any nuclear weapons at all is not comforting when we realize what such devastation does, as photos from WWII nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, clearly attest. In Hiroshima alone, 80,000 men, women and children died. Total devastation spanned about two miles in diameter with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles—and that bomb was crude compared to today’s enormous destructive power.
Therefore you and I and every concerned citizen of the world needs to petition their representatives, lawmakers and governments to cut down on this development of arms under the false guise of “protection.” As long as our governments don’t demilitarize and disarm, others will continue the race, too.
The Baha’i teachings have much to say on this important subjects of the abolition of war and disarmament:
… it is Our purpose, through the loving providence of God—exalted be His glory—and His surpassing mercy, to abolish, through the force of Our utterance, all disputes, war, and bloodshed, from the face of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 34.
The Baha’i writings proscribe many means of abolishing conflict, starting with the individual, spreading to the family, tribe, city and nation. For the root cause of this arms buildup is mistrust and fear, and until we strive to know and listen to each other, we cannot hope to find compromise and unity, either on the individual level or the level between nations. We should all urge diplomacy and consultation at every level of inter-governmental functioning.
Our united goal must be universal peace, as Abdul-Baha described:
Strife, contention and bloodshed will give way to peace, sincerity and harmony. … Ultimately, war will be entirely banned … arguments and disputes will, with perfect justice, be settled before a universal tribunal of governments and peoples … Universal peace will raise its pavilion in the midmost heart of creation and the blessed Tree of Life will so grow and flourish as to stretch its sheltering shade over the East and the West. Strong and weak, rich and poor, contending kindreds and hostile nations—which are like the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and kid, the lion and the calf—will treat one another with the utmost love, unity, justice, and equity. The earth will be filled with knowledge and learning, with the realities and mysteries of creation, and with the knowledge of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 73-74.
How do we get there? We’ll talk about that crucial goal in Part Two.