The Civil 7 (C7) may sound like a bad Hollywood remake, but it is an important international forum that concerned citizens of the world’s democracies use to try to influence political decisions that will determine their future.
The C7 is composed of thousands of highly-skilled and altruistically-motivated individuals from around the world. They spent months developing a detailed and practical agenda for the resolution of the world’s most pressing problems.
I participated in the development of the C7 recommendations on nuclear disarmament and spoke about the growing nuclear threat at C7 Tokyo Summit, where those recommendations were carried, by government emissaries called sherpas, to the leaders of the G7.
I hope they will consider them. I have my doubts.
When nuclear arms control was in
We had a chance, after the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, to put humanity on an inalterable path towards the general and complete nuclear disarmament all G7 governments promised us when they ratified or acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The United Nations Conference on Disarmament was an active and hopeful place. Negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were successfully completed and preparations to begin negotiations on a treaty to control the fissile materials used to make nuclear weapons were underway.
There was talk of Russia becoming an integral part of a united Europe.
The governments of the United States and China were extolling the benefits of greater economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation.
The word “globalization” communicated a recognition that the human world was best conceived not as a collection of nations with interests, destined to remain mired in competition and conflict, but an organic whole, whose many parts were inherently interdependent, and where the optimal future for everyone was only obtainable through cooperation.
That was the world that was going to make it possible for us to address climate change, create an equitable and sustainable global economy, improve global food and health systems, and end endemic poverty.
It was a world where nuclear disarmament was a technical and legal challenge, and nuclear weapons were no longer the ever-present instantaneous existential threat they were during the Cold War.
End of an era
I liked living in that world. What happened to it?
Well, progress in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament ended after then US Senator Joe Biden was outmaneuvered by arms control skeptics who voted down US ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
US President George W. Bush subsequently withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty: a foundational agreement upon which all subsequent nuclear arms control pacts depended. That’s why it was the first signed after US President Richard Nixon sought a détente with the Soviet Union and normal relations with China in 1972.
Russia and the United States walked away from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019
And neither country is making a concerted effort to negotiate a new treaty to replace the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after it expires in 2026. New START is the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between two nations that together possess roughly 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. Russia has already suspended participation in the agreement, citing the war in Ukraine.
All the nuclear weapons states, including the three nuclear-armed members of the G7, are investing in updates or expansions of their nuclear forces.
Russia is threatening to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Japan supports the development of new US tactical nuclear weapons and their redeployment in East Asia. China is building hundreds of new missile silos.
Integration and cooperation fell out of fashion. Globalization was privatized and crashed the global economy. National competition replaced it. War, and preparations for war, took precedence over everything else.
We slipped back into another era of cold war that seems to be just beginning and is likely to be made much worse by our governments’ unwillingness to address multiple, increasingly urgent global crises.
This period between the old and new cold wars should leave little doubt that our political leaders are incompetent. The way they think and behave is just not suited to the demands of our time. Most of our leaders can’t intelligently assess risk, seem incapable of trust, lack empathy, have little imagination, and offer even less hope.
The historical record, including recently declassified Soviet documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, consistently affirms that it’s been sheer luck, not the theory or practice of “deterrence”, that has kept our leaders from destroying human civilization with nuclear weapons.
It’s unclear how much longer our luck can hold out, especially if decision-makers link the systems that deliver these weapons to an artificial intelligence trained to follow rules like those that guided the Soviet Union’s infamous Dead Hand, which was designed to strengthen deterrence by convincing an enemy a nuclear response was certain by automating it.
For reasons I wish I understood better, I’ve been interested in politics since I was a little boy. ( I think it may be because I used to listen to my grandfathers argue endlessly about social security at family gatherings.)
In the course of my life, I don’t think I’ve met a single person, anywhere in the world, who was not cynical about politicians or who was satisfied with their government. I studied political theory in college, and despite a lifetime of additional thought and effort I can’t explain that.
The most common answer one encounters is that it’s human nature. But maybe it’s just the nature of that tiny percentage of human beings who seek to acquire wealth, influence, and power for its own sake.
Cause for hope
It may be difficult for me to believe our current leaders will consider ideas and recommendations from concerned and knowledgeable citizens. But that’s not a cause for pessimism or despair.
The G7 are democracies where voters can select new representatives more willing to heed calls for change. I’m hopeful because participation in the C7 reaffirmed that the nature of most of the humans in this world is good, that cooperation among us can be easy and enjoyable, and that we know how to solve our many problems. If we find and elect politicians who seek to serve public interests, instead of their own, we can make the world a much better place.