Nineteen years ago, Mordechai Vanunu, a technician
at the secret nuclear weapons production facility at Dimona in Israel, did something
that he was right to do, something that others with his knowledge of Israel's
nuclear activities and their implications for Israeli security and democracy and
for world order should have done earlier, or later. He revealed to his fellow
citizens and the world truths about these activities that had long been wrongly
concealed and denied by his government.
What he revealed was not merely that Israel was a nuclear weapons state; that
had been known for more than a decade on the basis of widely publicized leaks
in the U.S. about official American intelligence estimates to this effect. Vanunu's
photographs and interviews with the London Sunday Times revealed that Americans
and all others had substantially underestimated the pace and scale of the Israel's
secret and uninspected production of nuclear materials and warheads, especially
since the early '70s. New estimates on the basis of his revelations put the Israeli
arsenal in 1986 at some 200 warheads (rather than 20), making it the third or
possibly fourth largest nuclear power, ahead of Britain and probably ahead of
France. After 19 more years of production, that ranking remains valid, with Israel
probably possessing closer to 400 weapons.
Did not Israelis, citizens of a democracy, and other nations of the world deserve
to know this? Was not his example of truth-telling, at great personal risk,
to be thanked and emulated? For a generation, the nuclear scientist Joseph Rotblat,
a founder of the Pugwash Movement for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,
has argued that the confidence required in the inspection and enforcement agreements
on nuclear disarmament could and must rest in part on "societal verification":
the courage and conscience of scientists, technicians, and officials who could
reveal to inspectors activities violating those agreements. Unhappily, the last
35 years since the NPT went into effect have not seen many examples of such
initiative, other than that of Mordechai Vanunu. Yet the potential value of
such revelations, by someone willing, like Vanunu, to risk the heaviest personal
costs, is ever more clear.
Imagine, for example, if an Indian citizen aware of India's secret preparations
for nuclear testing and of the disastrous impact this would foreseeably have
on regional and world security had made this knowledge unequivocally public
in time for world opinion to come to bear to avert that tragic error and the
Pakistani testing it was sure to provoke. The result for that person could well
have been a long prison sentence, as it was for Vanunu; yet surely such an act
would deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, for which Rotblat using his prerogative
as a Nobel Laureate has nominated Mordechai Vanunu repeatedly.
Now, a year after serving his full sentence of 18 years nearly 12 of
them spent in solitary confinement in a two-by-three meter cell Vanunu
is under indictment and faces a return to prison for violating restrictions
on his freedom of speech that clearly violate his fundamental human rights.
He will continue to speak out in favor of a nuclear-free-zone in the Middle
East and the global abolition of nuclear weapons, telling whatever he knows
that supports these objectives. It is absurd to maintain, as the head of Israel's
security system does, that revelation of any further details he learned from
his access in Dimona 19 years ago could undermine Israeli national security,
when no one has been able to identify any damage whatever to Israeli security
in the years since his revelations in 1986. Rather, the prohibitions against
his speaking to foreigners and foreign journalists on any matters, or to his
fellow citizens on nuclear matters, are clearly intended to extend his punishment
in prison for unauthorized truth-telling for an indefinite period.
The deterrent message to other potential Vanunus either in Israel or
elsewhere could not be more clear. In a world where more Vanunus are
desperately needed above all, in my own country, the United States, and
other nuclear weapons states violating their Article VI obligations is
this a message that the rest of the world should tolerate to be sent unchallenged?
In the interest of vital transparency and future societal verification, there
should be international protest of Vanunu's new indictment and of the restrictions
on his speech and travel.
It is time for the rest of the world to join Mordechai Vanunu in demanding
that Israel acknowledge its status as a nuclear weapons state with a large and
growing arsenal, and in demanding that ALL the nuclear weapons states
including Israel, India, and Pakistan, but above all the U.S. and Russia
negotiate concrete steps on a definite timetable toward the global, inspected
abolition of nuclear weapons.
I feel compelled to add a personal note. In the early 1960s, as a consultant
to the Pentagon on nuclear command and control and nuclear war plans, I was
aware that the recent
characterization (in the latest issue of Foreign Policy) by Robert
S. McNamara of our current nuclear policies was just as valid then: "Immoral,
illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous." That was demonstrated
in classified documents I was reading, and in some I was writing.
I regret profoundly that I did not reveal those documents to my fellow Americans
and the world at that time, though I would have gone to prison for it, like
Mordechai Vanunu. But I did not have his example of courageous truth-telling
then to awaken me to that responsibility. It is my hope that people and governments
will press the government of Israel now to free Vanunu to speak throughout the
world as a prophet of nuclear abolition.
To register protest over Vanunu's indictment, or to show support for him, coordinate
through: Frederick Heffermehl.