The decision that you make on whether or not to bid to continue managing and overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories transcends ordinary university business decisions; it is a decision of profound moral consequence. The question that must be confronted is whether or not an institution of higher education should be involved in the creation and maintenance of weapons of mass murder.
While nuclear weapons are intended primarily for deterrence, the concept of deterrence itself is based on an implied assumption that the weapons might be used. Are the Regents of the University of California willing to continue to affiliate the University with laboratories that research and develop nuclear weapons, recognizing that the mass destruction of human beings could result? Although it may not be the intent, the potential use of nuclear weapons and larger implications of the university’s involvement cannot be denied.
Your decision has vast legal, as well as moral dimensions. In a 1996 opinion, the International Court of Justice found that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be illegal if it violated international humanitarian law. This means that any threat or use of nuclear weapons that failed to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants or that caused unnecessary suffering would be illegal under international law. It is difficult to imagine any use of nuclear weapons that would not violate these rules of international humanitarian law.
Although the actual decision to threaten or use nuclear weapons would be out of the hands of the University of California Regents and the scientists and technicians who contributed to the creation and maintenance of the weapons, the UC Regents and the scientists and technicians in the labs could be considered accomplices to future international crimes. The current work of the nuclear weapons laboratories in researching new and more usable nuclear weapons, such as “bunker busters” and low-yield nuclear weapons, also runs counter to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for ending the nuclear arms race at an early date and for good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.
The University of California justifies its relationship to the nuclear weapons laboratories as “a national service.” But this so-called “service” of designing and improving weapons of mass destruction is unworthy of a great university. In fact, the “service” the University of California has provided is a fig leaf of respectability to the making and maintenance of these genocidal weapons. Should these weapons be used and destroy large civilian populations, the role of the UC would certainly be viewed as a national disgrace rather than a national service.
If the nuclear weapons laboratories would focus their talented scientists on limiting their nuclear weapons activities to the dismantlement of these weapons and to maintaining the safety and security (rather than reliability) of these weapons while awaiting dismantlement, their efforts could indeed be considered a national service, even an international service. But under the present circumstances in which the US is moving forward with new nuclear weapon designs that make these weapons more usable, the UC should opt out of providing management and oversight to the labs. As UC Regents, you should base your decision on moral considerations, consistent with international law.
I urge you also to make your decision to withdraw from your past role in management and oversight of the nation’s nuclear weapons labs highly public. Doing so will influence the public and political discourse on the responsibility of the US to set an example in fulfilling obligations for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
The University of California has a responsibility to pass on the accumulated knowledge of civilization to new generations. The continued engagement of UC in creating and maintaining weapons capable of destroying cities, civilization and most life on earth clearly contradicts the mission of the University, as well as its motto, “Let there be light.” There is no light in the creation of weapons of mass destruction, nor in the shroud of nuclear secrecy.
I call upon you to take the high road and reconceptualize the national service of the University of California in terms of disarming and dismantling these terrible weapons of mass destruction, rather than creating and maintaining them. In 2005, the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 50th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the 35th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, I urge you to take a principled stand for the future of humanity. Your decision could help change the course of our nation and the future of civilization.
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation