Book Review “The Path To Zero: Dialogues On Nuclear Dangers” By Richard Falk And David Krieger

This book ought to be required reading for college students everywhere in the world, and also for decision-makers.

Mushroom cloud from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945

It shakes us out of our complacency and makes us realize that widespread, immediate and dedicated public action is urgently needed if we are to save human civilization and the biosphere from a thermonuclear catastrophe. The book is published by Paradigm Publishers, 2845 Wilderness Place, Boulder, CO 80301, USA. ( On the back cover there are endorsements, with which I entirely agree, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and David Ellsberg.

“We are greatly privileged, like flies on the wall, to join this conversation between two remarkable stalwarts. Richard Falk and David Krieger, in the campaign for a nuclear-free world. It is unconscionable that so many of us seem to accept the prospect of our 'mutually assured destruction', the immoral massacre of millions of civilians, and to view with equanimity such a gross violation of international law. Falk and Krieger discuss persuasively and cogently the folly of reliance on nuclear weapons that can cause apocalyptic devastation. If we want to survive in a habitable world, then we have no choice: we must heed, and do so urgently, these lovers of mankind.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate

“In 'The Path to Zero', Falk and Krieger engage in a stunningly eloquent dialogue on a range of nuclear dangers, and our common responsibility to put an end to them. This is urgent reading for citizens, scientists, policy-makers and political leaders, actually for anyone who cares about the future of civilization and life on earth”, Daniel Ellsberg, Whistleblower

Other enthusiastic endorsements come from Jonathan Schell, Commander Robert Green and Maude Barlow.

The book has ten chapters: 1 The Nuclear Age; 2 Nuclear Deterrence; 3 Nuclear Proliferation; 4 Nuclear Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament; 5 Nuclear Weapons and Militarism; 6 Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Energy; 7 Nuclear Weapons and International Law; 8 Nuclear Weapons, Culture and Morality; 9 Nuclear Weapons and Democracy; 10 The Path to Zero.

The two authors

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus at Princeton, where he was a member of the faculty for 40 years. Since 2002 he has been a research professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He has been Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council since 2008, and served on a panel of experts appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly, 2008-2009. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including “Legality and Legitimacy in Global Affairs” (Oxford 2012).

David Krieger is a Founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as President of the Foundation since 1982. Under his leadership, the Foundation has initiated many innovative projects for building peace, strengthening international law, abolishing nuclear weapons, and empowering peace leaders. Among other leadership positions, he is one of 50 Councilors from around the world on the World Future Council. He is the author and editor of numerous books and articles related to achieving peace in the Nuclear Age. A graduate of Occidental College, he holds MA and PhD degrees in political science from the University of Hawaii.

Flaws in the concept of nuclear deterrence

In discussing the concept of nuclear deterrence, the two authors emphasize the fact that it violates the fundamental ethical principles of every major religion. Dr. Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Who are we? What kind of culture would be content to base its security on threatening to murder hundreds of millions of innocent people? ”

The two authors also point out that the idea of deterrence is an unproved theory, based on the assumption that accidents will not happen, and that leaders are always rational. In fact, we know historically that the world has come extremely near to accidental nuclear war on very numerous occasions, and there are also many historical instances of irrational behavior by leaders. This cannot continue indefinitely without a catastrophe. See:

The illegality of nuclear weapons

As Dr. Krieger and Prof. Falk point out, the threat or use of nuclear weapons violates international law. The fact that planning an aggressive war or conducting one is a crime according to the Nuremberg Principles is discussed. The two authors also review in detail the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which was asked by the UN General Assembly and the World Health Organization to rule on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The ICJ ruled that under almost all circumstances, the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be illegal. The only possible exception was the case where a country might be under attack and its very survival threatened. The Court gave no ruling on this extreme case. Finally, the ICJ ruled unanimously that states possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to get rid of them within a short time-frame.

Falk: “It may be time for the General Assembly to put this question to the ICJ: What legal consequences arise from the persistent failure of the nuclear weapon states to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. In my view, the nonnuclear states have also been irresponsible in not insisting on on mutuality of respect in the nonproliferation setting. It may be up to civil society actors to bring wider attention to this disrespect for the vital norms of international law…”

Colonialism and exceptionalism

Falk: “We need to remember that the expansion of Europe at the expense of the non-Western world rested on violence and the superiority of European weaponry and strategic logistics, including naval power. This link between Western militarism and historical ascendancy is, in my view, one of the deep reasons why there is such an irrational attachment to nuclear weaponry, making it very diffiicult to renounce as the supreme expression of political violence.”

Krieger: “I would like to add that there is a general orientation in much of Western society to subordinate international law to geopolitical desire, in other words, not to allow international law to be a limiting factor in seeking geopolitical advantage. International law is thus applied when useful and ignored when self-interest and convenience dictate. This is a striking manifestation of the double standards that have served the interests of the powerful in both the colonial and postcolonial worlds.”

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In discussing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger point out that that it has several serious flaws: It is unsymmetrical, giving a special status to the nuclear weapons states, and forbidding all others to possess these weapons. The treaty encourages the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy, which in practice opens the door to acquisition of nuclear weapons by many nations and which exposes the world to radioactive fallout from accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and very long-term dangers from radioactive wastes. Finally, membership in the NPT is not universal. Here are some comments by the two authors:

Falk: “In my view, the failure of the nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament over a period of more than forty years, despite the injunction to do so by the International Court of Justice, is a material breach of the NPT that would give any party the option of pronouncing the treaty void.”

Krieger: “It would be wonderful to see a strong and concerted effort by non-nuclear-weapon states to challenge the nuclear weapons club. I think that the most effective thing that such states could do would be to start the process of negotiating a nuclear weapons convention and, if necessary, to do it without the nuclear weapon states.”

Falk: “My proposal is a two-year ultimatum by as many nonnuclear states as possible, threatening to withdraw from the NPT unless serious nuclear disarmament negotiations get underway.”

Dr. Krieger is not in complete agreement with Prof. Falk regarding such an ultimatum. He feels that even though it is flawed in many ways, it is still so valuable that its continuation ought not to be threatened.

Krieger: “One of the great problems with the NPT is that it encourages the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which actually opens the door to nuclear weapons proliferation. It ends up making the treaty work against itself. Of course, Israel is not a party to the treaty, nor are India and Pakistan. This demonstrates a fundamental weakness of international law, that is, the exemption of nations that do not sign a treaty from the law. This would be unworkable in domestic law, and it is equally so in international law.”

Krieger: “The nuclear plant operators are willing to downplay for short-term gain the catastrophic risks that are involved in the use of nuclear reactors to boil water. They are wiling to generate wastes that will adversely affect the health and well-being of of untold generations to follow us on the planet. ¡K The tragedy is that governments embrace and support this industry, demonstrating that they also do not place the interests of their people and the future at the forefront of their planning and decision making.”

No first use; no hair-trigger alerted missiles

In their concluding chapter, the two authors agree that a No First Use declaration could be a useful first step. Prof. Falk comments:

Falk: “What conceivable justification, consistent with a deterrence rationale for the retention of nuclear weapons, is there for not assuring other governments that the United States will only use such weaponry in retaliation a prior attack with nuclear weaponry? It is rather clear that such a declaration, especially if backed up by non-nuclear deployments, would both give the United States some new claim to leadership with respect to the weaponry and exert enormous psychological pressure on other nuclear weapon states to follow the American lead.”

This, of course, could be linked to taking all nuclear weapons systems off hair-trigger alert, which is probably the most important first step towards avoiding the catastrophe of an accidental nuclear war. Dr Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Those responsible for maintaining nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert are delusional if they think that it can be maintained indefinitely without dire consequences.”

Developments since the publication of the book

Since the publication of Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger's book in 2012, several events have taken place which the authors probably would have discussed if they had occurred earlier. For example, on 2 April, 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty was passed by a massive majority by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly. The ATT had remained blocked for more than 10 years in the consensus-bound Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Its passage gives us hope that a Nuclear Weapons Convention can similarly be passed by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly, where the vast majority of nations are in favor of the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Even if bitterly opposed by the nuclear weapons states, a Nuclear Weapons Convention would have great normative value.

Another development which Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger would certainly have discussed, had it occurred earlier, is an heroic law suit by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, suing the nuclear weapons states for violation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact Dr. Krieger and his organization, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, are actively supporting the Marshall Islands in this David-versus-Goliath-like law suit.

Finally, the two authors would probably have discussed the hubris of Washington's power-holders in threatening war with both Russia and China. The effect of this colossally misguided US action has been to firmly unite China and Russia. In fact the BRICS countries, with their vast resources, are now moving away from using the dollar as a reserve currency for international trade. The probable effect will be the collapse of the already-strained US economy, and as a consequence, the fall of the US Empire. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger both wonder whether they have been too America-centric in their discussions of nuclear abolition. The probable fall of the United States from its present position of global hegemony may mean that US leadership will not, in the future, be the key to nuclear abolition.

Some conclusions

When the Cold War ended in 1991, many people heaved a sigh of relief and concluded that they no longer had to worry about the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger show us that this comforting belief is entirely false, that the dangers are greater than ever before, and that it is vital to bring this fact to the urgent attention of today's young people, who were born long after the tragic nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or perhaps even born after the end of the Cold War.

Ultimately, the complete abolition of nuclear weapons is linked with a change of heart, the replacement of narrow nationalism by loyalty to humanity as a whole, and the replacement of militarism by a just and enforcible system of international law.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. He can be reached at

Suggestions for further reading:

Ban Ki-moon. “The United Nations and security in a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Address to the East-West Institute, October 24, 2008.

Green, Robert, “Breaking Free from Nuclear Deterrence.” Santa Barbara: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 10th Annual Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity's Future, 2011,

“Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.” Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, July 8, 1996.

McCloy-Zorin Accords. “Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations,” signed on September 20, 1961, unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 1961.

Model Nuclear Weapons Convention. “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Testing, Production, Stockpiling, Transfer, Use and Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and their Elimination, April 2007.”

Obama, Barak, Remarks of President Barak Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009.

Rotblat, Joseph, “Remember Your Humanity”, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1995,

Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued in London, July 9, 1955,

Santa Barbara Declaration, “Reject Nuclear Deterrence: An Urgent Call to Action,”

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, entered into force on March 5, 1970.

Vancouver Declaration. “Law's Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World,” Vancouver, Canada, March 21, 2011.


Wrong Priorities in Ferguson and Beyond: We Must Invest in Communities, Not Violence

In the lead-up to the grand jury outcome in the Michael Brown murder the St. Louis and Ferguson-area police have ramped up their preparation with stockpiles of more weapons and rhetoric that contributes to the public frenzy.

Demonstrators outside Ferguson
Police Department 11/19/14

While I understand the need for security, does the narrow-minded focus on military and weapons actually make us more secure? Human security and peace economists understand that increased weaponization makes us more insecure.

Researchers for some time now have been able to understand how freedom from violence and the threat of violence, community-based economic development, authentic democratic processes and transparency increase human security. Violence and security have often been linked; human security research suggests they are mutually exclusive. Choosing violence to attain security precludes that very security for anyone who critiques violence, as thousands have learned in Ferguson. Clanging claims that we live in a great democracy that protects everyone’s rights sound awfully hollow to an unarmed protestor who has just been injured and arrested by a jack-up cop strapped with an official lethal sidearm and a legal system that affords him every benefit of every doubt.

Democracy is not just a system of voting but an approach to governing that recognizes obstacles to participation and development and listens, trying to hear what communities need. It is not ever envisioned as a system where the majority can vote itself immunity and vote the minority vulnerable to brutality committed by agents of the state. That sort of system is a false democracy. We want a real one.

Communities don’t want handouts—people want to work to determine their own futures. But many young people question the very concept of future. In the immediate aftermath of the murder of unarmed Michael Brown last August, St. Louis City police gunned down another African American youth, Kejeme Powell across the street from my parents’ home. He had a little knife and was simply depressed and told the police, “Shoot me.” They were exceedingly unprofessional and lacking even a whit of compassion as they did just that—at least six shots each. Where is the hope?

The current state of affairs concerning the outcome of the grand jury is extremely disconcerting, contributing to an increased sense of insecurity. Governor Nixon needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to avoid the perception of injustice. A real involvement of the community in plans for any grand jury outcome as hands up united suggested, or focusing on all of the positive efforts the community in Ferguson and Beyond are doing to teach nonviolence would be actions that ease the air of panic of the entire region.

People of color in the US, in general, don’t trust the legal system to bring justice. Fixing that might seem like a daunting task, but democratic theorists point out that even the smallest communities must have their needs addressed if we as a society are to maintain the promise of democracy.

The lack of real understanding of the protestors, beyond the sense that they are a nuisance, is part of the continuing failure of local and national officials. Their response continues to point out the deep racial divide and necessity of deep conversation and action. For instance, there was a demonstrationfor second amendment rights in downtown St. Louis in October where demonstrators carried guns openly. Some had three or four weapons including automatic assault weapons. This gathering of an all white crowd was not met with riot gear, but only a few police with luminescent vests. In San Franciso, exuberant Giants fans set fires broke windows and destroyed property. While police arrested some- where was the rethoric around violent whites or even the call for the national guard? Fans were excited, expressing joy, although a bit much, but Whites are allowed to be angry, express emotions. But don’t protestors, who are rightly angered over police killings of Blacks, have the same humanity to express their frustration?

I reiterate the need for dialogue, for listening to people’s truth so they can move forward. This is not just desirable, but actually required for reconciliation. If that is not what our society is about, then there needs to be a conversation about who we really are as Americans. But as it stands, the assertion by our elected leadership is that this is a democratic nation concerned with all of its citizens. My message to government officials is that all of the preparation for the violence following the grand jury; the cost of increased overtime for police, money spent on weapons and security with the threat of violence does not provide authentic security, but instead exacerbates the root causes of the protests- the inattention to the dignity of already marginalized. Governor Nixon, you and Ferguson area officials are bracing for a storm you helped to create. More


Ukraine shows uselessness of NATO nukes in Europe

Many people in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands wonder why there are still US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil. These B-61 nuclear gravity bombs were stationed in Europe during the Cold War to deter the Soviet threat, but while this may (or may not) have once made sense, most pundits nowadays agree that at least from a military point of view, the weapons are irrelevant. More


Given the tremendous damage the we humans have already done to the Earth, our home planet, the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict would be beyond insane.

We have already gone a long way to poisoning our atmosphere, making our oceans, one of the major sources of food, so acidic that we may be at a tipping point that will wipe out the shellfish and crustaceans that compose a large part of the ocean food chain. Fish stocks are in many areas depleted leading the FAO to suggest banning commercial fishing in some areas of some oceans.

We also have to face global heating which may bring with it changing rainfall patterns, which may lead to water and food shortages. Many inhabitants of our world are already living on barely enough food and water to keep them alive. Furthermore, the planetary population is growing and heading for nine billion by mid-century. Experts are questioning whether or not we will be able to feed this many.

We have to keep in mind that we have only this small fragile planet. A planet in a backwater of our local galaxy. There are no inhabitable worlds to go to nor the transport to get there on. If we do not take care and preserve our world, which will take a global effort to accomplish, the human race may perish. Think of your children and family members,your friends and colleagues If we use nuclear weapons all will certainly perish.

Chernobyl and Fukushima and all the nuclear testing carried out by the UN's P5 have spread more than enough nuclear pollution through the planet. A nuclear conflict would seal our fate.

Pope Francis said recently, “Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death”.

As H.H. 14th Dalai Lama said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” Editor