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Psychologist for social responsibility statement

on the Nuclear Ban Treaty on the Irrationality of Nuclear Weapons
12 luglio 2017
Diane Perlman (PhD - School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution)
Fonte: Psychologists for Social Responsibility



Psychologists for Social Responsibility heartily endorses the historic Nuclear Ban Treaty as a step towards a world free of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. While the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has had partial success in halting the spread of nuclear weapons, the asymmetry is not sustainable. This new initiative creates a shift in collective consciousness by increasing awareness and holding a vision upon which to focus our work.

As psychologists who study peace, cycles of violence, war, conflict transformation and reconciliation, we know that attempts to merely eliminate the weapons themselves will meet with insurmountable challenges because nuclear weapons are a symptom and a symbol of something deeper. To transcend the nuclear threat we must address a range of causes, meanings, relationships, interests and driving forces, many of which are hidden. These include the motivations to possess nuclear weapons, fear and enmity, the illusion of security they provide, their prestige value, the underlying conflicts, and not least the structural economic, institutional, and geo-strategic interests and their role in exercising power and coercion, which also drive conflicts and fear.

Strong cases have been made that nuclear weapons are illegal according to international law, immoral according to religious and ethical codes, and cause intolerable, devastating humanitarian consequences. We add here the case that rationales for the possession of nuclear weapons and beliefs in deterrence are irrational.

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton states that nuclear weapons are “beyond psychology.” They alter our relationship to life and death. They impair "our capacity to confront the bomb” and to “imagine the real.” "The presence of these mass-killing devices in the world creates staggering new problems for us and at the same time distorts our thinking and blunts our feeling about … “issues vital to our survival." We co-exist with the constant threat of annihilation while at the same time believing they somehow make us safer.

Albert Einstein said, "There’s been a quantum leap technologically in our age, but unless there’s another quantum leap in human relations, unless we learn to live in a new way towards one another, there will be a catastrophe.” Our current paradigm is not survivable. It has no endgame or path to resolution. Thus we need to transform our ways of thinking and relating to survive. Here are some insights from psychology.
· Our thinking, concepts, policies and strategies regarding conventional weapons cannot be applied to the nuclear realm, orders of magnitude beyond. Ideas of victory, defeat, superiority and deterrence do not hold.

· Law of Opposites and the Security Dilemma Absorbed by our own security needs, we may overlook the way that our actions make our adversaries feel insecure. If we ignore the psychological meaning of our actions for others, we may play into their fears, fantasies, moral outrage, feeling of inferiority and humiliation.

· Manipulation of fear and exaggerated threats – Leaders on all sides of conflicts notoriously exaggerate threats and dehumanized enemy images for a variety of reasons, including as a distraction from domestic problems, to gain support for defense spending and military action, to get votes, and more.

· Reduce fear and the reasons for fear. People are more dangerous when afraid, as are we. When afraid, people may regress to primitive, extremist thinking and are more likely to act impulsively. Threats, humiliation and backing into a corner can provoke paranoia and dangerous behavior. According to “Terror Management Theory” when confronted with their own mortality people become more attached to their ingroup and become more hostile towards the outgroup, and support for more charismatic leaders.

Ralph K. White said, “The Madness that is carrying the world closer and closer to nuclear war has at its core a psychological explanation: Each side, though fundamentally afraid, misperceives the nature of the danger it faces. Each side imagines that it faces an inherently, implacably aggressive enemy, when it actually faces an enemy as fearful as itself - an enemy driven mainly by fear, to do the things that lead to war.” (Fearful Warriors.) The way to be more secure is to make your enemy more secure.

· Know the Enemy - In “The Fog of War” film about Viet Nam, JFK”s Defense Secretary, Robert MacNamara said that the biggest problem was that we didn’t know the enemy. Psychologist Ralph K. White emphasized realistic empathy for the enemy…. “simply understanding the thoughts and feelings of others .. imagining how you might feel about what you saw.” in Fearful Warriors.

· Reduce Tension. Actions that increase tensions increase the volatility and the potential for violence. Charles Osgood’s GRIT strategy, Graduated Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension Reduction recommends unilateral actions to reduce tensions, which can be reciprocated back and forth, ratcheting down tensions without risking vulnerability, thereby creating an arms race in reverse.

· Zero Sum Thinking - “A win-or-lose orientation tends to escalate conflicts” according to Mort Deutsch. It impairs communication, reinforces stereotypes, heightens suspicions, increases errors and generates a “malignant spiral of hostile interactions.” Such conflicts encourage misperceptions and miscalculations that yield results that nobody wants. Parties employ a “blaming” rather than “problem-solving” strategy, restrict communication, harden positions, and eclipse constructive, mutually beneficial approaches.

· Denial and Overconfidence - A well-known fact, obvious form hindsight, is that leaders, military planners and policy makers are often gripped by a sense of overconfidence about positive outcomes and the ability to win along with denial of the risks and unintended consequences.

· Beyond Deterrence - Deterrence is a theory. It may hold up when accompanied by drastic tension reduction (Ralph K. White). If the opponent is acting out of fear, if the threat is increased it can break down and generate dynamics described by spiral theory. Richard Ned Lebow states that “..deterrence can provoke the very behavior it seeks to prevent.” Some perceive that possession of the greatest means of destruction in the world means that you will be taken seriously. It is a way to deter the deterer, especially after the US invasion of Iraq.

· Address the underlying conflict - Articles 33-38 of the UN Charter governing the peaceful settlement of disputes, states that the parties “shall first seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”

By limiting our actions to threats, punishments and coercion, we discount and ignore effective nonviolent strategies of conflict transformation, believing “the only thing they understand is force." Even if deterrence “worked” it is not sustainable and misses the opportunity to resolve underlying conflicts and to explore mutual interests, creative solutions and improve relationships. Apparent short-term victories can produce humiliation, defiance, instability, and increase the popularity of hardliners, harm moderates and motivate asymmetric responses. Constructive approaches produce better outcomes and “cheaper, deeper security.”™

· Vested financial interests – “Never dig a hole that you can’t fill” is a psychological principle. For the entrenched military industrial complex infrastructure of weapons contractors, let them make money and employ the best scientific brains on life ventures rather than death with conversion to helping solve global climate chaos, or perhaps space travel. Divestment from parties to the Ban Treaty will reduce profitability.

· War itself -The UN Charter begins “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Those of us concerned who have studied the nuclear threat have come to the conclusion that ultimately we need to “replace war” as advised by conflict analyst Richard Wendell Fogg, with proven, solution-oriented approaches to conflict using nonviolent, higher forms of force, with support of international institutions structured to skillfully address conflicts as early as possible.

National Security has become an Oxymoron Today we have either Universal Security or Universal Insecurity. Actions taken in the name of “National Security” generate fear, hatred, envy, resentment, a desire to imitate and motivations for asymmetric “warfare of the weak.” New threats from non-state actors and cyber warfare change the game and portend nuclear anarchy. Attempts to prevent proliferation may provoke proliferation in the name of deterrence and self-defense, thereby rendering ourselves and the planet more vulnerable. We need a new, and rational policy of Mutually Assured Survival.

For information or to endorse contact Diane Perlman, PhD

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