Deepak Chopra discussed the threat of nuclear weapons and the road to disarmament with a few high-profile guests Monday, during a special edition of his weekly Sirius XM radio show. Former CIA operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson, president of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan joined Chopra in the studio in New York City.
Also in attendance was An Inconvenient Truth producer Lawrence Bender, whose new documentary on nuclear threat, Countdown to Zero, aims to bring the issue into the limelight.
The film explores the history of the atomic bomb and current state of nuclear weapons, and makes a strong case for their elimination. The hope is to boost public consciousness and start a global dialogue.
"An Inconvenient Truth showed that a film could inspire and influence public opinion," Bender said. "What else could destroy life on a planetary basis? Of course, it's nuclear threat."
The subject is more topical than ever, as the Obama Administration has made nuclear disarmament a focal issue. In a 2009 speech in Prague the President made clear his goal of moving toward a world where nuclear weapons are obsolete.
Moreover, Obama is working toward strategic changes to match a shift in perspective; the fear is no longer the Cold War mentality of superpowers annihilating one another, but rather the spread of atomic weapons and the risk of nuclear terrorism.
"As President Kennedy says in the film, the dangers can come from accident, from miscalculation, or from madness," said Queen Noor. The Jordanian queen is a founding leader of Global Zero, an international initiative to abolish nuclear weapons, and contributed her expertise to the film.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the issue was very much a part of the public consciousness. Yet somehow it slipped from people's awareness whilst proliferation continued, explained Chopra, remarking that "we have an amazing tendency to kind of fall asleep while all this is going on."
There are currently nine countries known to have nuclear ability; five are internationally recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" under the Non-Proliferation Treaty: the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China.
The four remaining states -- India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel -- are not members of the treaty (North Korea previously was but withdrew in 2003). Apart from these four, nearly every other country in the world has entered into the global pact.
In simplistic terms, the treaty aims to stop proliferation by obligating non-nuclear countries not to attempt to build nukes, balanced by guarantees that nuclear states will cut back on existing arms. However the agreement has been criticized for being imbalanced; non-nuclear states aren't anxious to make commitments while the armed states are slow-going in reducing their arsenals.
Still, enormous progress has been made in the last few years, Granoff said. The United Nations Secretary General has outlined a five-point plan to abolish nuclear weapons. His end goal is global zero, not a "moral five."
In April, the U.S. and Russia -- who together own 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons -- signed the new START treaty, which requires both countries to cut their arsenals down by a third.
"This is not an issue that has been in vogue. And now we really have a moment in time when all of a sudden, this is getting some traction," said Wilson.
The former CIA operative, who narrates the documentary, was specializing in counter-proliferation before being forced to resign when her name was leaked in a newspaper column, spawning a political scandal seven years ago.
"As we know, there are so many problems in the world," she said. "But the truth is, if we don't take care of this one, the other ones don't matter."
With an issue of this scale, much like global warming, it's easy to for the average person to find it overwhelming or completely out of their hands. But Chopra and his guests continually urged people to be aware, educated and to talk about and debate the matter. Particularly in this age when there are so many ways to deliver information, Chopra said, public opinion absolutely can, and does, affect political policy.
The road to nuclear disarmament will take a global collaboration, and in a way, the threat these weapons pose will force nations to work together, Granoff said, adding, "We are indeed one human family."
"We are on the verge of a wake-up call that has to take place," he said. The U.S. alone has the capacity to destroy the world at least 400 times over. It's not about scare tactics, he said. "It's real."
You can listen to the radio event on the air today, July 22 from 6-7 p.m. ET or 7-8 p.m. ET on SIRIUS XM Stars. It will replay all day Saturday. Go to www.sirius.com for the exact programming schedule.
Click here to find out where Countdown to Zero is playing in your area.
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