Oppenheimer: From the Oscars to Nuclear Protests

March 10th, 2024 - by UNFOLD ZERO

Oppenheimer: From the Oscars
To Nuclear Weapons Disarmament

BASEL, Switzerland (March 9, 2024) — Oppenheimer, the 2023 biographical epic movie about American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, leads the number of nominations for the Oscar Awards tomorrow with 13 nominations.

Upon witnessing the first successful nuclear test, Mr. Oppenheimer, who is credited with being “the father of the atomic bomb,” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scripture): “Now I am Death: the destroyer of worlds.”

Indeed, Oppenheimer was so impacted by the potential of the nuclear bomb to destroy the world that, following the end of the Second World War, he became deeply involved in international nuclear weapons control, peace and the promotion of world governance.

The movie should remind us of how important and relevant these ideas are today — as wars are raging, tensions between nuclear armed States are increasing and the threat of nuclear war is as high as it has ever been.

In this UNFOLD ZERO update, we:

  • Look a bit more into thethinking of Oppenheimer on peace, global governance and the threat of nuclear war;
  • Introduce the letter from Hollywood Stars Make Nukes History which is being circulated by the Nuclear Threat Initiative in conjunction with the Oscar Awards;
  • Highlight the connections between the LAW not War campaign, Oppenheimer’s thinking, and the possibility to convince nuclear-armed states to end their reliance on “nuclear deterrence” and join a nuclear abolition process.

Here’s Oppenheimer reflecting on peace,
global governance and nuclear disarmament:

“Many have said that without world government there could be no permanent peace, and without peace there would be atomic warfare. I think one must agree with this. Many have said that there could be no outlawry of weapons and no prevention of war unless international law could apply to the citizens of nationsas federal law does to citizens of states, or we have made manifest the fact that international control is not compatible with absolute national sovereignty. I think one must agree with this.”
— J. Robert Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine, June 1946

In an article entitled For Oppenheimer, a World Government Was the Only Way to Save Us From Ourselves published in Common Dreams and the Mondial Journal in August 2023, Tad Daley and Jane Shevtsov explored the writings and activities of Oppenheimer on nuclear arms control, peace and global governance.

This included Oppenheimer being one of the principal authors of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report for the US Secretary of State’s Committee on Atomic Energy. The report proposed international control of all uranium mining and nuclear reactors (including those of the USA) as an important measure to control nuclear weapons.

Oppenheimer also argued that more comprehensive world governance is required to end war, which would be the only way to prevent nuclear war.

World governance is required for the control of nuclear weapons
“It [Acheson-Lilienthal Plan] proposes that in the field of atomic energy there be set up a world government. That in this field there be renunciation of national sovereignty. That in this field there be no legal veto power. That in this field there be international law

J. Robert Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine, 1946

The thinking, passion and commitment of Oppenheimer regarding these issues is barely touched upon in the movie, despite it being so important today for re-awakening our collective understanding of the nature of nuclear deterrence, the risks of nationalism and the importance to strengthen the rule of law, prevent nuclear war and achieve peace through global governance.

However, these ideas (particular on global governance) are being advanced by the World Federalist Movement, the United States affiliate of which is Citizens for Global Solutions and one of whose founders was Albert Einstein, a close colleague of Oppenheimer.

These ideas are also reflected in initiatives in which UNFOLD ZERO is active, including the LAW not War campaign and the promotion of Common Security as an effective alternative to nuclear deterrence.

Albert Einstein and J Robert Oppenheimer discussing topics of mutual interest. Both actively promoted peace, nuclear disarmament and global governance following WWII, with Albert Einstein being one of the early leaders of the World Federalist Movement.

LAW Not War and Nuclear Disarmament
Most of the nuclear armed and allied countries are committed under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to achieve multilateral nuclear disarmament. And yet, in 2024 there are still 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 46 countries continuing to rely on nuclear deterrence — 9 nuclear-armed countries and 37 allies under extended nuclear deterrence relationships. Collectively these countries comprise most of the northern hemisphere and nearly 2/3rds of the world’s population.

The primary reason for this continuing reliance on nuclear weapons is because nuclear deterrence is perceived by these countries as providing security, especially from acts of aggression. In order to convince these countries to relinquish nuclear weapons, we need to build their confidence in alternatives to nuclear deterrence for achieving security.

This is where common security and the rule of law can play critical roles.

Common security focuses on approaches, processes and mechanisms for resolving international conflicts peacefully and in ways that ensure security for all. The rule of law and legal mechanisms, such as the International Court of Justice, play vital roles in a common security framework.

A more detailed outline of these ideas was presented to the NPT Prep Com in Vienna in August 2023 in a joint statement of 170 civil society organizations entitled Common Security v. Nuclear Weapons: How to replace the current reliance on nuclear deterrence with sustainable security for all.

John Vlasto,  Chair of the Executive Committee of the World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy, presenting the joint statement   Common Security v. Nuclear Weapons: How to replace the current reliance on nuclear deterrence with sustainable security for all, to the NPT Prep Com at the United Nations in Vienna on August 3, 2023.

This was followed-up in October 2023 with the international launch of Legal Alternatives to War (LAW not War).

The campaign promotes the role of law in achieving peace and security, in particular the role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — a principal organ of the United Nations that has been incredibly successful. More than 90% of ICJ decisions have been accepted and implemented by the disputing parties.

The main problem with the International Court of Justice is that only 74 countries currently accept its compulsory jurisdiction, which is the main way in which international disputes can be considered by the Court. A number of conflicts that do not make it to the Court due to lack of jurisdiction, end up unresolved and escalating into armed conflict. This is why a principal focus of the LAW not War campaign is to encourage all States to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

Julianne Moore, Jane Fonda and Emma Thompson

Letter from Hollywood Stars: Make Nukes History
On March 6, the Nuclear Threat Initiative launched a Make Nukes History campaign inspired by the Oppenheimer movie and the public attention to this issue arising from the movie receiving 13 nominations for the Oscars.

The campaign was rolled out with an open letter from approximately 30 Hollywood stars and other celebrities calling on governments to negotiate for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Endorsers of the letter include Jane Fonda, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Barbra Streisand, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson, Lily Tomlin and more.

Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda in “The China Syndrome”

Make History:
An Open Letter from Hollywood Stars

“At a time of great uncertainty, even one nuclear weapon — on land, in the sea, in the air, or in space — is too many. To protect our families, our communities, and our world, we must demand that global leaders work to make nuclear weapons history—and build a brighter future.”
— Excerpt from the letter endorsed by 30 Hollywood stars and other celebrities.

Nukes Go Hollywood: 2016