The International Conference on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe was held in Luxembourg at the end of May.
Viatcheslav Kantor, chairman of the Conference Organizing Committee, president of the Russian Jewish Congress and chairman of the European Jewish Fund, spoke with us about the goals the Conference participants envisage and the results they have achieved.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: In your speech at the Conference opening you talked about the necessity of monitoring nuclear weapons and technologies proliferation by independent experts and civil society. What type of monitoring do you have in mind?
Viatcheslav Kantor: First of all, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Conference format was very unconventional. It was a totally new approach. The Conference participants were not politicians or experts working in the field of nuclear weapons and security measures. They were scientists and experts in the area of threat evaluation and efficiency of measures to prevent these threats.
Why did we use this format? We simply thought that the world has become too tolerant of nuclear threats.
From time to time, any society comes down with a case of “lack of historical memory.” This illness pops out every 30-40 years. I think of the book Mein Kampf written in the 1920’s. It was written by an obscure artist from Austria whose name was Adolf Schicklgruber. In this book he formulated a manifesto of his life and his attitude towards the whole of humankind.
Who at the time took this artist seriously? Nobody – neither Jews, nor Germans nor any other human being. As a result, in just 22 years Europe lost 50 million people.
If we compare the threats that we face now and the threats that existed 90 years ago, we have to admit that today’s threats are more serious. Now we should ask ourselves in what format we should conduct monitoring of these threats? My colleagues and I came to the conclusion that today’s politicians are too conservative in their estimations and too tolerant because of many diplomatic, financial, economic and other reasons.
We decided to create an intellectual community to unify efforts at conducting such monitoring through forums like the one in Luxembourg, through working groups that do not have their hands tied and can issue tough, effective definitions. When we say “monitoring,” we mean the work of forums like the one we held and their working bodies. That is the essence of the monitoring I have in mind.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Taking into consideration the tension surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme and some other factors, the Conference was no doubt very urgent. What was the actual reason for it? What trigger made the forum organizers think about the necessity of doing something urgent to prevent the nuclear threat?
Viatcheslav Kantor: There are at least two reasons. First of all, we cannot help seeing that society trivializes to a criminal extent any discussion of the nuclear threat. This is the case because many decades have passed by since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The problem is that the world has lost the feeling of fear and the survival instinct. Do we have the right to do that? A possible nuclear conflict will be a global war with no national or state borders. That is why we should treat such threats harshly without any restraint or tolerance.
Secondly, if we speak of the actual reason that made us, The European Jewish Fund and the Russian Jewish Congress, actively support the initiative to hold the International Conference on Preventing the Nuclear Catastrophe before President Putin and the whole expert community in this sphere, it all started in Munich. We participated in the inauguration of a synagogue that has a very remarkable history. It took 20 years to build it on the site of an earlier synagogue that had been destroyed.
The synagogue was destroyed on the eve of die Kristallnacht. Adolf Hitler (the Schicklgruber who was underestimated just like today many people underestimate Ahmadinejad) came out of the restaurant where he was going to celebrate another anniversary of the Beer Putsch in Munich, saw the building of the synagogue, stared at it for a long time, then sent for the burgomaster and told him “Let Jews pull it down by themselves, with their own hands and at their own expense.”
The last service was held in this synagogue, and then the following day Munich’s Jews tore it to pieces with their own hands. Nobody reacted or protested. This synagogue was restored only 70 years later – they were thinking about it for 50 years and then building it for 20 years. My colleagues from the European Jewish Congress and I gathered there, in the restored synagogue, and started discussing past and present threats. In my opinion, there is a parallel between die Kristallnacht and today’s situation with nuclear security in the world. My colleagues proposed to summon the next Let My People Live! Forum, like it was in Krakow on the eve of Auschwitz-Birkenau liberation or in Ukraine on the eve of Babi Yar, which we organized as well. We also understood that this event should not be politicised for the reasons I mentioned earlier.
That was the moment when the idea of gathering and mobilising the expert community appeared.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia proposes to create, under IAEA control, international centres for uranium enrichment that would be delivered to countries that want to develop their nuclear power industries. Did the Conference discuss this initiative? How do you personally view its perspectives?
Viatcheslav Kantor: We were very pleased by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not only send a welcoming address to our Forum’s participants, but also sent Sergey Kirienko, his special representative and head of Rosatom, to the Luxembourg conference. That was great moral support. In his address, Putin actually develops and gives more detail on the ideas he mentioned in his famous Munich speech this February. Our Conference is an effort to renew the global disarmament dialogue that he called for then. It is very symbolic that this dialogue starts with experts, not politicians.
In his speech, Kirienko formulated an idea that projects of peaceful cooperation around the nuclear programme could become the subject of international partnership. As an example of such partnership, he mentioned the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex, where it is possible to enrich uranium to a concentration that is suitable for peaceful purposes.
I think this initiative is a very wise idea. Look how ideologically rooted the military programme of Iran is. It is aimed at exterminating any opposition that exists inside the country and, secondly, at heading all the Islamic world. It often has no real economic component even though they speak so much of the prosperity of the Iranian people. Where are the people? They are silent again.
The Iranian people do not resemble Soviet citizens during the Stalin era who were silent and suppressed by a dictator. Iran has a totally different situation.
That is why I think that this initiative will give the international business community a chance to prove itself with a specific project and in real business. It can also drastically change the situation because Iran and similar rogue countries will be involved in an economic activity aimed at the benefit of their people. Thus, a reasonable alternative for today’s ideological position may be found.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: The Conference summary document will be published only several weeks after the forum ends. Does this mean that representatives of the expert community failed to reach an agreement concerning prevention of nuclear threats?
Viatcheslav Kantor: Not at all. Our working group is finishing its painstaking work on creating a final declaration. We decided that this document should reflect the opinions of absolutely all Conference participants. It is extremely difficult to produce a document that includes the opinions of 57 experts from 14 countries and takes up just ten pages.
Our working group is trying to generalize the recommendations given by leading experts in the field of nuclear technology. I am sure that this document will be able to gain momentum towards strengthening security in the whole world. This will be possible because the document will not only generalize unsolved problems, but will also propose specific action.
Moreover, the people who make decisions will receive our recommendations. The final declaration will be sent to the UN General Secretary, G8, OSCE, NATO, EU, CIS, CSTO and other influential international organizations.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: You have organized many events devoted to the memory of the Holocaust. Now you have organized a conference on the topic of nuclear issues. What other projects are you going to undertake in the near future?
Viatcheslav Kantor: Now we, the European Jewish Fund and the Russian Jewish Congress, are on the threshold of a very important event. Next year we will hold an event either in Nuremberg or Berlin commemorating the 70th anniversary of die Kristallnacht. This is a key moment in history, since everything started with it. Babi Yar and the death camps followed it. They were its outcome. The situation before die Kristallnacht has a clear parallel with today. That is why I find this initiative very urgent. Not long ago I met with René van der Linden, PACE President. We agreed that the memorial events will be held under the aegis of the Council of Europe.
Of course, nuclear issues remain our priority. Our short-term plans include creating a permanent international non-governmental organization of independent experts. Such meetings of experts should become a regular occurrence if we want to succeed. At the same time, it is important to organize analytical work and create some kind of headquarters that will systematically work with international and governmental structures. We took the first step in Luxembourg and will keep on moving ahead.
What distinguishes the Luxembourg forum is the exceptionally high level of professional discussion of the problem. The Conference managed to convene humanity’s outstanding minds, prominent scientists and experienced experts. We deliberately want to avoid politicizing this topic. We want experts to communicate in a comfortable environment and openly formulate their opinions. We absolutely must bring the topic of nuclear security to the public’s attention, and experts must develop specific recommendations.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: If we turn to the opinions expressed during the Conference, what possibility do the experts see of a happy ending? Will humankind manage to avoid “nuclear holocaust?”
Viatcheslav Kantor: I believe that does not depend on people. It depends on the Almighty. I liked the address delivered by William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defence. The main idea expressed by this respected expert was that the past few decades have not seen a nuclear catastrophe because of a lucky coincidence, not because of any efficient control over the situation. So, even such a highly experienced professional like Perry believes that we are lucky to still be living in this world. He gave many examples when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear threat.
But he spoke of incidents, while there are also factors that we see today. Should we react to them? This is one commandment that we should obey: “If you do your best, then God will do the rest.”