About

A historical note

The origins of
Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA)

Image source: www.wired.com

This was the name of the original organisation which was set up in Australia in the early 1980s. At that time the defence policy of the Superpowers was based on the notion of "Mutually Assured Deterrence" or "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD) under which both sides had built up enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons. The total was some seventy thousand nuclear warheads with a destructive power of about five thousand megatons (TNT equivalent), sufficient to totally destroy each other's major population centres and lay waste to most of the agricultural land.

Plausible theoretical calculations at the time suggested that the use of only a part of that arsenal could cause a catastrophic change in the world's climate (the "nuclear winter"). So nuclear war would not only destroy the combatants and their near neighbours but would place a blight on the entire world.

The main element of SANA policy was the encouragement of all attempts to reduce the numbers and size of the nuclear weapons to a minimum (preferably zero). We also opposed the continued testing of weapons on the grounds that testing leads to more weapons systems.

SANA was set up in response to suggestions emanating mainly from the US White House that the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) would make possible the fighting and winning of a nuclear war. This program was soon christened the "Star Wars" program and became the main object of our attention in those early years. It was a fanciful scheme to cover the earth with a satellite early warning system and a variety of space-based anti-missile weapons which would supposedly protect the US from the consequences of a nuclear strike. There was a strong feeling in the physics and engineering communities that the claims being made for those weapons systems were unrealistic, and dangerously so.

We developed a considerable knowledge base on the weapons systems held by the major powers and became an educative lobby group for the media and the public on nuclear weapons matters. We saw our main function as the need to continually remind the public, through the media, of the insanity of a defence system built on the notion that a confrontation involving any of the nuclear nations (at that time known to be the US, UK, France, China and the Soviet Union) would or could be settled by a nuclear war.

Our association reached its peak in activity and membership in the mid-80s, when the USSR and US had emplaced medium-range nuclear missiles in the European theatre, early-warning times had been reduced to seven minutes, and millions of people were marching in protest through European cities. Then finally came the breakthrough with the INF treaty, and later the START treaties, and the nuclear stockpiles at last began to diminish.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 many organisations with a background similar to ours found that their members felt that the battle had been won. There was a general belief that with the collapse of the Soviet system, and the end of the Cold War there was really little need for organisations like ours. Membership dwindled and activity wound down. Unfortunately, our objectives have still not been reached, and in fact international tensions have been increasing again in recent times.

Scientists for Global Responsibility

SANA changed its name a few years ago because of a growing feeling that the title ‘Scientists Against Nuclear Arms’ was too negative and that we needed a more positive image to move into the new century. We were influenced in part by the fact that our sister organisations in the UK and internationally had adopted this new name.

What has become clear to us is that there is still a role for us to play in reminding the community of the risks which flow from that earlier period of nuclear confrontation and the continuing high levels of nuclear stockpiling. The nuclear dilemma still remains unsolved, with the emergence of new nuclear-armed states India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, putting the Non-Proliferation Treaty under enormous strain. Nuclear issues remain high on the agenda, surpassed only by the problem of climate change.

Image Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

Officers

Acting in an informal capacity are

 

President:     A/Prof. Chris Hamer

                        C.Hamer@unsw.edu.au

 

Treasurer:   Dr. Cathy Foley

 

Immediate Past President: A/Prof. Bob Hunter