Once a journalist asked Mahatma Gandhi, “Mr Gandhi, What do you think of Western civilisation?” Gandhi smiled and then replied, “I think it would be a good idea!”

At the opening of the NATO conference, before we ask and try to answer the question, “Should we give up our nukes?” we should be pondering whether nuclear weapons are a mark of civilisation or barbarism.

What kind of society do we live in which can even conceive of such an idea? How can anyone produce weapons which kill not only the combatant enemy and cause unintended collateral damage, but are capable of indiscriminate destruction of innocent men, women, children, animals, forests, lakes, oceans, bees, wasps, butterflies and insects; in fact, all life? How can Gandhi or anyone else call a society that advocates this ‘civilised’?

The answer is simple and straightforward. Without beating about the bush, I have to say that nuclear weapons are unequivocally barbaric and there is no place for them in a civilised society.

I remember meeting two Russian women during my peace walk of 8,000 miles. I had walked from India to the Black Sea. As I was passing by a tea factory I saw the women standing in the sunshine. I gave them my flyer about peace and they were curious. They asked me some questions and invited me for a cup of tea in the tea factory where they worked. While I was drinking tea, one of the women had a brainwave. She went out of the room and came back with four packets of tea. Then she said, “You are walking to Moscow, Paris, London and Washington D.C.. I would like you to be my messenger and give a packet of peace tea to our Premier in Moscow, another packet to the President of France in Paris, the third packet to the Prime Minister of Britain in London, and the fourth packet to the President of the United States in Washington. Please give them a message from me.”

“What is your message?” I asked. “My message to them is this, ‘If you ever get a mad thought of pressing the nuclear button, please stop for a moment and have a fresh cup of tea from this packet. This will give you a moment to reflect that the ordinary workers and farmers, mothers and children have done nothing to deserve nuclear destruction. Our cows and pigs, our chickens and fishes will all be destroyed. Nuclear weapons are sheer madness’ ”.

That was the sentiment of a civilised woman. Though she was an ordinary worker in a tea factory, she understood the sacredness of live, but our highly educated, very clever and smart scientists, policy-makers and politicians cannot get it. They think that weapons will bring them security and that having the ultimate power of nuclear weapons will bring them ultimate security. What a delusion!

In the 21st Century when the Internet and mobile phones have brought the whole globe together and brought us together as members of one small global village, how can we think of protecting ourselves against others through the use of nuclear weapons? Initially, just one country had nukes, then one became two, two became four, four became five, five became seven, and nuclear proliferation keeps moving. Where will it all end? What hypocrisy – to ask other countries not to pursue the path of nuclear weapons whilst we go on stock piling our own nukes. Why should anyone listen to us?

The answer to the question “Should we give up our nukes?” can be given by a child, by a peasant, by anyone with common sense. The answer is that we should give up our nukes immediately and set an example for every nation in the world not to be so barbaric, not to waste precious resources on producing nuclear weapons while children starve, the old go hungry, the young die of Aids.

There must be better, more civilised ways to resolve our conflicts through negotiation, through diplomacy, through dialogue and through establishing grounds of mutual interest, rather than pursing blindly and foolishly the paths of narrow self-interest.

Satish Kumar