Right Livelihood Award Acceptance Speech

Daniel Ellsberg
December 8, 2006

It is a particular honor for me to receive the same award previously given, in 1987, to Mordechai Vanunu.

In the sixty-one years of the nuclear era, out of all the officials and scientists who have been knowledgeable of nuclear weapons programs, Vanunu, alone, remains the only one who has done everything he could have done --and thereby done everything he should have done--to alert the world to ongoing nuclear dangers. That is to say, he is the one person in the nuclear sphere who has done what I am urging others to do, in my ongoing Truth-Telling Project.

Of course, he has paid a heavy price for doing that. For his exemplary revelation, with photographs, of secret nuclear weapons programs that his government continues, untruthfully, to deny, he was kidnapped from Italy and sentenced in secret proceedings to eighteen years in prison. And after serving his full sentence—for most of it confined, unconscionably, to a solitary six-by-nine-foot cell--he continues to this day to be restricted to certain areas within Israel, which he cannot leave, and he faces an imminent threat of return to prison because he insists on his right to speak out to foreigners as well as Israelis against nuclear weapons policies.

As Mordechai mentioned in a message to me recently, congratulating me for receiving the Right Livelihood Award, I am visiting Sweden in that connection long before he will be able to, though he received the award himself nineteen years ago. If ever he is to be freed to bring his message of nuclear abolition to this country and the world, it will be because world protest—which I urge from this audience and this country, among others—at last moves Israel to end these violations of his fundamental human rights. Yet as he has repeatedly told me and all others, he has no regrets over his truth-telling, despite its consequences for him, and he urges others in nuclear weapons states—as I do—to do the same.

That is, in fact, my own present work-- as a Fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and director of the Truth-Telling Project—and my main message in recent years: to call for more Vanunu's in every potential and actual nuclear weapons state, above all my own.

Most immediately, in the U.S., the journalist Seymour Hersh and others have revealed that the current U.S. administration has directed operational plans for nuclear attack on Iranian underground nuclear energy installations, ready for imminent use on the president's command over the last year and a half. He has further revealed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have objected to this planning in highly classified memoranda to the White House.

That authoritative secret critique and related documents--including detailed official calculations of the strategic and human costs of such an attack and evaluation of the likelihood of worldwide diplomatic responses, Iranian retaliation and further nuclear proliferation--should be made known to the American public and to Congress.

That can only come about through unauthorized disclosure—a massive "leak"-- by someone who has access to such documents and who agrees with the military's judgment that execution of such plans would be catastrophic. There are probably somewhere between a dozen and a hundred individuals who meet these criteria and thus face the challenge of taking upon themselves the responsibility of warning the world. Such a person would risk and very possibly suffer a personal sacrifice comparable to Vanunu's.

I do not suggest this casually, having confronted a similar risk for my own truth-telling thirty-five years ago. For releasing 7000 pages of top secret documents on Vietnam decision-making to Congress and the press, I faced a federal indictment threatening a possible sentence of 115 years in prison. Unlike Vanunu's experience, the subsequent exposure of various governmental crimes against me (comparable to his criminal kidnapping by the Israeli government) led eventually to the dismissal of my charges in federal court. But if it had been otherwise, I am confident that I would have no more regrets than he does for having told truths that could save many lives.

What I do regret is that I did not think of making such revelations about the process of lying my country into the Vietnam War at a time – 1964-65 – when I could have done so as a Pentagon official before the massive escalation occurred, and perhaps have averted the war altogether. But an even greater regret is that I did not earlier think of revealing the nature of our nuclear war planning in 1959-1964 , when I was involved at the highest levels of such planning as a consultant to the Secretary of Defense. My appeals to current officials for timely truth-telling are intended, among other things, to spare them such regrets.

The risk of air attack and perhaps nuclear attack on Iran in the remaining two years of the Bush Administration is obviously not a matter for concern in the U.S. alone. As recently as October, 2006, many NATO countries have been drawn into massive naval and air power exercises reportedly rehearsing a blockade of Iran or preparing to respond to Iranian retaliation to U.S. blockade or sanctions.

I wish to take this occasion, among others, to raise the following subject for urgent discussion in Europe: What do the publics and high officials of all these countries plan to do if they are confronted, as a fait accompli in the next year or two, with a U.S. air attack on Iran? Above all, how would they respond to the escalation of such an attack, after Iranian retaliation, by the use of U.S. or Israeli nuclear weapons against underground sites?

Surely these countries should not allow the use of their air space or bases in any way in collaboration with any such American aggression (as even Germany did do for the attack on Iraq, despite its official posture of non-participation). Their publics should demand that their officials make this stand known to the United States government immediately.

But that alone would hardly be enough either to deter or to respond to a potential launch of nuclear weapons by the U.S., or by Israel with U.S. complicity. If the U.S. Government were to exercise what its officials have described, outrageously, as "the nuclear option" which they regard as being "on the table," nothing less than withdrawal from NATO of every individual member state would be appropriate in response, unless it should be the expulsion of the U.S. from the NATO Alliance.

It should be unthinkable for any European state (or any other) to remain in military alliance, or indeed, in normal relations, with a state that had just carried out what the U.N. General Assembly has rightly defined as "the gravest crime against humanity," the first use of nuclear weapons. [This is the substance of UN Resolution 36100, the Declaration on the Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe, adopted on December 9, 1981: twenty-five years ago tomorrow. As it goes on to assert: "There will never be any justification or pardon for statesmen who take the decision to be the first to use nuclear weapons."]

For European publics to make this unmistakably clear in advance—by petitions, demonstrations and electoral and lobbying pressure on their respective governments -- is the most and perhaps the only practical deterrent to such a disastrous course of action.

My activities, for which I gratefully accept this Award, are today what they have been for over thirty-five years and will be for the rest of my life: to counter governmental secrecy about the nuclear arms race that threatens the survival of life on earth; and to help build a world movement that will prevent a first use since Nagasaki of nuclear explosions, prevent or end interventions that could lead to such an event, and bring about a world free of nuclear weapons.