LONDON - Mikhail Gorbachev is an ex-president going after weapons of mass destruction. But not the way U.S. President George Bush thought he was going after them in Iraq.
That war on Iraq was a mistake, Gorbachev said in London this week. ''It not only undermined international law, it undermined democracy. Millions spoke out, but the war was launched in spite of their democratic views,'' he told media representatives.
Gorbachev was in London to launch an offensive against weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) of quite another kind; he came to launch a Come Clean campaign put together by several NGOs including Greenpeace, the Campaign of Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain and Medact, a group supporting health issues in conflict areas.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gestures as he speaks during a lecture in London, Thursday Sept. 23, 2004. Gorbachev visited Britain in support of the WMD Awareness Program, a network of non-governmental organizations which aims to fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. (AP Photo/John D McHugh)
Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the Soviet Union in 1990, and stepped down as head of state at the end of 1991. He was earlier one of the key Soviet leaders as a member of the Soviet presidium. Since 1992 he has been president of the International Nongovernmental Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, better known as The Gorbachev Foundation.
The leader of the former Soviet Union seemed at peace with his new role. A naïve attempt? ''I have been suspected of being naïve many times,'' he said.
He had been called naïve in 1986, he said, when he appealed for elimination of nuclear weapons by 2000. ''There were two reactions to that,'' he said. ''One, that it was all propaganda. Two, that it was an illusion. But we were able to eliminate whole classes of nuclear weapons.''
Gorbachev was emphatic about his campaign against WMD. ''If they exist, sooner or later there will be disastrous consequences. They can fall into the hands of terrorists. It is not enough to safeguard them, they must be abolished.''
Anyone who supports the existence of weapons of mass destruction should not be allowed to run for the post of president or prime minister, Gorbachev said. ''You may again think I'm naïve. But I'm not stupid, I know what I'm saying.''
As Soviet leader Gorbachev knew what he was sitting on. His initiative led to a joint declaration with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.
Gorbachev, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1990 for helping bring the Cold War to an end, now sees new cause for alarm. ''In recent years we are seeing a tendency to change military doctrines to declare use of nuclear weapons more acceptable and perhaps pre-emptive strikes with nuclear weapons more conceivable.''
The new campaign launched in London Thursday seeks to counter new dangers. The campaign is being led in London by 96-year-old Prof Sir Joseph Rotblat, who won the Nobel peace award in 1995. Prof Rotblat, who is Polish by birth worked on building the atom bomb in Britain during the Second World War. He abandoned the project when it became clear that Germany was not building the bomb.
He turned instead to a peace mission to avert the danger posed by nuclear weapons. As someone who almost built the atom bomb, he too knows just what he is talking about.
But as a former president Gorbachev knows that peace does not mean pacifism. Terrorism has to be countered. He believes ''in traditional methods like police methods, use of commandos against terrorist structures, and this too with the approval of the United Nations Security Council.''
There are financial flows that need to be stopped. ''There are many well-known things happening in the financial system, and these channels need to be cut, there needs to be a better central financial system.'' And with terrorism arising from fundamentalism, ''religious leaders need to speak out against the actions of their followers''.
Finally he said there is a need to fight terrorism by fighting poverty. ''Where billions are deprived of hope and a decent life, it becomes possible to recruit followers for terrorism.''
But was all this being naïve too? What about pragmatic solutions?
The agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush on reduction of weapons should be implemented. ''And other members of the nuclear club should join in the process. Otherwise there are about 30 threshold countries that can start testing and acquiring nuclear weapons.''
But is he the leader who unleashed unrest and lack of security through his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union?
Gorbachev had an answer to that one earlier in the day for a 13-year-old schoolgirl of Russian origin at a London school.
The results of perestroika as he had planned it would have taken 20 to 30 years to attain. He blamed his successor Boris Yeltsin for offering what he could never have delivered.
''They (the Russian people) believed the promise of a quick fix and they felt that if Gorbachev was not delivering on a better life quickly let's support Yeltsin,'' Gorbachev told the girl, according to a local news agency.
''The result was the disintegration of the country, shock therapy in the army and chaos,'' he said. ''We are still feeling the consequences of this.''
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service