Former President Jimmy Carter spoke at Quinnipiac University on Wednesday to honor the 50th anniversary of Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer’s historic condemnation of nuclear weapons.
To mark the occasion, Carter was presented with the first ever Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award in recognition of his continued commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and his humanitarian work within the non-profit Carter Center. Schweitzer was a physician, philosopher and musician who dedicated over 50 years of his life to founding and supervising a hospital in Gambon, Africa, and who broadcasted a historic series of speeches over Radio Oslo in 1957 which warned of the dangers of nuclear testing and nuclear weapons.
“It is an honor to be associated in even this small way with one of my heroes, Albert Schweitzer, a man who recognized the need to adopt nuclear arms control as a major international commitment,” Carter said during his speech.
Carter said it was as president that he came to fully understand the seriousness of the threat nuclear weapons posed to the United States. Just one nuclear missile, he said, had enough power to destroy every large city in the former Soviet Union.
“I knew all the time I was President that 26 minutes after a Russian missile launch was detected it would strike D.C. or New York City,” he said. “I also knew that we possessed equally strong retaliatory ability.”
In 1994, Carter embarked on a mission to negotiate an end to plutonium enrichment with North Korean President Kim Il Sung. The mission, which was successful, was followed by President Bill Clinton’s agreement to provide North Korea with oil in exchange for North Korea shutting down its nuclear power plant. Unfortunately, Carter said, the Bush administration ended this arrangement and, with it, any American influence over the nuclear activities of North Korea.
“There are no efforts from the present administration to reduce the arsenals that exist, despite the fact that nuclear war still poses a legitimate threat,” Carter said.
According to Carter, since 2001 the White House has rejected multiple non-proliferation measures, including the proposed International Atomic Energy Agency five-year moratorium on enriched plutonium. The U.S. joined with Iran in opposing the IAEA initiative on the grounds that it would interfere with peaceful nuclear projects, Carter said.
“Nuclear powers must show leadership by restraining themselves,” he said. “One by one, their decisions will create a legacy, deadly or peaceful, for the future.”
A number of students felt that while Carter’s speech was inspirational, by focusing exclusively on nuclear weapons he neglected some of the other important issues facing the global community.
“He didn’t say anything about Israel, which I was really surprised about,” said Alex Shine, a Quinnipiac junior who attended the speech.
Carter’s last book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians living within its borders.
Carter ended his address by expressing hope that the incoming administration would attempt to correct what he felt are the mistakes of the current administration and that the audience would leave with a clear understanding of the importance of nuclear non-proliferation.
“It is extremely important for all of us in this audience to adopt the vision of Dr. Schweitzer as our own,” he said. “He prayed for the day when we would eliminate every single nuclear weapon from the face of the earth.”