By Peter Gaechter
The world missed a great opportunity to dismantle nuclear arsenals and rid the world of this danger when the Soviet Union collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, told a Geneva audience Monday 5 October. “We let slip a major opportunity. Too many thought it was a victory of the West in the Cold War. This was a distortion of things”, he said.
Some in the US misinterpreted the events surrounding the disintegration of the USSR as a victory for the West and especially for its one remaining superpower, he said, rather than as an opportunity to think boldly about doing away with the Cold War mentality and institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). “We looked beyond the horizon” in Reykjavik , he said, referring to his 1986 meetings with then US President Ronald Reagan that resulted in serious cuts in both countries’ nuclear weaponry.
Resetting the nuclear disarmament agenda
Both Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, and Gorbachev made strong cases for giving new impetus to the task of removing nuclear weapons from the world, addressing an audience of diplomats, UN employees and the general public at the third of a series of lectures on nuclear disarmament at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva.
Ban called on the world’s nations to find the political will essential to create a nuclear-free world, and cited last September’s UN Security Council meeting of heads of state which called for just such a ban, “a world without nuclear weapons”. Ban was optimistic, and pointed out that there is unprecedented agreement by the nuclear powers on issues such as Iran and North Korea, and that the US had promised to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT.
The keynote speaker at the event, Gorbachev cited a number of reasons why things were not going so well: despite the efforts of the last years, there is a real risk of a renewed arms race (in the Middle East and in East Asia) and of the weaponization of space. He said that the weakening of the verification process over the past few years contributes to the increased risks. Short and intermediate nuclear-armed missiles increase the dangers of an accident, or that these may fall into terrorist hands. He said it was an illusion to believe that deterrence was anything but an invitation to disaster.
The clarity of Gorbachev’s main message was unfortunately a little obscured by its delivery. He may have star drawing power in the West, but he is irrelevant in his own country now. Yet a quarter of a century ago he was very important in making the world safer when he and Ronald Reagan sat down together to reduce each country’s nuclear arsenals.
Gorbachev quoted Reagan: “Trust, but verify” as the basis for their understanding, which reduced tensions between the two countries and in the world at large.
Last night was by far the best of the week. Arriving early we went off to La Ruche where I wanted to watch my friend in a circus show. Ecole Atelier Shanju is a circus/horse riding/theatre school based in Ecublens, and they put on a fantastic spectacle at 4pm yesterday in the circus part of the Paleo. Juggling whilst standing on horses, drumming, balancing off hoops and acting, they pulled off an impressive show in the late afternoon heat.
Friday night at the Paleo always has certain characteristics, such as first timers relaxing after a long week of work, the lack of sleep taking its toll on the campers, the wildness and the heat all combine, and we realise that we are over halfway through the week. What I’m trying to say is that on Friday nights, we party, hard.
I ended my last blog entry with astonishment at the happiness level of the people of Bhutan as measured by Adrian White at
the University of Leicester in the UK. Bhutan shares the 4th happiest country in the world position with Brunei, Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg. Bhutanese live 20 to 25 years less, earn a fraction of the yearly wealth and have half the literacy rate of these countries. This defies Professor White’s theory that happiness is the result of abundant health, wealth and education.
So why are Bhutanese so
Professor White suggests that Bhutan’s strong national identity, their beautiful scenery and intact culture explains their
high level of happiness.
Bhutan’s national identity is fiercely protected by the government, which is famous for
it’s Gross National Happiness policy.
Bhutan strictly enforces annual
limits to the number of tourists who can visit. In 2007, about 21,000 tourists
entered the Kingdom and the government sees little reason to increase this
number. The stated reason for this, according to a tourist website is to “avoid the negative impacts of
tourism on the culture and the environment.” Tourists need to be on a guided
tour for the duration of their visit.
The tiny kingdom, about the size of Switzerland is surrounded by the beautiful Himalayan mountains which both isolates and protects it from the outside world and makes travel difficult at best. Television and
internet was only allowed throughout the country starting in 1999 and is government controlled. Television program are allowed based on what increases a person’s happiness. The government recently decided that watching MTV and World Wide Wrestling do not make people happier so they were taken off the air.
Buddhism has been the dominant religion in Bhutan since the 7th century. The Bhutan Tourism Corporation Ltd.
website states that Buddhism “has inculcated deeply the value that all forms of
sentient life, not just human life, are precious and sacred.” This statement
conflicts drastically with the government’s expulsion of over 100,000
Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas in the early 1990’s. The Lhotshampas practice the
Hindu religion. The 1988 census revealed that the Nepali’s constituted 45% of
the population in Bhutan,
threatening to become the majority. The Lhotshampas have been exiled in Nepal and
confined into seven refugee camps for the past 15 years. A detailed history of
their situation is found on the UNHCR site.
Hindus are not the only devalued religious group in Bhutan. Bhutan4Christ is a website
which details the struggles that Christians have experienced in Bhutan.
Yesterday the BBC reported that the first group of
Bhutanese refugees were being resettled in the US and New Zealand.
Perhaps they will find freedom to practice the religion of their choice in
After 15 years in a refugee camp, perhaps they will finally find
At the end of my last blog entry, I
suggested three ways to lessen or even eliminate the mid-life slump in
yourself for who you are, after you figure out who you are
2) manage your
emotions, especially the negative ones, and
express your gratitude for all the wonderful things around you.
Adrian White, an analytic social
psychologist at the University of Leicester in the UK has discovered three more components of happiness or as he calls it subjective well-being:
health, wealth and education. He studied data from 80,000 people in 178
countries to gage their overall well-being and life satisfaction.
Based on the results of his surveys and
research, he has ranked the countries of the world and has produced a Global Projection of Subjective Well-being. Denmark and Switzerland came out on top, tied for first place. The top 12 happiest countries are:
Most of these countries have life
expectancies between 65 and 80 years old, most closer to 80, as evidence of
excellent health care. Wealth was measured by per capita GDP which averages
around $30,000 in the top 12. Luxembourg
is the highest at $55,600. Education was measured by access to affordable quality
education and the literacy rate. Most of the countries on the list are over 90%
literacy with Finland and Luxembourg at 100%.
However, there is one striking exception
that begs for an explanation. Bhutan, tied for 4th happiest country in the world has a life expectancy of 55
years, a per capita GDP of $1400 and a literacy rate of 47%! White argues that Bhutan‘s strong national identity,
their beautiful scenery and intact culture explains their high level of
happiness. So maybe there is more to happiness than good health, sufficient wealth
and quality education.
In my next blog, I’ll explore in more detail Bhutan’s secret
David Schiesher is a psychotherapist practicing in Geneva.