Could Malta Lead the Way to Nuke Disarmament?


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STANFORD (IDN) - At first, it might seem inconceivable that tiny Malta could lead the world in solving an issue as momentous as nuclear disarmament. To see that possibility requires recognising that nuclear disarmament is a process involving a number of steps. Malta cannot take some of the later steps in the process, but is ideal for making the first move.

The approach is similar to a business strategy known as market segmentation. If a small company develops a product that the whole world needs, initially it would fail if it marketed the product globally. Its resources would be too small for that task. The company first needs to focus on a smaller market that is commensurate with its resources. Only after achieving success there can it branch out, using the new resources created by its initial success to sell into ever-larger markets. The initial market should be chosen based on its size and its openness to the new product.

Apple Incorporated, today the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, provides a good example. When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak developed the Apple I in 1976, they marketed it through the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley. At that point in time, trying to sell personal computers to the average person would have been a dismal failure. Most people thought of computers as being of interest only to major businesses with large data processing needs. This small group of computer hobbyists had no such barriers to acceptance. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on a personal computer.

The Apple I gave the company the credibility and the resources to develop the Apple II, and to get the VisiCalc spreadsheet programme, generally recognised as the first “killer app,” written for that machine. VisiCalc opened up a new market segment of businesses that were using paper and pencil spreadsheets. Those required laborious hand calculations every time a spreadsheet entry changed. With VisiCalc, once an entry was changed, the spreadsheet was updated in the blink of an eye. Apple continued this approach, conquering market segment after market segment, until today it is ubiquitous.

In the same way that Apple conquered the world by market segmentation, proponents of nuclear disarmament need to work one step at a time and look beyond the limited success that is possible today. For the world to treat this issue as the existential threat that it is, first one nation needs to do so, and Malta is ideal for that role. Its small population is almost a hundred times easier to reach than that of the United States, and the Maltese people do not fear loss of national prestige or economic dislocations from nuclear disarmament.

Form a nucleus

Just as the nations of the world will become involved in resolving the nuclear threat one at a time, the same is true within Malta’s population. Market segmentation is needed again to identify groups of individuals within Malta who are most receptive to this issue, and who can then serve as springboards for reaching the population as a whole. Malta’s Rotary Clubs, the University of Malta’s programme in conflict analysis and resolution, and the Peace Lab at Hal Far are potential candidates and readers who have other suggestions are requested to contact Dave Pace of the ICT Gozo Malta Project ( Within each such group, the first step is to find a few innovators who are willing to start the process. If you might consider playing that role, please contact Dave Pace, and we will provide more information to help you decide.

Once a nucleus of concerned individuals has been formed in such an organisation, it is important to stay focused on reaching a tipping point or critical mass within that group, and not diverting too much energy outside the group. Human beings are social animals and much more likely to become involved in this issue if they hear about it from several of their peers. So a small number of committed individuals within a group of 100 is more effective than a thousand dispersed within Malta’s general population. When critical mass is achieved within the group, the issue becomes of general interest, providing energy for replicating the process in other groups.

There is a critical difference between people being sympathetic to the goal of nuclear disarmament and seeing it as necessary for survival. To see the difference, imagine the outcry that would result if Italy revived the plans advanced in 2008 by Silvio Berlusconi to supply Italy with electricity from a nuclear power plant to be built on Malta. Yet the risk to Malta from a nuclear power plant located on its soil is much smaller than the risk it bears right now due to other nations’ reliance on nuclear weapons. Even though the weapons are located thousands of kilometres away and not targeted on Malta, they pose a far greater threat to Malta than the proposed nuclear power plant.

Without a fundamental change, it is only a matter of time before a mistake, an accident, or a miscalculation destroys civilization by setting off the booby trap known as nuclear deterrence. That nearly happened 50 years ago, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and there have been far too many other near misses, including in recent years. (The previous instalment in this series gave several examples, and more will be highlighted in future essays.)

If enough Maltese recognised that nuclear disarmament was necessary for their survival, Malta would become an island of reality within a sea of denial. Once that occurs, Malta can take the process to the next step by encouraging other nations to join its effort. The key first step is for some nation to assume the leadership role by acting consistently with the realities of the nuclear age. If you would like Malta to be that nation, please contact Dave Pace ( to start a dialogue on how to do that.

*Martin E. Hellman is Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and founder of Defusing the Nuclear Threat. This article was first published on August 19, 2012 in the Malta Independent Online and was written with the support of ICT Gozo Malta Project's Ron Kelson (Synaptic Labs), Dave Pace, and Benjamin Gittins (Synaptic Labs). [IDN-InDepthNews – August 28, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Writer's portrait image credit: Stanford University