Vatican Conference Underlines Nexus Between Sustainable Development And Nuclear Weapons Ban – Analysis

By Ramesh Jaura

When world leaders approved ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, as an outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development two years ago, they designated it as “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” that “also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom”.

The document, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, is based on a consensus emerging from protracted discussions within the Open Working Group. It meticulously avoids words such as “a world free of nuclear weapons”.

However, the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly includes a Declaration, which explains “the interlinkages and integrated nature” of SDGs: “Sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security; and peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development.” The Peace, Security and Development Nexus was stressed by a meeting organised by the UN jointly with the African Union on September 28-29, 2017.

That nexus was boldly highlighted by the International Symposium organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development on November 10-11 on Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament.

In a Vatican communique, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the dicastery, said the event “responds to the priorities of Pope Francis to take action for world peace and to use the resources of creation for a sustainable development and to improve the quality of life for all, individuals and countries, without discrimination.”

The Dicastery brought together religious leaders and representatives of civil society, officials of States and international organizations, eminent academics and Nobel Laureates and students, to highlight the linkages between integral disarmament and integral development, and to explore the links among development, disarmament and peace. In doing so, it was acting on the maxim of Pope Francis: “Everything is connected.”

At a time when North Korea and the United States continue to flex their nuclear muscles, Pope Francis told participants on November 10 that “in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict,” the prospect of a world free of nuclear weapons might “appear increasingly remote.”

“Indeed the escalation of the arms race continues unabated, and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.

“As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and health care projects, and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place,” said the pontiff stressing the Peace, Security and Development Nexus.

Nuclear weapons reflect a “mentality of fear,” he added, while insisting that an effective and inclusive effort nevertheless can lead to the dismantling of arsenals. “International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms,” the Pope continued. “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

In this context, he referred to the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear testing such as those on the Marshall Islands.

The Pope regretted that nuclear technologies are spreading, also through digital communications, and the instruments of international law have not prevented new states from joining those already in possession of nuclear weapons. “The resulting scenarios are deeply disturbing if we consider the challenges of contemporary geopolitics, like terrorism or asymmetric warfare,” he added.

“At the same time, a healthy realism continues to shine a light of hope on our unruly world.” In this context, he referred to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was “mainly the result of a ‘humanitarian initiative’ sponsored by a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academics and groups of experts.

The Vatican conference was the first major global gathering on disarmament since 122 countries signed a new UN treaty on July 7 that calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Vatican is one of three signatories that have already ratified the agreement. None of the nuclear powers and no NATO members have signed on to the Treaty.

Cardinal Turkson in his opening remarks said, while the desire for peace, security and stability is one of the deepest longings of the human heart, “and it is understandable that people, moved by fear, desperately demand more safety and security,” the way to respond to such a demand is not through the proliferation of arms of mass destruction in general, nor through nuclear weapons in particular. “This not only increases the problem of security, but also reduces nations’ financial capabilities to invest in matters that are conducive to long-term peace, such as health, the creation of jobs, or the caring for the environment.”

He recalled that the nations of the world, emerging from World War II, resolved in the Charter of the United Nations, “to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources” (Article 26).

Cardinal Turkson also drew attention to an alarming analysis of military spending former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general of World War II, provided in his “Chance for Peace” speech in 1953, delivered shortly after the death of the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities or two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population or two fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?”

Pointing to modern day contradictions, 2006 Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus said: “We are fortunate enough to have been born in an age of great possibilities – an age of amazing technologies, of great wealth, and of limitless human potential. Now the solutions to many of our world’s pressing problems – including problems like hunger, poverty, and disease that have plagued humankind since before the dawn of history – are within reach.

“But the same technologies that can transform human civilization for the better, can also eliminate us all. This brings us to the subject of this conference at which we have assembled. The nuclear arms build up and race can lead us to a human disaster of proportions that we cannot imagine. It is time we work collectively stop this race. Just as we want to create a world without poverty we would also want to create a world without nuclear weapons, where the only place where they could be found is in a museum.”

Calling a spade a spade, Alexei Arbatov, formerly a member of the State Duma and deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, and now a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences said: “Whether nuclear deterrence in the past had saved the world or not – it will not provide such assurance in the future. Human civilization, which is sustaining its security with the ability to exterminate itself during several hours of nuclear warfare, does not deserve the title of ‘civilization’. It is high time to find an alternative insurance.”

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs United Nations (UNODA), focussed her remarks on November 10on the role of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime as a diplomatic pillar that reinforces international peace and security.”

Disarmament was a founding principle of the United Nations, Nakamitsu said. It is reflected in both the Charter, which calls for “the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources” and for a system to regulate armaments, and the very first General Assembly resolution, which sought to eliminate “atomic weapons and all other weapons adaptable to mass destruction”.

Hiromasa Ikeda, Vice President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a lay Buddhist organization based in Tokyo, stressed in his remarks on November 11 the need to “help people awaken from the mad nightmare” of nuclear deterrence, by which the world’s citizens are held hostage and “peace” is maintained by a balance of terror.

“We need to awaken people from the present nightmare with the bright lights of a new vision. Concepts such as integral disarmament, human security and human development all indicate the orientation for such a vision,” Ikeda said.

“Within the disarmament field, humanitarian concerns have provided such orientation. They have helped introduce a human perspective to the security discourse. The humanitarian discourse has led to an explicit recognition within the international community of the impermissible nature of nuclear weapons, contributing importantly to the realization of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW),” he continued.

“Underlying the humanitarian discourse has been the assertion that the nuclear weapons issue is not just a question of international law, but has a distinctly ethical and moral dimension,” Ikeda asserted.

“Here the role played by the world’s religious traditions has been noteworthy,” said Ikeda, adding that Pope Francis issued a statement to both the 2014 Vienna Conference and the TPNW negotiating conference held in New York this year, positively impacting the debate. “For its part, the SGI actively participated in the initiative by Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons, which issued a total of eight joint statements to the UN General Assembly, the NPT Review Conference and TPNW negotiating conference, urging the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

“The Preamble of the TPNW recognizes the efforts made by religious leaders,” Ikeda pointed out. “This is a clear acknowledgement that the voices raising ethical or moral concerns have been an indispensable element in the international discourse over the years.”

Ikeda said: “Within the SGI, we have given sustained consideration to the kind of approach that would most effectively engage a broad-based public constituency in the debate on nuclear weapons abolition. The concept we developed is expressed in the phrase, ‘Everything You Treasure’.”

The Vatican said in a 12-point preliminary document summarising the highlights of the conference: “Everything is connected; and everyone is connected. Together we can rid the world of nuclear weapons, invest in integral human development, and build peace.” It added: “These preliminary conclusions do not represent the end of the conversation, but rather the beginning of future dialogue and action.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter written by Pope Paul VI on the topic of “the development of peoples”. Pope Francis told the Vatican conference participants that the letter released in March 1967 had set forth the notion of integral human development and proposed it as “the new name of peace”.

Pope Paul VI stated succinctly: “Development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be integral; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.”


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