By Ramesh Jaura
Like the United Nations, the global community-based Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI), with more than 12 million members in 192 countries and territories around the globe, is a beacon of hope to a world shrouded by dark clouds of a complex set of urgent crises unprecedented in the history of humankind.
SGI President is Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist philosopher, peacebuilder and educator. His efforts for peace span over five decades. These include peace proposals, articles, messages and dialogues concerning nuclear abolition.
In his latest 39th annual peace proposal, titled “Value Creation in a Time of Crisis“, released on January 26, 2021, marking the anniversary of the founding of the SGI, President Ikeda calls for further global cooperation to address the key issues of our time: extreme weather events that reflect the worsening problem of climate change and the onslaught of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which continues to threaten social and economic stability throughout the world.
Besides, more than 13,400 nuclear weapons in current arsenals of nine nuclear-armed states and 32 nuclear-weapon endorsing states are an existential menace. Their explosive yield has grown exponentially since 1945 when atomic bombs razed to the ground Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The SGI President recalls that, amid the Cold War’s accelerating nuclear arms race, Josei Toda (1900–1958), second president of the Soka Gakkai, issued a declaration in September 1957 calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. “Inspired by this, our organisation has worked for the comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons and to make this a norm governing international relations,” he adds.
To this end, SGI has actively collaborated with such organisations as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). In light of this history, the award of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize and the TPNW’s entry into force about three years later has been an unparalleled cause of celebration for SGI too.
Dr Ikeda notes — with apparent satisfaction — that despite the continuing complex of crises, “progress in efforts to build a global society committed to peace and humane values has not halted”. An example of important progress is the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on January 22, 2021.
The Treaty maps a clear path to the achievement of the long-sought goal of nuclear weapons abolition, an issue that was addressed at the UN in 1946, one year after its founding, in the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly; it has remained pending ever since.
Still reeling under the catastrophic pandemic’s impacts
Notwithstanding progress on the TPNW front, the world is still reeling under the catastrophic pandemic’s impacts. More than 99 million people had been infected with COVID-19 as of January 25, 2021. Of these, over 2.12 million have died. In slightly more than one year, the number of COVID-19 fatalities has far exceeded the total number of lives claimed by large-scale natural disasters over the past two decades.
“One cannot begin to fathom the depth of grief experienced by those who have lost their loved ones in this unforeseen manner; and this pain is deepened by the fact that, due to measures to prevent the spread of the virus, so many of the victims have been prevented from spending their final moments with family by their side,” mourns Dr Ikeda.
He emphasises the economic devastation brought about by the pandemic, estimated to be threatening the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people — half the world’s workforce — and emphasises the need to promote global social protection initiatives.
In his latest annual peace proposal, the SGI leader focuses on three main issue areas.
Strengthening global governance
The first relates to strengthening global governance and establishing global guidelines for combating infectious diseases.
Because of the possibility of new infectious diseases emerging in the future, the SGI President calls for convening a high-level meeting and collaboration among the world’s governments to adopt international guidelines governing pandemic response.
Crucial youth role
He also pleads for a “beyond COVID-19” youth summit to discuss what kind of world young people would like to see in the aftermath of the current crisis. “This summit could utilise online platforms, thus enabling the participation of many young people from diverse backgrounds,” says Dr Ikeda.
In 2020, the UN launched the UN75 initiative — an ambitious attempt to listen to the world’s people’s voices through surveys and dialogue. Of the suggestions detailed in the UN75 Report, Dr Ikeda highlights, in particular, the idea of establishing a UN youth council with the role of communicating to the UN leadership ideas and proposals developed from the perspective of young people.
The TPNW — a turning point in human history
The second issue on which the SGI President offers specific proposals is the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.
“Removing the grave danger posed by these weapons is at the heart of both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),” which entered into force in 1970 and the TPNW that became a legally binding international agreement on January 22, 2021, he explains.
“The entry into force of the TPNW marks the start of an era in which the continued existence of nuclear weapons on Earth has been stipulated as unacceptable by a legally binding instrument.”
In his view, attention now focuses on the first meeting of States Parties of the TPNW. Since any state is welcome to attend, a major focus will be on how to involve as many nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states as possible in the deliberations.
Japan’s special role
“As the only country in the world to have experienced a nuclear attack in wartime, Japan should pave the way for the nuclear-dependent states by announcing its intention to participate in the first meeting of States Parties of the TPNW and to proactively take part in discussions,” emphasises Dr Ikeda.
“On this basis, Japan should aim for ratification at an early date. In light of its history and the underlying spirit of the Treaty — to protect the right to live of all the people with whom we share this planet and to ensure the survival of future generations — it can certainly send a powerful message to the world. In this way, Japan can make an important contribution to ensuring that the talks reach a constructive outcome.”
The SDGs and Nuclear Weapons
Furthermore, the SGI President proposes a forum for discussing the relationship between nuclear weapons and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the first meeting of States Parties. The theme of nuclear weapons and the SDGs can thus be positioned as an issue concerning all states and serve as the impetus to engage as many nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states as possible.
True meaning of security in light of climate change and COVID-19 crises
Besides, he wants the NPT Review Conference scheduled for August this year to discuss the true meaning of security in light of crises such as climate change and the pandemic. The final document, he adds, should include a pledge of non-use of nuclear weapons and a pledge to freeze all nuclear-weapon development in the lead-up to the 2025 Review Conference.
The SGI President argues that the TPNW opens a path for a nuclear-weapon state to become a State Party by submitting a plan to eliminate its nuclear-weapon program. Such participation by nuclear-dependent and nuclear-weapon states in the TPNW could be facilitated under the NPT regime by embarking on multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament undergirded by pledges non-use and a freeze on nuclear-weapon development. He calls for efforts to link the operation of these two treaties in ways that will put us on the path to ending the nuclear age.
Rebuilding life in a post-COVID world
The third issue on which Dr Ikeda offers proposals pertains to the reconstruction of economies and lives disrupted by the COVID-19 emergency.
As the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised, the magnitude of the COVID-19 economic shock has thrown many millions of people into financial devastation. This has driven home the urgency of strengthening access to social protection systems, a goal also supported by the members of the 37-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
“I hope that OECD members will take the lead in efforts to realise all SDG targets related to ensuring universal social protection measures. I also hope that they will work together to establish and implement global policy standards for rebuilding economies and livelihoods devastated by the COVID-19 crisis,” says Dr Ikeda.
Transition to a green economy
One direction this could take, he adds, is the development of new industries and the creation of job opportunities through the transition to a green economy, scaling back military spending and allocating the resources saved to strengthening social protection systems.
Further, notes the SGI President, OECD members have a significant role to play in enacting ambitious policies that enhance social resilience. “We are living in an era in which we need to adopt a comprehensive and simultaneous ‘multi-hazard approach’ to threats and challenges, with a clear understanding of the systemic nature of risk, as advocated by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.”
Dr Ikeda assures that drawing upon the network of collaborative relations Buddhist organisation has developed to date, as part of civil society, it is “wholeheartedly committed to working toward 2030 with like-minded people and organisations to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and to realise a global society of peace and humane values”.
The 39th peace proposal — like his previous suggestions — is eminently exhaustive, founded not only on the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism but also on the culture of peace and the author’s wisdom and diverse encounters over the years with philosophers and government and religious leaders from around the world.