By T.K. Fernandes
Since the deadly use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the international community has been calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Despite slow progress, civil society has continued to tirelessly advocate for a nuclear-free world and is in fact one step closer to its realization in principle.
While speaking to IDN, Director of Peace and Human Rights at Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Kimiaki Kawai noted the importance of nuclear disarmament, stating: “We share common global challenges like climate change, poverty, hunger and disasters – so why don’t we utilize our rich resources for more meaningful purposes?”
SGI’s Executive Director of Peace and Global Affairs Kazuo Ishiwatari echoed similar sentiments, citing the consequences of depriving citizens of necessary resources. “When people are not provided with the necessary resources, this will lead to poverty…which would eventually lead to conflicts,” he told IDN.
In that sense, there cannot be genuine peace without disarmament, Ishiwatari continued.
SGI is a lay Buddhist organization that has been working towards the abolition of nuclear weapons for over 50 years.
In his remarks during the Fifth Humanitarian Disarmament Campaigns Forum, Ishiwatari discussed the importance of civil society in the disarmament processes. “It is because these processes need to be humanized….civil society actors are able to make significant and necessary contributions to bring such perspectives in,” he stated.
Ishiwatari particularly highlighted the role of faith-based organisations like SGI in such efforts to IDN, saying that such groups help represent and convey voices from civil society.
Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager for PAX Susi Snyder also weighed in on the subject, noting a shared respect for human dignity among the faith-based community.
“The faith community has rallied behind a prohibition on nuclear weapons because…nuclear weapons are incompatible with our common humanity,” she told IDN, adding that the threat of nuclear violence is a “painful attack” on human dignity.
PAX is a partnership between Catholic peace organisations Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) and Pax Christi.
In May, a coalition of faith-based organisations including both PAX and SGI came together to collectively convey their voices.
“We raise our voices in the name of sanity and the shared values of humanity. We reject the immorality of holding whole populations hostage, threatened with a cruel and miserable death. We urge the world’s political leaders to muster the courage needed to break the deepening spirals of mistrust that undermine the viability of human societies and threaten our shared future,” a joint statement said.
Despite a 1970 treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT), nuclear arms remain widespread.
According the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and are owned by just nine countries. The Arms Control Association (ACA) estimates a higher inventory of 15,500, 90 percent of which belong to Russia and the United States. Almost 2000 of these warheads are on high alert and are ready to launch within minutes, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.
After intensive negotiations at the latest NPT review conference in 2015, member states including Russia and the U.S. failed to make any meaningful steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world.
Ishiwatari and Kawai expressed the need to shift the understanding of security from one that focuses on armament to a new concept of humanitarian security.
Humanitarian security is a broader idea of human security that encompasses the protection of not only people, but also the environment, Founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy Rebecca Johnson explained to IDN.
“[Humanitarian security] carries the obligation not only to pursue disarmament and protect vulnerable people and their human rights and lives, but also to take positive actions to build peace and security and protect the environment from destructive military or economic activities,” she stated.
Though human security helped to “humanize” disarmament, both Kawai and Johnson noted that the idea was often used to justify military action under the guise of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
Humanitarian security instead highlights protective and nonviolent action, and obliges both states and citizens to act, Johnson stated.
In order to embrace this idea and move towards a nuclear-free world, many have looked to education.
“Disarmament education needs to deal with two aspects: providing accurate information and at the same time, nurture a mindset… [to help] people interpret such information in a more meaningful way towards our common future,” Kawai told IDN.
Johnson noted the need to integrate disarmament education with education on human rights, conflict management and peace-building and to start at an early age.
“Education needs to start young and continue throughout life and work, to enable people and countries to resist the arms sellers and deter and defuse violent situations before they turn explosive,” she stated.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also highlighted the importance of bringing the discussion of such critical issues to schools in a report to “inform and empower young people to become agents of peace.”
Kawai said already more people are interested in the issue.
In 2014, SGI youth in Japan gathered over 5 million signatures for the Nuclear Zero campaign calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The petition was presented to the Marshall Islands, whose government filed lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed nations for failing to comply with their obligations under international law to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide.
The “Generation of Change” also made a pledge during the International Youth Summit for Nuclear Abolition in Hiroshima in 2015, stating: “Nuclear weapons are a symbol of a bygone age; a symbol that poses eminent threat to our present reality and has no place in the future we are creating…we, youth around the world, are mustering the courage to stand up and fulfill these decades-old promises of abolition.”
Though the International Court of Justice rejected the Marshall Islands’ bid, some hope for the prohibition of nuclear weapons has been reignited at the United Nations.
The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) to Develop Proposals to Take forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations for the Achievement and Maintenance of a World without Nuclear Weapons proposed a resolution to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding treaty prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons.
“71 years ago, we entered the atomic age and in that time we have not yet prohibited the most heinous weapon of all: the nuclear weapon. So for the first time in 71 years, there is an opportunity to address that, to negotiate a prohibition,” said Snyder to IDN.
She noted that there has been widespread, overwhelming support for the resolution, “something that we have never seen.”
In a joint statement, other faith-based organisations also welcomed the resolution, stating: “In times of conflict and escalating tensions like the present – with nuclear weapons being brandished again – it is even more critical to denuclearise both international crises and international conflict resolution.”
“There now exists a historic opportunity to make substantive progress and for this General Assembly to fulfill its mandate as a truly global institution representing all states and full engaging civil society,” the statement continues.
Once the resolution has been passed, states and civil society must stand their ground to ensure treaty that is strong, universal and implemented, Snyder told IDN.
“I believe it will have meaning, I believe we are going to change the dynamics around this issue…to create a platform of peace in the twenty-first century,” she said.