a+ a- print

The Beginning of the End for Nuclear Weapons? (IDN-InDepthNews, Mar. 2, 2016)

[The 2015] NPT Review Conference closed without bridging the chasm between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. It was deeply regrettable that no consensus was reached at this significant juncture marking the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hope still remains, however, thanks to a number of important developments. These include: the growing number of countries endorsing the Humanitarian Pledge, a commitment to work together for the resolution of the nuclear arms issue; the adoption in December 2015 by the UN General Assembly of several ambitious resolutions calling for a breakthrough; and rising calls from civil society for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.

Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution setting up an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to engage in substantive deliberations in pursuit of concrete and effective legal measures to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. The resolution stated that the OEWG would convene “with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society representatives” and that participants should make their best efforts to reach general agreement.

I strongly hope that the OEWG, which held substantial discussions during its first meeting in Geneva February 22–26 (2016), will continue to engage in constructive deliberations at its next sessions scheduled for May and August 2016 to identify effective measures necessary for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons, something which must be the joint undertaking of all UN member states.

Twenty years have passed since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. This states: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

However, good faith negotiations involving all the nuclear-weapon states have not even begun. This is an intolerable state of affairs. Leveraging the deliberations at the OEWG sessions, we must build global momentum for a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons.

In the world today, there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons that cost more than US$100 billion per year to maintain. Their use could render meaningless in an instant all of humankind’s efforts to resolve global problems such as poverty, hunger and climate change. If even one were to be detonated anywhere in the world, the impact would be beyond imagining.

What then is the point of national security guaranteed by nuclear weapons, the use of which would inevitably produce catastrophic consequences and result in immense suffering and sacrifice throughout the world? What exactly is protected by a security regime premised on the possibility of inflicting irreparable damage and devastation on vast numbers of people? Is this not a system in which the true objective of national security—protecting people and their lives—has in fact been forsaken?

Unfortunately, the nuclear-weapon states and their allies adhere to the idea that they have no choice but to maintain a nuclear deterrent as long as these weapons exist. They might believe that possessing a nuclear deterrent puts them in control. Yet in reality, the dangers of an accidental detonation or launch multiply in proportion to the number of nuclear weapons and states possessing them.

Seen from this perspective, the nuclear weapons possessed by a state actually hold the fate of not only that country but of all humankind in their grasp.

Hidden in the depths of a security regime based on nuclear weapons is the toxic way of thinking that permeates contemporary civilization: the pursuit of one’s own objectives by any means; of one’s own security and national interest at the expense of the people of other countries; and of one’s own immediate goals in disregard of the impact on future generations. I believe that resolving the nuclear weapons issue means challenging and overcoming this way of thinking.

At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, members of the Soka Gakkai International joined with individuals from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith traditions in submitting a Joint Statement of faith communities’ concerns about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

It reads in part: “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the values upheld by our respective faith traditions—the right of people to live in security and dignity; the commands of conscience and justice; the duty to protect the vulnerable and to exercise the stewardship that will safeguard the planet for future generations  . . .”

This statement resonates with the Humanitarian Pledge that was submitted to the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Well over half the UN member states—126 countries—have now added their voices to the Humanitarian Pledge’s call to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in initiatives designed to stigmatize, prohibit and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are the product of a bygone age. By continuing to pour economic and human resources into maintaining these weapons, we risk permanently entrenching the grotesque inequalities of our world.

Joining our voices to those of countries supporting the Humanitarian Pledge, civil society must build broader global momentum for peace and humane values, so that the deliberations that have started in Geneva mark the beginning of the end of the nuclear age.