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Message to the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco International Seminar—“A world free of Nuclear Weapons: Is it desirable? Is it possible? How could it be achieved?” (Mexico City, February 13, 2017)

(Mexico City, Mexico, February 13, 2017)

On behalf of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) members in 192 countries and territories worldwide, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations on the XXV Session of the General Conference of OPANAL and this International Seminar, which mark the 50th Anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco (Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean).

I believe that the creation of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in Latin America and the Caribbean fifty years ago is a towering achievement for peace in the history of humankind. It is one of the most important and positive legacies that the twentieth century bequeathed to our world.

The historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) described the fundamental dilemma of the age of nuclear weapons—an era of mutual threat and intimidation—in terms of a Gordian Knot: a problem that cannot be settled through the unilateral use of force, but that must be resolved through persistent dialogue and diplomatic efforts. The Treaty of Tlatelolco represents an early and pioneering effort on this front. It has served as a model and inspiration for the NWFZs that have since been established in other regions.

Next month the United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons will commence in New York. I feel very strongly that the fifty-year history of the Tlatelolco Treaty and the Latin American NWFZ embodies critically important lessons that can help guide the negotiating process toward a constructive outcome.

There are voices, particularly within the nuclear-weapon states, that assert that prohibiting nuclear weapons in the current complex global security environment of nuclear proliferation and instability would actually increase the risks we face.

Such preconceptions, however, serve only to stifle, from the outset, our capacity to imagine a world without nuclear weapons and to consider and deliberate on the kind of new policy directions that can create such a new reality.

This makes the existence of the world’s NWFZs, which now extend to Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia, all the more important, as they demonstrate the reality of a world without nuclear weapons.

The achievements of the NWFZs are not limited to maintaining the absence of nuclear weapons within their territories. Rather, they embody the efforts of each country to become a state that does not present a military threat to its neighbors and to create a region in which the people of all states can live without the fear of such threat.

Thus, I am deeply empathetic with the view expressed by Secretary-General Soares last November at an event held in Tijuana commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, in which he identified as a key element underlying the consistent spirit of the treaty “the value of giving up any possibility of having [nuclear] weapons and of seeking peace and security by the law and reason, and not by force.”

This year also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons made by my mentor and predecessor, Josei Toda (1900–58), second president of the Soka Gakkai.

In this declaration, he condemned nuclear weapons as an absolute evil that fundamentally threatens the right of the world’s people to live. He declared that there was no cause or reason that could ever justify their use. In this way he vigorously challenged the thinking that accepts as inevitable the possession of nuclear weapons.

Among the teachings of Buddhism, we find the following: “Look at those who fight, ready to kill! Fear arises from taking up arms and preparing to strike.”

The Buddha is said to have made this statement when mediating a conflict between two tribes over water rights. I would like to focus on how he observed the workings of the hearts of those facing a hostile confrontation—they did not take up arms in fear of the opponent, but rather were filled with fear the moment they took up arms.

Of course, social conditions have changed greatly since the Buddha’s times, yet the basic psychology of conflict that he described remains deeply rooted in human nature. Reading his words, I feel that they aptly describe the essential fear and insecurity that lie in the depths of nuclear deterrence theory.

The reality is that so long as security architecture remains premised on nuclear weapons, its practitioners will be forced to live with a constant and unrelieved sense of insecurity, unable to escape the fearful knowledge that a nuclear attack remains a possibility at all times. It is impossible to see how this form of security can be considered sustainable.

Looking back to the initial impetus for the Tlatelolco Treaty, we see that, for the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union, among the outcomes of having peered into the abyss of nuclear war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a recognition of the importance of establishing a hotline for crisis communication and holding summit meetings. I believe that, since that time, the most important factor in avoiding nuclear war has not been the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, but the continued maintenance of lines of communication enabling the mutual confirmation of intent.

Even if it is possible to continue to maintain these lines of communications, however, there will always be the undeniable risk of an accidental or unintended detonation, not to mention the threat of nuclear terror.

We must therefore undertake, as a truly global enterprise, the work of realizing a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in order to enable humankind finally to step away from life beneath this precariously poised Sword of Damocles.

Today, fifty years after the conclusion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, many countries that are part of the NWFZs are engaged in earnest efforts to make such a legally binding instrument a reality. They are keenly aware of the horrific suffering, the global humanitarian impact and irreparable damage that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. They are motivated by a deep concern for the welfare of all of humankind.

The members of the SGI share these sentiments entirely as we have continued to work, drawing inspiration from the declaration made by our organization’s second president, for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.

I would like to close by stating again my conviction that it is indispensable that all learn from the conviction and wisdom that made the Treaty of Tlatelolco possible, and that we bring these qualities to the upcoming negotiations at UN Headquarters to ensure their success.

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