Nukes-Free Future May Depend on Citizen Campaigns


SGI representatives submit anti-nukes signatures at the United Nations.  Credit: SGINuclear Abolition News | IPS
By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, a former U.N. under-secretary-general, offered a piece of advice to anti-nuclear activists campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons: "Don't depend on governments - and don't depend on the United Nations." [P] JAPANESE - TEXT VERSION


Chowdhury's scepticism of the world body was implicitly aimed at the five veto-wielding big powers in the Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - who are also the world's five declared nuclear powers.

Speaking at a seminar on the sidelines of the month-long Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) talks here, the former Bangladeshi envoy urged non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to emulate the monumental success of the global campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines.

"I am confident civil society can bring a sea change in the minds of people (as it did in the campaign to ban landmines) in its current efforts to abolish nuclear weapons," he told a gathering of NGOs, including youth members of the Japan-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI), last week.

Kenji Shiratsuchi, chair of the Soka Gakkai Youth Peace Conference who is leading a youth movement actively involved in a global campaign to ban nuclear weapons by 2020, told IPS that a six-nation survey conducted by his organisation concluded most people believe the world would be safer without the destructive weapons.

The survey involved interviews with 4,362 people, ranging from teens to those in their thirties, in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United States and Britain,

According to the findings, over 67 percent said the use of nuclear weapons was not acceptable under any circumstances, with only 17.5 percent seeing it as acceptable as a last resort if a country's survival was threatened, and 6.1 percent saying they could be used to prevent international terrorism or genocide.

Between January and March 2010, Soka Gakkai youth members collected over 2.3 million signatures in Japan alone for a petition calling for the adoption of an international convention banning the development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of nuclear weapons.

Asked what role the Japanese government is playing at the current NPT talks, Shiratsuchi told IPS: "As a nation, Japan has a special responsibility to universalise the experience of nuclear devastation, elevating it into the shared commitment of all humankind to assure that this tragedy is never repeated."

The Japanese government, he said, should be keenly aware of this responsibility and should be guided by it in its actions.

"It is clear that Japan can play an important and proactive role in the debate at the NPT Review Conference in order to open the way to nuclear abolition," Shiratsuchi said.

One important way it can do this is by clearly expressing support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), as endorsed in 2008 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his five-point plan for nuclear disarmament.

The NPT Review Conference, which is expected to conclude May 28, is being attended by more than 1,500 representatives from 121 NGOs, besides government delegates.

When the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was formally launched in October 1992, it was dismissed as "utopian" by most of the world's governments and militaries. But there was such an overwhelming groundswell of support for the campaign that within five years, the international community began negotiating a treaty banning antipersonnel landmines.

"The process that brought about the Mine Ban Treaty has added a new dimension to diplomacy and hope for its wider applicability," says Jody Williams, one of the leaders of that highly successful campaign.

When ICBL was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace, the Nobel Committee recognised not only the achievement of the ban, but also the promise of the model created with the ban movement, she said.

Chowdhury told IPS: "I continue to strongly believe that nuclear weapons can be totally abolished only through a global movement of NGOs and civil society."

He said people of the world, by raising their voices and by pressuring their governments to support the abolition, can achieve the results that are otherwise not possible in an intergovernmental forum.

There is a need, he pointed out, to create a sustainable foundation for a peaceful and secure world by building a "culture of peace", as called for by the United Nations.

Japan, as the only country which experienced a nuclear holocaust, has the real moral authority to lead the campaign.

"I am encouraged by the fervent calls for nuclear abolition made by the Hibakusha (surviving victims of nuclear bombings in Japan) at the U.N.'s current NPT review conference, as well as by many Japanese civil society and spiritual leaders, like President Daisaku Ikeda (of SGI), who have energised millions around the world," Chowdhury said.

Of course, the Japanese government needs to come out more categorically in support of the abolition to establish its leadership of the global movement, as the Canadian government did in support of banning landmines, along with civil society, Chowdhury added.

SGI, which has been leading a major anti-nuclear campaign in Japan, initiating the 2007 launch of the People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition, is a Buddhist association with over 12 million members in 192 countries.

Asked about the influence of the youth movement, Shiratsuchi said that young people have a special responsibility in this regard, "if for no other reason than that we will have to live with the consequences of any further failure or delay in abolishing nuclear weapons".

"It has always been young people who have driven efforts for change. We want to awaken our friends and peers not only to their responsibility in this regard, but also to the positive potential they possess to transform the world," he declared. (May 23, 2010) - Copyright © IPS-Inter Press Service

[Picture: SGI representatives submit anti-nukes signatures at the United Nations. Credit: SGI]