'Civil Society's Role Crucial For Nuclear Abolition'


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

Ramesh Jaura interviews Hirotsugu Terasaki, SGI office of peace affairs executive director
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN/TOKYO (IDN) - "The path toward nuclear abolition is a long and winding one. But what is vital is that we do not give up the hope that it appears to embody," says SGI office of peace affairs executive director Hirotsugu Terasaki.


The lay Buddhist organisation SGI (Soka Gakkai International) is engaged in mobilising "commonsense" perception that nuclear weapons do not provide security. Its president Daisaku Ikeda has launched People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition.

Nuclear weapon states will not relinquish their atomic arsenal without being pressured to do so, Terasaki points out. "However, if civil society raises its voice in a clear and incontrovertible call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the political leaders would not be able to ignore that," Terasaki said in an E-Mail interview with IDN from Tokyo.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IDN: Nuclear disarmament as a significant step towards elimination of nuclear weapons drew the focus of an international conference of the World Political Forum on April 16-17 in Rome. Does the peace initiative discussed at the conference fit into the framework SGI President Ikeda has advocated?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: The fact that leaders of various countries, including those from the United States and Russia, the two nuclear powers who faced off during the Cold War, gathered to engage in discussions over abolition of nuclear weapons is in itself historic and signifies a change in the tide of the times.

We sense a surge in momentum toward abolition of nuclear weapons. However, this surge is still not significant enough. What is critical right now is to heighten and reinforce this momentum. Vital to that end, together with the political process and technical discussions among experts, is the mobilization of the public opinion of civil society to push that momentum forward.

The political process can become deadlocked in front of a political hurdle. However, a policy emerging from and endorsed by the people has the power to surmount such hurdles. Without popular grassroots support, it will be impossible to achieve the truly daunting task of nuclear abolition. I think this was my most striking impression from participating in the World Political Forum (conference).

In that sense, it is extremely significant that the conference reconfirmed that, while the political process is of course crucial, it is also critical to reinforce the voices of the grassroots in order to realize a world free of nuclear weapons. This is the point that our president, Daisaku Ikeda, has been consistently advocating – the involvement of ordinary citizens of the world. In this spirit, he proposed a People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition and various activities in support of that initiative.

IDN: Only three representatives from civil society were present at the WPF conference in Rome. Amidst this reality, what do you think should be the role played by the civil society toward nuclear abolition?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: It is deeply regrettable that participation by civil society seemed to be limited this time. However, public support for nuclear abolition is gaining momentum, as was reflected in a poll conducted last year in 21 countries, including the nuclear-weapon states, showing an average 76 percent of respondents favouring an international agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons.

This “commonsense” perception of the ordinary people is civil society’s greatest asset and it is imperative that this perception be reflected in the policymaking of the international community.

Those in political power are prone to be concerned with maintaining that power. In the same fashion, once a country has developed nuclear weapons, it will not find it easy to relinquish them. Although there have been cases in the past where states have abandoned their nuclear development programs, it may be unrealistic to expect the current nuclear-weapon states to let go of their nuclear weapons based purely on moral and ethical reasons.

However, if civil society raises its voice in a clear and incontrovertible call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the political leaders would not be able to ignore that. What would drive this civil movement is the moral issue pertaining to the use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane of all weapons, with the destructive force to wipe out countless lives in an instant; they deliver absolutely no benefit to human security. Not only are nuclear weapons clearly unethical from the standpoint of human destruction, they are inherently valueless, offering no solutions to poverty or other human security challenges.

When citizens deeply awaken to this truth, I am certain that a groundswell of public opinion for the abolition of nuclear weapons will arise.

Sensing the increasing importance of generating public opinion at the grassroots level, SGI has been engaged in an ongoing effort to educate citizens and speak to their human conscience through exhibitions and seminars. Recently, we have employed the power of visual media, creating a DVD recording the testimonials of hibakusha or atomic bomb victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2007, we began activities to support the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition, and have recently launched a website for that purpose.

We will continue our efforts to call forth and strengthen this commonsense perception toward nuclear weapons throughout the world’s citizens, and help heighten international public opinion toward their abolition, working together with other like-minded NGOs around the world to this end.

IDN: How is the Soka Gakkai in Japan involved in the ICNND (International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament)?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: We believe the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament is an extremely important initiative which is gaining support from civil networks in Australia and Japan. The Soka Gakkai Peace Committee is endorsing this initiative to reinvigorate international efforts, and will reinforce its efforts to ensure wider support.

The Soka Gakkai Peace Committee has been actively participating in exchange forums with Japanese NGOs hosted by the co-chair of ICNND, Yoriko Kawaguchi. At the first forum in December 2008, the Soka Gakkai emphasized the need to use the kind of language ordinary citizens can relate to in order to mobilize public opinion toward nuclear abolition.

IDN: Has the Soka Gakkai International worked with organizations of other religious faiths on the issue of nuclear abolition? If so, what kind of activities?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: Nuclear abolition - and the larger issue of peace building - are common goals shared by all humanity regardless of religious background. The SGI is keen to work with any group or organization in order to build popular momentum toward these goals. Our president, Daisaku Ikeda, has engaged in ongoing dialogue with leaders and scholars of diverse religious faiths and cultures in an effort to promote mutual understanding amongst different peoples concerning the common challenges facing humankind.

IDN: The NPT Review Conference is scheduled to take place in 2010. What is SGI’s strategy to ensure the success of that critical gathering? How will it collaborate with other organizations or governmental institutions?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: First of all, we wholeheartedly welcome the recent rounds of discussions between the United States and Russia toward nuclear disarmament. It will be vital to hold further rounds of talks with the leaders of the other nuclear-armed states joining in and the UN Secretary-General also participating. It is also necessary to put into force a more comprehensive treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would also outlaw development and testing of nuclear arms.

The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention has been officially circulated as a document of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Since UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon is keen to push this initiative forward, I believe we should take advantage of this opportunity.

As I mentioned earlier, civil society must play its part, generating international public opinion to support such an initiative. It is therefore important that NGOs redouble their efforts toward that end and that a powerful civil society network be formed. Since the SGI has a broad-based international network, we would aim to contribute by acting as one of the core links in this network.

IDN: In Prague, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged that his administration will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. Do you think this commitment was triggered by the global recession from the recent financial crisis? Or do you think the statement is stemming from his personal commitment and aspiration?

Hirotsugu Terasaki: It’s not for me to speculate as to President Obama’s underlying motivation - the international climate or his own personal ideals. Although some cynics may find President Obama’s speech “unrealistic,” the fact is that for the president of a nuclear superpower to express such a resolute commitment is in itself quite epochal. Certainly there is a widely held perception that he is a powerful advocate of racial harmony and global peace. The path toward nuclear abolition is a long and winding one. - 10.05.09