Youth Want Nukes Abolished – Push for New Convention


Takahisa MiyaoNuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Jamshed Baruah
IDN-InDepth NewsInterview

BERLIN/TOKYO (IDN) – As senior officials from around the world negotiate in New York an agreement aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, a close look at the attitudes of the youth in six countries offers a critical insight into the need for spreading word about the culture of peace. [P]

Youth members of Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist association with 12 million members around the world, asked their peers what they think about nuclear weapons and their abolition.

The survey was conducted between January and March 2010 in advance of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. It involved 4,362 youth in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, the USA and the UK.

A perplexing aspect of the survey is that within the nuclear states, only 59.2 percent of the American youth – in their teens and up to 30s – were aware that the United States possesses atomic arsenals. And only 43.2 percent of the young people in Britain identified their country as a nuclear power state.

However, the survey also revealed an encouraging facet. Asked whether the presence of nuclear weapons contributes to global peace and stability, 59.6 percent of the youth interviewed, including those from the nuclear states, said ‘no’. Also, 67.3 percent said the use of nuclear weapons was not acceptable under any circumstances.

Only 17.5 percent regarded deployment of atomic arsenals as acceptable as a last resort if a country’s survival was threatened and 6.1 percent to prevent international terrorism or genocide. A total of 59.1 percent said they would feel safer if nuclear weapons were abolished.

Asked which countries possess nuclear weapons, 66.9 percent of those interviewed identified the USA, 48.7 percent Russia, 30 percent China, 19.8 percent the UK and 19.8 percent France.

Fewer respondents were aware of the nuclear weapons possessed by India, Pakistan and Israel, while 40.7 percent thought North Korea had them.

Soka Gakkai student group leader Takahisa Miyao, who organised the survey, pointed out: “Almost 70 percent of respondents said the use of nuclear weapons was not acceptable under any circumstances. This is encouraging for us. Building on the widespread rejection of nuclear weapons by youth is the key to efforts toward their abolition.”

In an E-Mail interview with IDN-InDepthNews, Takahisa Miyao commented on issues related to the survey:

IDN: What in your view is the most significant aspect emerging from the survey?

Takahisa Miyao (TM): For us the most important result was the fact that on the whole some 60 to 70 percent of respondents have a negative attitude toward nuclear weapons. It was also clear that more the people have a concrete and detailed awareness of the threat posed by nuclear weapons, the more strongly do they reject them. This speaks of the importance of informing people about the nature of nuclear weapons as a key to strengthening public opinion for their abolition.

At the same time, there is a segment of respondents who don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding nuclear weapons. Even then, however, if you look at the conditions under which people think nuclear weapons could be used, it is clear that a majority consider them to be in a class of their own, essentially different from conventional weapons. On the other hand, around 10 percent of respondents expressed unease at the prospect of eliminating nuclear weapons and about 30 percent of respondents didn’t know if the abolition of nuclear weapons would be a good or a bad thing.

The results of this survey have deepened our confidence that, by working to raise awareness among the members of our own generation about the horrors of nuclear weapons deployment, we can build robust public support for their abolition.

IDN: What do you think should be done to sensitize youth about the need for abolition of nuclear weapons – in countries that have these and others which don't have these on their territories?

TM: Again, one key is to inform people about the real nature of nuclear weapons and the horrific consequences of their use. It is an undeniable fact that, with the passage of time, the collective memory of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki has begun to fade. We have responded by creating a five-language DVD recording the testimonies of nuclear survivors as well as an exhibition on nuclear disarmament and human security, ‘From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit’ which has been viewed in over 170 cities in 23 countries and territories.

The responses have been very encouraging. People who have seen the exhibition have expressed a new awareness of the threat of nuclear weapons and a determination to see them eliminated. People have also expressed a sense of empowerment, confidence that a change in people’s outlook will make nuclear abolition possible. Among the younger members of the Soka Gakkai in Japan are many descendants of hibakusha, nuclear survivors. We want to continue to convey these experiences into the future, building global solidarity among the world’s youth.

Concrete goals are crucial, and we support calls for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), comprehensively banning all phases of nuclear weapons. Among other things, this is an effective vehicle for getting people to engage with the issue.

In parallel with the opinion survey, the Soka Gakkai youth members in Japan held a petition drive calling for the adoption of an NWC. There are precedents of the treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions, and this helps people develop clear goals and a shared vision of a path to nuclear abolition.

In calling for a similar treaty banning nuclear weapons, we are building the awareness that nuclear weapons should not exist and must be eliminated. Fostering this consciousness in individuals ultimately creates a strong normative consciousness against nuclear weapons in international society as a whole.

In this regard, we are greatly encouraged by the statement made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just prior to the opening of the NPT Review Conference expressing his support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

We feel strongly that young people have a key role to play in shaping history. The second president of our organization, Josei Toda (1900-58), said that the future is created by the power and passion of youth. As early as 1957 he called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, urging young people to take that as their special mission.

For most people, but again, perhaps especially for youth, nuclear weapons seem very distant, unrelated to their daily lives. We want to counter that through our efforts, working with fellow NGOs and relevant UN agencies, to promote a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

IDN: What have the youth leaders planned for the NPT Review Conference?

TM: As you know, nuclear disarmament is, along with nonproliferation, one of the pillars of the NPT. The nuclear-weapon states have an obligation to pursue good-faith negotiations toward that end. Encouraging this is, of course, one of the motivations behind our drive to collect signatures for an NWC, which we will be presenting to representatives of the NPT Review Conference and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

We hope that the Review Conference will mark the start of negotiations toward an NWC. To clear the way, we want to see the negative security assurances – the promise of nuclear-weapon states not to use these weapons against states that don’t possess them – formalized into legally binding commitments.

We also urge the declaration of nuclear non-use regions where nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) have yet to be established. We will be carefully following the progress of the conference, together with interested young people around the world.

The NPT Review Conference this year is just one milestone on the path to a world free of nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear weapons proliferation will not be uprooted until the people of each society clearly and unequivocally voice their rejection of nuclear weapons.

As Buddhists, we will continue to focus on the importance of people’s attitudes and awareness. Whatever the specific outcome of the NPT Review Conference, we will continue our efforts, through dialogue and education, to effect a positive change in people’s consciousness, to spark the inner flame of hope. (IDN-InDepthNews/12.05.2010)

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