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Moral imperative of ridding the world of nuclear arms

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. He described it as a “gut-wrenching” and “stunning” experience that he would never forget, and went on to say, “Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial.”

There is increasing speculation that U.S. President Barack Obama, who in his 2009 speech in Prague called for a world without nuclear weapons, terming their continued existence “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” might also visit Hiroshima this month during his trip to Japan for the Group of Seven summit in the Ise-Shima area. I sincerely hope that he will take the opportunity to do so.

Concerns about the threat of nuclear proliferation have continued to escalate within the international community this year, especially in view of North Korea’s resumption of an active nuclear test program. Indeed, it is time for renewed efforts to map the path to a world free from nuclear weapons and to take concrete action to that end. Regrettably, last year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference closed without reaching consensus, but nevertheless there have been signs of new developments.

The nuclear-weapons states and their allies continue to assert that they have no choice but to maintain a nuclear deterrent so long as these weapons exist. But the truth is that proliferation and other threats constantly generate conditions that could result in accidental detonation or launch.

Any use of nuclear weapons in a hostile exchange would produce unimaginable consequences — both in terms of the number of lives lost and the number of people who would suffer from the aftereffects. And, of course, the use of any of the world’s arsenal of 15,000 nuclear weapons could undo in an instant all of humankind’s efforts to resolve global problems.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose target date was 2015, encouraged meaningful efforts in such fields as reducing poverty and improving public health and hygiene. This work will be carried on through the follow-up framework, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted last year. The existence of nuclear weapons threatens to negate all of these life-saving measures.

Even if we are able to avoid the actual use of nuclear weapons, maintaining and modernizing them will ensure that the global inequalities afflicting human society are passed on as a burden to future generations.

Right now, the second session of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to move multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations forward is being convened at the U.N. Office at Geneva.

Importantly, the statement recently adopted at the Hiroshima meeting of foreign ministers of the G-7 countries — a group that includes three nuclear weapons states — made reference to the OEWG, expressing the hope that through “balanced, constructive dialogue” it could encourage future cooperation between nuclear-weapons and non-nuclear-weapons states.

I strongly hope that the OEWG will indeed engage in constructive deliberations to identify effective measures needed for “the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons,” its mandate as defined by the U.N. General Assembly. It is vital that these meetings lead to the start of negotiations that conclude in a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

One immediate step forward would be the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), first signed some 20 years ago. Its entry into force requires that the remaining eight specified states ratify the treaty, and this would create the conditions for a world forever free from nuclear weapons testing.

Last year, in a statement delivered at the NPT Review Conference, the representative of South Africa urged: “Nuclear disarmament is not only an international legal obligation, but also a moral and ethical imperative.” These words give voice to the feelings shared by all people who seek peace.

At the start of the current session of the OEWG, the Soka Gakkai International joined with the representatives of other religions in issuing a statement, “Faith Communities Concerned 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.”

Today, many countries have started to advance toward the shared goal of a world free from nuclear weapons. What is needed now is to breathe new energizing life into that vision, and to construct a new and powerful momentum of collaborative action.

The question of nuclear weapons cannot remain one debated solely among governments. The many individuals committed to peace who make up global civil society must raise our voices. We must express our unyielding determination to move forward the processes that will finally bring about the prohibition and abolition of these weapons of mass slaughter.

Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist association and founder of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.