The crucial second round of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons will take place from June 15 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Almost 130 countries, or two thirds of U.N. member states, participated in the first round of negotiations held at the end of March, which became the site of vigorous debate with the active participation of civil society.
Nuclear weapons are capable of annihilating humankind and the global ecosystem, and the threat they pose is, if anything, growing. The upcoming negotiations seek to achieve a fundamental breakthrough in this situation.
“We hibakusha have no doubt that this treaty can — and will — change the world.” This statement made by an atomic bomb survivor at the March negotiations was met by very long applause from participants. This expressed a heartfelt support that is shared by many people, regardless of nationality.
On May 22, a draft text for the convention prohibiting nuclear weapons was released by the president of the negotiating conference. Grounded in a deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, it would prohibit not only the use but also possession and development of nuclear weapons.
The motivating spirit of the convention is expressed in the preamble that includes the words: “Mindful of the suffering of the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (Hibakusha) as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons …” This reflects the strong desire of the world’s hibakusha that no one else should ever have to suffer what they have endured.
We must remember that the current state of nuclear confrontation is the product of specific historical processes. It is not an immutable “given” of the international order.
In fact, more than 110 states have chosen security arrangements that do not depend on nuclear arms, by establishing and being part of nuclear-weapon-free zones. Among them are a number of states that once explored the possibilities of nuclear weapons development but relinquished them.
We must squarely face the reality of nuclear-dependent security policies — a fundamentally inhumane approach to security premised on the eventuality that the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may be repeated elsewhere.
It is regrettable, however, that the nuclear-weapon states and almost all states that depend on the extended deterrence of their nuclear-armed allies, including Japan, did not participate in the first round of negotiations.
Yet all countries, including nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-dependent states, have expressed deep and shared concern regarding the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. This shared concern is cited in the draft convention and, earlier, was contained in the final document unanimously adopted by the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.
Based on this common awareness, all states parties to the NPT are committed “to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”
I strongly hope that the upcoming negotiations will make this explicit commitment the foundation of their deliberations and, with the participation of a growing number of states, crystallize this into the concrete provisions of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
In this context, the participation of the nuclear-dependent states, particularly Japan, the only country that has experienced nuclear attacks in wartime, will be crucial.
In April 2016, Japan joined with nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-dependent states at the Group of Seven Hiroshima Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to issue a joint statement that included the following declaration: “We share the deep desire of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear weapons never be used again.” Japan should uphold this declaration and decide to take part in the next round of negotiations.
The desire for peace emanating from Hiroshima and Nagasaki is nothing other than the desire that no other country become the target or perpetrator of a nuclear attack. A convention to prohibit nuclear weapons would establish this as humanity’s shared norm, and Japan’s mission lies in doing everything it can to achieve this.
So long as arsenals of nuclear weapons continue to exist on our planet, we will be forced to live with the threat that hair-trigger situations like the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis may again arise.
To quote U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 address to the U.N. General Assembly, “… we far prefer world law, in the age of self-determination, to world war, in the age of mass extermination.”
The efforts of many states and representatives of civil society to engage in constructive debate on the contours of this treaty can be seen as a forerunner to the kind of “world law” envisaged by Kennedy.
A convention prohibiting nuclear weapons will serve as a crucial impetus for fulfilling the disarmament obligations of the NPT. Its adoption will generate decisive momentum for nuclear weapons abolition, and it is thus vital that this be achieved by the end of the second negotiating session on July 7.
It is my hope that this historic treaty will be adopted in a form that fully reflects the voices of civil society.
Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Buddhist association and founder of the Toda Peace Institute.