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Arab World Protests Could Reignite Anti-Nuke Campaign

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The global civil society campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons could be politically reignited by the phenomenal successes of the grassroots demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, shadowed closely by Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan.

"There is no more natural desire than to be free from the threat of nuclear weapons. This is something shared widely, universally, among the world's people," said Hirotsugu Terasaki, executive director of the Office of Peace Affairs at the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI). (AFP/File/Philippe Lopez) "Developments in the Middle East [and North Africa] show how fragile 'stability' is when people's needs and desires are ignored," says Hirotsugu Terasaki, executive director of the Office of Peace Affairs at the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI).

"There is no more natural desire than to be free from the threat of nuclear weapons. This is something shared widely, universally, among the world's people," he said.

Asked what role global civil society can play in the worldwide campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, Terasaki told IPS: "The mission of civil society is to empower and amplify the voices of ordinary citizens so that we can move the world's policy-makers, insisting they take real and meaningful steps towards nuclear weapons abolition."

Because the threat is so vast and pervasive, he pointed out, "We need a new paradigm of leadership - the leadership exercised by ordinary people who have decided to reject the 'stability' of deterrence, which rests ultimately on the threat of mutual annihilation."

A lay Buddhist organisation with an estimated 12 million members in over 192 countries and territories, SGI has long been active in the growing NGO campaign towards a nuclear weapons-free world.

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, one of the strongest proponents of nuclear disarmament, has dismissed the theory of "nuclear deterrence" advocated by most of the world's nuclear powers.

The five "declared" nuclear powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia while the four "undeclared" nuclear states are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

"It is necessary to thoroughly challenge the theory of deterrence upon which nuclear weapons possession is predicated: the assumption that the maintenance of security is realised through a balance of terror," says Ikeda.

Last month, a coalition of peace activists and civil society organisations meeting in Santa Barbara, California discredited the long-held myth of "nuclear deterrence" and called for its replacement with an "urgent commitment to achieve global nuclear disarmament".

"Nuclear deterrence is a doctrine that is used as a justification by nuclear weapon states and their allies for the continued possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons," the coalition said in a statement.

A declaration adopted by the coalition said: "We call upon people everywhere to join us in demanding that the nuclear weapon states and their allies reject nuclear deterrence and negotiate without delay a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of all nuclear weapons."

The civil society participants at the meeting ranged from representatives from the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Disarmament and Security Centre.

Last year, member states agreed on a proposal for an international conference on a nuclear-free Middle East, scheduled to take place in 2012. Currently, Israel is the only nuclear power in that region and has been long shielded by the United States.

"The enduring regional stability in the Middle East is unthinkable without de-nuclearisation," says Ikeda, who is calling for "conditions propitious to negotiations for a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including nuclear weapons".

The WMDs also include biological and chemical weapons which have been banned by the United Nations.

The uncertainty about the 2012 conference underlines the need for further efforts to create the conditions for dialogue, said Ikeda.

The SGI president has laid out three steps towards the goal of nuclear disarmament.

First, the need to establish structures "within which states possessing nuclear weapons will move rapidly toward disarmament".

Secondly, the need to forestall "further nuclear weapons development or modernisation", and thirdly, the need to "comprehensively" outlaw "these inhumane weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention".

Asked how effective a global campaign would be - particularly in the face of growing indifference towards an international convention to ban nuclear weapons - Terasaki told IPS nuclear weapons are not something to which people can be indifferent because they threaten lives and the very existence of the world.

"The real choice is whether this indifference will be broken down by proactive human wisdom, or by overwhelming tragedy and horror," he said.

"Our work as a civil society organisation is dedicated to ensuring that the former is the case," Terasaki declared.

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