DISARMAMENT: Closer To Making Utopia Feasible?

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Credit: Wikimedia CommonsNuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Taro Ichikawa

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

HIROSHIMA (IDN) – “What we see here is tragic, but even more tragic is all that was lost without a trace,” said Yoriko Kawaguchi as tears welled up in her eyes. She had just completed a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. JAPANESE

Kawaguchi is a former foreign minister of Japan. Together with the erstwhile foreign minister of Australia, Gareth Evans, she co-chairs the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

The Commission visited ahead of its meeting Oct. 18-20 in Hiroshima, the Peace Memorial Museum that conveys the horror of the atomic bombing, heard the testimony of one of the “Hibakusha” (atomic bomb victims) and met with Hiroshima community groups concerned with the human dimension of nuclear weapons.

Kawaguchi and the other 26 members of the ICNND were deeply moved learning about the experience of 78-year old Hiroshima resident Akihiro Takahashi, who is one of the aged surviving atom bomb victims.

Equally impressed were they by an impassioned encounter with NGO representatives in Hiroshima at a round-table discussion hosted by the ICNND Japan NGO Network on the Commission’s final report.

The NGOs representatives pointed out that if the final ICNND report turned out be passive, it would not be acceptable to the NGO community. The final report, they said, should be remembered by posterity for recommending 'no first use', 'nuclear-weapons-free zone in North East Asia' and a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

If nuclear weapon states adopted 'no use' policy at early stage, such a 'doctrinal shift' would make a big step towards a world free from nuclear weapons, said one NGO representative.

'PONDER WITH YOUR HEART'

"I think it is important to look at ground zero with your eyes, listening to atom bomb survivors' testimonies with your ears, and pondering the issue of nuclear bomb with your heart. In this sense, I want to express my respect to ICNND members who decided to come to Hiroshima," said Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki city that was also atom-bombed.

"We all must work for achieving nuclear abolition while atom bomb survivors are still alive," he argued.

Though the Commission's co-chairs and members appreciated the non-governmental organisations' deepest wish for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community, they argued that a report which nuclear states cannot put into practice would be meaningless.

The issue of nuclear weapons was not that simple. "It is a different animal from other like land mines, remarked a Commission member."

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in over 70 countries turned out to be successful. The Campaign was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its efforts to bring about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

Nevertheless, after listening to NGO opinions, one Commission member said: "I feel that I should be sitting on your side. After all, what moves reality is the power emanating from citizens and passion."

ICNND co-chairs assured that the Commission aims to reinvigorate the global debate on nuclear disarmament and on preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons to other parts of the world.

They pointed out that though launched and supported by the governments of Australia and Japan, the Commission is an independent global panel that not only includes former heads of state and senior ministers, military strategists and disarmament experts, but is also backed by an advisory board of international experts. Besides, it works in collaboration with research centres from around the world.

Presenting the conclusion of the three-day closed-door deliberations in a joint statement Oct. 20, Kawaguchi and Evans said the Commission and its advisory board members had held intensive discussions to finalise its draft report, which is to be issued early next year in advance of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Since the report is to help build an international consensus in advance of the May 2010 NPT Review Conference, there was "a particularly strong focus on strategic aspects of moves to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons world-wide, and to achieve the conditions which might permit the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the joint statement said.

'GETTING TO ZERO'

It added: “Commission members strongly supported the report’s main focus -- a three-phased action agenda aimed at delivering on its key recommendations: Short Term to 2012 -- achieving initial benchmarks; Medium Term to 2025 -- getting to the minimization point, and; Long Term beyond 2025 -- getting to zero.”

The statement stressed: "The Commission will undertake a range of outreach activities to brief key government and non-government stakeholders following the launch of its report in 2010."

Knowledgeable sources say that the ICNND report fails to specify the target year for total abolition of nuclear weapons. A draft of the report obtained by the Kyodo news agency prior to the meeting suggested a reduction of nuclear arsenal from 20,000 at present to “1,000 or less worldwide” by 2025.

Though no document has been made public, an article in Hiroshima's ‘Chugoku Shimbun’ newspaper quoted an informed source saying: “It appears that the target numbers of 1000 in the final draft receded to 2000."

Confirming this, the Malaysian news agency Bernama, reported Oct. 23 that in Hiroshima, Commission members had "agreed to drastically reduce the number of nuclear warheads in the world from the current more than 20,000 to an unspecified level. The level is presumed to be higher than the initial target of 1,000 or fewer stipulated in an earlier draft report by the commission."

'CHANGE OF HEART'

Quoting Kyodo, Bernama went on to say: "Behind the ICNND's change of heart was strong opposition from some nuclear-armed states to reducing their nukes at the same rate as Russia and the United States, according to sources close to the commission. Such states insisted their stockpiles are already kept at minimum levels."

"Another possible stumbling block for ambitious reductions brought up in the meeting was the physical capability for dismantling nuclear warheads, Yoriko Kawaguchi, co-chairwoman of the commission, told reporters after the conference. She was apparently referring to a lack of dismantling facilities for nuclear arms, as only one plant in the United States and two in Russia are currently believed to exist," Bernama added.

"As for nuclear warheads which we are not able to dismantle, we will make sure that their nuclear fissile materials will not be reused by locking them up in safely guarded environments," Kawaguchi was quoted saying.

In response to the ICNND goals announced following the final meeting, representatives of the Mayors for Peace, an international peace organization headed by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, expressed disappointment saying that the targets are far from sufficient.

As the Mayors for Peace group hopes to achieve a nuclear-free world while survivors of the two atomic bombings are still alive, the organization seeks the adoption of a disarmament protocol targeting the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020 at the upcoming NPT review conference scheduled for next year.

Commenting the report, 70-year old Haruko Moritaki of Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA) said: "Proposals in the final report are supposed to be leading contents but they are too much tied down to reality." Referring to the U.S. policy of halving the number of nuclear weapons by 2012, she averred that the "ICNND report may run behind the reality".

Takahashi, a former director of the Peace Memorial Museum, expressed the sentiments of citizens at large, when he stated: "After I testified my atom bomb experience, I thought that ICNND members’ response was positive when some asked to shake hands with me. I hoped that they would mention concrete figures (of reduction in nuclear arsenal) that would have impact on nuclear weapons states. With this outcome, it is meaningless to hold a meeting at a place that suffered from atom bomb attack -- and frankly I am very much disappointed."

Reflecting on the general disappointment, which is however not shared by ICNND co-chairs, Kawaguchi said: "We have agreed on a very ambitious target. I believe we can win the understanding of atomic bomb survivors."

She told reporters: “After spending time with the citizens and NGO representatives of Hiroshima, I'm determined that there must be no further suffering from nuclear weapons. Our discussions have reached a comprehensive conclusion with a process for getting to zero in regard to nuclear weapons in the world. We can issue our report in a favourable environment, including U.S. President Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Commenting the contents of the report, Kawaguchi said: "This is an action-oriented report." She pointed out that the contents are "two steps ahead of governments' policies" and that the report would urge ratification and effectuation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It would call on all nuclear powers to adopt a "no first use" pledge by 2025, clarifying their intention not to use nuclear weapons unless hit by a nuclear strike, she said.

Evans, the other ICNND co-chair, stated: "There were tough challenges, but we intended to draw up a report that will change the mindset of the world's policy makers. We are proud of the fact that the final 200-page report has been endorsed unanimously. Though it is true that no nuclear weapons have been used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this is simply our good fortune.”

Asked about the target number for nuclear arms reductions, Evans said: “The number is very low, but I'm unable to speak beyond that. The number has been agreed upon and it will not change.”

Answering another question why the exact number was not being revealed, Kawaguchi said: “The ICNND was launched by agreement between the governments of Japan and Australia. We intend to first convey our conclusions to our prime ministers.”

Asked about the "no first use" pledge, Evans responded: “Declaration of the 'no first use' policy by all nuclear weapon states is an essential step to achieving nuclear abolition. We have set the target year for this at 2025, but we hope it is realized in an earlier year.”

Replying to whether 2025 wasn’t too late, Evans stated: “We hope to see a world without nuclear weapons as early as possible, even tomorrow. We have met A-bomb survivors and we have a strong desire to realize nuclear abolition. Hope alone, though, will not bring about this goal. I am convinced that people will understand our intentions once they read our report.”

PRIORITISING FEASIBILITY

Hiroshima’s ‘Chugoku Shimbun’ newspaper wrote: “Considering that they discussed ways toward ‘a world free from nuclear weapons’ in a location that suffered from nuclear attack, the joint statement lacked an impact.”

It added: “Feasibility has been made a priority, but to ensure that the recommendations being put forth in the report are truly achievable, it is vital to make such efforts as reaching consensus on the report within the international community at NPT Review Conference slated for next May. If governments do not view the report seriously and undertake step-by-step actions in line with its recommendations, the 'feasibility' of the report will have been for naught and hope will turn to disappointment.”

The ‘feasibility’ concept is obliquely related to whether nuclear abolition is a utopia that is far-removed from reality. Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is however convinced that a world free of nuclear weapons is no longer a utopia. There is more than one reason to believe that it is a concrete possibility, Ikeda said in an interview with IDN-InDepthNews Sep. 29.

He added: "In recent years, we have seen important, groundbreaking examples of humanitarian ideals surmounting military logic and narrowly defined national interests to bring new disarmament accords into existence."

Ikeda told IDN: "Rather than asking ourselves whether nuclear abolition is possible, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to make this a reality in our times." (IDN-InDepthNews/23.10.09)

Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service
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