By Ramesh Jaura* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
BERLIN | GENEVA (IDN) - If it were up to the youth, all nuclear weapons in global arsenals would be declared inhumane and a comprehensive treaty banning these would be put in place. This is the upshot of an international survey released at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) during a milestone conference.
The survey, carried out by youth members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), shows that 91.2% of respondents aged between 15 and 45 are of the view that nukes are inhumane and 80.6% favour a comprehensive global treaty banning all these weapons of mass annihilation.
SGI is a socially engaged Buddhist association with over 12 million members around the world. It has been campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons since the second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda's Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons issued on September 8, 1957. In 2007, SGI launched the People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition campaign in order to galvanize public opinion in favour of banning all nuclear arsenal.
In fact SGI president Daisaku Ikeda put forward in his annual Peace Proposal 2010 the idea of organising a nuclear abolition summit in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of those cities. He reiterated the proposal in 2011 and the following year, and suggested the possibility of even organising the 2015 NPT Review Conference in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In Peace Proposal 2013, Ikeda went a step further and pleaded for an expanded summit for a nuclear-weapon-free world: "The G8 Summit in 2015, the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would be an appropriate opportunity for such a summit, which should include the additional participation of representatives of the United Nations and non-G8 states in possession of nuclear weapons, as well as members of the five existing NWFZs (nuclear weapons free zones) and those states which have taken a lead in calling for nuclear abolition."
It is against this backdrop that youth members of SGI surveyed between December 2012 and February 2013 a total of 2,840 young men and women in nine countries: Japan, USA, Britain, Italy, Australia, South Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and Mexico. These included official and unofficial nuclear weapons states, those under a U.S. nuclear umbrella and others in NWFZs.
Significance of survey findings
The significance of the survey findings is underlined by Global Zero, a movement campaigning for a world without nuclear weapons, which estimates that the nine official and unofficial nuclear weapons states spent about $100 billion on their nuclear programs in 2011.
This conservatively assessed expenditure represents about 9% of their total annual military spending. Global Zero estimates that at this rate the nuclear-armed states will spend at least $1 trillion on nuclear weapons and their direct support systems over the next decade.
The nine states include Russia, United States, France, Britain, and China, which are recognised as official nuclear weapons states under Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea considered as unofficial nuclear weapons states.
The results of the survey carried out by SGI youth members were presented to Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania, chair of the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 NPT Review Conference from April 22 to May 3, 2013 in Geneva.
The findings were released about two months after the ground-breaking intergovernmental conference organised by Norway's foreign ministry in Oslo on March 4-5 to focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
The Oslo conference followed up on a movement to outlaw nuclear weapons that has been growing since the 2010 review conference of the parties to the NPT. The conference final document noted "deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons" and reaffirmed "the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law."
This was followed by a resolution by the council of delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in November 2011, strongly appealing to all states “to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement.”
Subsequently, at the first session of the preparatory committee for the 2015 NPT review conference held in May 2012, 16 countries led by Norway and Switzerland issued a joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, stating that "it is of great concern that, even after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment."
Catastrophic humanitarian consequences
Observers agree that this should initiate serious consideration of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, which were highlighted at the Oslo conference:
"In the event of a sudden humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation, it is unlikely that any state or international body has the means to respond in an adequate manner and be able to provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacity, even if attempts were made.
"The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally."
These and equally atrocious consequences of a possible human error call for the global civil society to play a pivotal role in concerted efforts towards ushering in a nuclear weapons free world, said Kimiaki Kawai, SGI Program Director for Peace Affairs in a presentation at Palais des Nations in Geneva on April 26, 2013.
The consequences of human error have been spelt out by David Krieger, founder-president of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: "While a nuclear war is not likely, it is possible and could occur by accident, miscalculation or design. Just as the large-scale radiation releases from the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant seemed unlikely until they occurred, the possibility of nuclear war also may seem unlikely until deterrence fails and it occurs….One thing we know about humans is that we are fallible. We are not capable of perfection and we cannot eliminate human error altogether no matter how diligently we try. Human fallibility and nuclear weapons are a highly volatile mix."
However Krieger guards against despair. "Despair is a recipe for giving up but hope is a choice. We can choose hope," he said in a presentation at UNOG, and pleaded for "boldness and hope" with a view to ushering in a nuke-free world.
Hope, not despair, characterises an overwhelming majority of the young people surveyed by the SGI youth members. Nobuyuki Asai, chair of Soka Gakkai Youth Peace Conference and coordinator of the survey, said: "It is encouraging that so many youth recognize the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. We will continue raising awareness among youth concerning nuclear weapons and the gravity of the threat they pose."
*Ramesh Jaura is global editor of IDN and its sister publication Global Perspectives, chief editor of IPS Germany as well as editorial board member of Other News. He is also executive president of Global Cooperation Council, board member of IPS international and global coordinator of SGI-IPS project for strengthening public awareness of the need to abolish nukes. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 30, 2013]
Picture: SGI Youth in exchange meeting | Credit: SGI