Hiroshima and the World: No More Hiroshimas

by Jayantha Dhanapala

Jayantha Dhanapala
Jayantha Dhanapala is a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003) and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA (1995-7) and to the UN Office in Geneva (1984-87). He is currently the 11th President of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; a member of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United Nations University Council and several other advisory boards of international bodies.

As a Sri Lankan diplomat, entering the Foreign Ministry in 1965, Mr. Dhanapala served in London, Beijing, Washington D.C., New Delhi and Geneva and represented Sri Lanka at many international conferences. He chaired many of these conferences, too, including the historic NPT Review and Extension Conference of 1995. He was Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) from 1987-92.

Mr. Dhanapala has received many international awards and honorary doctorates, has published five books and several articles in international journals and lectured widely. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in December 1938 and earned an M.A. in International Studies from American University in 1976.

No More Hiroshimas

As a six year-old Asian boy from a predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka I learned of the nuclear bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the USA on August 6, 1945 with utter horror and disbelief. Notwithstanding the provocation of the attack on Pearl Harbour, the instantaneous mass killing of an estimated 80,000 civilians, followed later by many more thousands of deaths from radiation, at a time when World War II was obviously ending has always been inexplicable to me--unless it was to announce the arrival of the age of nuclear imperialism. Later, at the San Francisco Conference of 1951, my Government declined reparations from Japan with the leader of the Sri Lanka delegation quoting the Buddha “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”

In 1987, when I assumed duties as Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, I welcomed the invitation of the Government of Japan to tour Japan and visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I shall never forget that first visit reliving the torment and trauma of the victims of the 1945 bombings as I met the hibakusha. No one can visit these cities without being converted to the cause of eliminating nuclear weapons. Since then I have visited Hiroshima many times and, in 2008, I participated in the remembrance ceremony on August 6 there. I have met many delegations of Hiroshima’s civil society including school children as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs in my New York office which I decorated with the origami paper cranes they presented to me wishing for peace and disarmament. The current Mayor of Hiroshima, Dr.Tadatoshi Akiba, is a personal friend who has ably supported the cause of nuclear disarmament globally and leads the Mayors for Peace movement.

The world of today is a world where $1464 billion is spent on military expenditure in one year with the US accounting for 41.5% of that. This translates into $217 per person in the world where one billion live on less than $1.25 per day; where one in six fellow human beings go hungry every day and where a child dies every six seconds out of malnutrition. An estimated $ 90 billion is spent on nuclear weapons programmes whereas the World Bank estimates that it will cost $40-60 billion to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015. As a citizen of a developing country in the Global South I am appalled by this unconscionable misallocation of the world’s resources.

Governments, especially Non-aligned Movement members, and civil society groups such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, have long urged a convention outlawing nuclear weapons. Opinion pieces by eminent elder statesmen--such as Kissinger, Nunn, Perry and Schultz--have recently appeared in the United States and other countries calling for a nuclear weapons-free world. In Japan after official denials of the existence of the secret 1969 agreement between President Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato for 40 years, newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama assigned a panel of government officials and historians to investigate Japan's role in the agreement.

President Barack Obama in his April 2009 Prague speech identified global elimination of nuclear weapons as a policy objective. Many governments and civil society groups have endorsed his goals.

The world today faces two interlocking crises. The first is, of course, the possible use of the 8392 nuclear weapons deployed by the nine nuclear weapon states (out of their combined arsenals of 23,300 warheads) either by accident or through intent in accordance with their nuclear doctrines. President Obama said in Prague that “One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague--could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be--for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.” Building on the 1980s studies of a “nuclear winter” caused by the use of nuclear weapons, more recent research has concluded that even a minor nuclear war with 0.03% of the current global arsenals will produce catastrophic climate change.

Nuclear weapon proliferation arises largely from the strong demand for national security in a world of competing nationalisms where some nations are permitted to have these weapons and others are not. Neither the NPT nor the Nuclear Terrorism Convention together with UN Security Council Resolution 1540 which seeks to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, can hold this demand in check as long as nuclear weapons are held by some states and vast amounts of enriched uranium and separated plutonium lie around.

The second crisis confronting us all is climate change caused by our consumption patterns globally, the prevailing structure of international trade and our failure to invest in and cooperate in the search for new environmentally friendly sources of energy. Lord Rees, President of the British Royal Society, in his lecture last year “Science: the Coming Century” said it eloquently--“We are destroying the book of life before we have read it.” This has led to the so-called nuclear “renaissance” with fresh demands for nuclear power and, with it, fears about nuclear weapons proliferation.

Both crises have the best chance of being resolved through a nuclear weapon free world--consistently espoused by Pugwash and others. It is the vision being pursued by President Obama. Any hesitancy or delay in implementing President Obama's nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation policies can be dangerous even though Obama himself hedges on a time table for achieving his vision. The path-breaking Obama-Medvedev Joint Statement of April 1 followed by Obama's Prague speech of April 5 set the goals for those policies.

Clearly though there are miles to go and campaign promises to keep before we begin to cheer. The Republican right in the US has not been idle. Fearful scenarios of "death panels" are being conjured up to block Obama's domestic health reform plans. Similar obstructionist tactics are evident in the nuclear disarmament area both within the US and with some NATO allies. The Massachusetts election of a Republican Senator signifies how fragile the Obama promises are and how dependent the world is on US domestic politics. The unfulfilled agenda is huge as is the task of setting the right conditions for a successful NPT Review Conference in May 2010. A new US Nuclear Posture Review must reflect the Obama vision accurately by abandoning first use and launch-on-warning capabilities and de-emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in US defence strategy. The US Senate must "advise and consent" to two Treaties--the US-Russian START now being negotiated and the CTBT. This will require 67 Senators. They will have to include Republicans some of whom may have voted negatively the last time the CTBT came up for ratification. A well-organized campaign is thus needed with compromises being reached that are not so Faustian as to vitiate the final achievement and cost Obama the domestic and international support he now has.

This is where the international community has a role to play. Already the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has endowed Obama with added moral authority to continue to pursue his "vision of a world free from nuclear arms (which) has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.” Western European leaders, especially those in NATO, and leaders of countries enjoying the shelter of the US nuclear umbrella like Japan, must step up to the plate and help pursuade US Senators of the global importance of ratifying the new START and the CTBT. Clear-headed strategizing and a reaching out by political leaders, parliamentarians and eminent civil society figures in countries with close ties to the US Senate could help especially through the hearings that the US Senate plans to hold. There is thus an international responsibility to protect the vision of Obama world.

Unless the Governments of nuclear weapon states take practical steps towards realizing this vision, a credibility gap will remain between the nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states within the NPT. Over six decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incremental steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world make the goal seem a mirage. The Global Zero group has set a target of 2030 for the completion of its phased verified programme for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Reports of the International Commission for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) co-chaired by the former Foreign Ministers of Australia and Japan point to advocacy of a "minimization" point of over 1000 nuclear warheads by 2025 while President Obama says the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world will take long--"perhaps not in my lifetime."

The simplest and most direct route would be to negotiate a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention to outlaw nuclear weapons in the same way the world outlawed Biological and Chemical weapons. This is not naiveté. A draft Convention is before the UN proposed by Malaysia and Costa Rica and recommended by the Secretary-General in his 5-point plan of October 2008. It will contribute towards easing global tensions and resolving the burning issues of our times--nuclear weapons, climate change, terrorism, poverty, international finance and human rights which intersect. With the elimination of nuclear weapons we have, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "a global good of the highest public order."

(Originally published on Feb. 15, 2010)

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