An opportunity to broaden our perspective on peace

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

“From the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, which experienced the devastation of the atomic bombing, we will appeal to the world’s leaders and citizens about the urgent need to eliminate nuclear weapons and seek to accelerate the trend toward nuclear abolition…”

This wish is suffused in the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, to be held in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima with eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, and representatives of organizations that have received the Nobel Peace Prize, such as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

To date, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates has taken up a wide range of issues as main themes, including human rights issues, the disparity between North and South, nuclear issues, security issues, climate change, and religious conflicts.

However, devoting all sessions of the two-day summit to nuclear issues, as will occur at this summit, is unprecedented. At this year’s summit, the participants will seek to discuss every nuclear-related issue, alongside experts, based on the A-bomb experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons on the human body and the environment, and the role of civil society in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition. The participants also intend to propose a road map for the early realization of nuclear abolition.

I believe the challenge of disseminating the concept of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), which was mentioned for the first time in the final document of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May of this year, will be a key point of discussion at this summit. The NWC, which would prohibit the production, possession, transfer, testing, and use of nuclear weapons, would apply to all nuclear weapon states, including India, Pakistan, and Israel, which are non-signatories to the NPT.

International humanitarian law, as embodied in the Geneva Conventions and other treaties, forms the basis for the NWC. Treaties that ban chemical and biological weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction, as well as anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs, have also been concluded in line with international humanitarian law. Yet a treaty banning nuclear arms -- the world’s most inhumane weapons, holding the destructive power to annihilate all of humanity -- has still not been established.

Such a treaty has been ignored for many years by the nuclear weapon states due to their belief that “nuclear deterrence is vital” to their national security, the political and military advantages they have enjoyed in the international arena as a result of possessing nuclear weapons, and the presence of the nuclear arms industry in their nations.

However, with nuclear weapons now proliferating, and the threat of nuclear terrorism growing, the danger of nuclear war is greater today than in the Cold War era. Under these conditions, people have begun to give serious pause to the problem as an issue concerning the very survival of the human race on earth. As a consequence, recent days have seen mounting momentum for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Among the individuals and groups that have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the honor has often been bestowed in recognition of contributions made to human rights and humanitarian assistance, as well as disarmament and conflict resolution. For such recipients, the idea of peace does not mean simply a state without war and nuclear weapons; the idea of peace, in fact, indicates a state in which all are accorded human rights and released from conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence, and the spirit of fairness and justice has permeated society.

As such, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates represent the conscience of humanity in their efforts for peace and in support of the oppressed through non-violent means. Like Mairead Maguire, who not only takes part in anti-nuclear demonstrations in the United States but also acts to protect the rights of Palestinians, the participants at this summit are enthusiastic proponents of peace in the world.

For these Nobel Peace laureates, efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and uphold human rights are inextricably linked. This is why the summit in Hiroshima, where the main theme will be nuclear issues, has invited Wuer Kaixi, a former student leader in the pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, now in exile in Taiwan, to attend the gathering in place of China’s Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who remains imprisoned.

The Chinese government may show its displeasure. However, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates will follow their conscience, making remarks and taking action in defense of human rights for the people of the world, not merely to serve national interests, as they believe such efforts will help benefit humanity as a whole.

Many of the participants, including Mr. Gorbachev, have visited Hiroshima in the past. Through their frank discussions, and the final declaration which these discussions will produce, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates and their fellow participants, who understand Hiroshima’s significance and its role in human history, will provide us with courage, hope, challenges to address, and the chance to broaden our perspective on the very nature of peace.

(Originally published on November 4, 2010)