Disarmament advisers discuss nuclear issues at World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates Advancing toward nuclear abolition  

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

The 2010 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which brought together Nobel Peace Prize laureates and representatives of Nobel Peace Prize-winning organizations, was held in the city of Hiroshima from November 12 to 14. In the discussions at the event, made under the theme of “The Legacy of Hiroshima: A World Without Nuclear Weapons,” the role of civil society in advancing nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition was emphasized. From this point forward, what sort of role should civil society take up for this cause? The Chugoku Shimbun gathered four experts from the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, who served as disarmament advisors at the summit, to discuss such issues as the significance of the Hiroshima summit and the role that should be played by the nation of Japan. The conversation was held at the Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima, the summit venue.

On the significance of holding the summit in Hiroshima

“Recalling the legacy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is very important because it reminds people that any use of nuclear weapons would be a crime against humanity.” Alyn Ware

How do you assess the significance of holding the summit in Hiroshima?

Pavel Palazhchenko: Hiroshima is a very powerful symbol. But at the same time, it’s a living and functioning city. This is the best place both for its symbolism and for its ability to also continue to mobilize people on this issue for so many years. And therefore the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates has really been a special summit. President Gorbachev was very disappointed that he could not come to Hiroshima and join the summit with other Nobel laureates due to his health. I believe Hiroshima really provides an absolutely incredible setting, and mobilizing setting, for the continued work of the Nobel laureates for peace.

Alyn Ware: I think it was a great decision to hold it in Hiroshima. It’s the right time. Recalling the legacy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is very important because it reminds people that any use of nuclear weapons would be a crime against humanity, would be a violation of international humanitarian law. Now is the time for cooperation between the various constituencies that will be required to build success. Everyone can be involved in the process for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. And this conference has really highlighted that.

Jonathan Granoff: I agree. The only thing I could underscore would be an analogy. Had Mr. William Wilberforce, who led the abolition of slavery movement, talked about the rational management of slavery, he would never have been able to inspire people to address the moral impropriety of slavery. Hiroshima highlights that there is no rational management of nuclear weapons. It’s very important that the message of what happened in Hiroshima be broadcast loud and clear.

Rebecca Johnson: The message from the NPT Review Conference that has come into this Nobel Peace laureates’ meeting here in Hiroshima is that while it is important to move forward in implementing the steps on the current agenda, such as the ratification of the new START treaty and the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), by and of themselves, these are not going to lead to the fundamental devaluing of nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapon possessors. The humanitarian imperative that was written into the NPT final document from the 2010 Review Conference and linked with the overarching need to begin negotiating on a comprehensive nuclear abolition treaty, these two elements brought into the Hiroshima conference are demonstrating that we have to move beyond the outdated doctrines that keep nuclear weapons, into the humanitarian understanding that all uses of nuclear weapons, and indeed all nuclear weapons, are against our humanity. They’re against international humanitarian law.

On the role civil society should play

“It’s also very important to be involving the next generation, the students, the children.” Rebecca Johnson

“As it’s an integral part of civic society, we need to make more efforts to reach out to the business community.” Jonathan Granoff

The role of civil society, including A-bomb survivors and NGOs, was often stressed at the summit. In negotiations between states, national interests and the military balance of power have been higher priorities than nuclear disarmament. As a consequence, little progress has been made in this area. Mayors for Peace, the network of municipalities across the world, is one effort being made to break the impasse. What other concrete efforts can be made, in your view, to advance nuclear disarmament?

Ware: What Mayors for Peace has been demonstrating is that cities do have a responsibility, a role and a reason for being to enter into the foreign policy debate. The cooperation between NGOs and parliamentarians is also important. The goal of a Northeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone is one example. Already 75 parliamentarians from across the political parties support it, but that could be strengthened. The parliamentarians from Japan and South Korea are already starting to talk about this. Normally, they’d wait until the foreign ministries would say, “Oh, it’s on the table,” but they’re actually taking the initiative. Mutual understanding has been developing among the people involved in the process. I think that’s a wonderful thing and that should be supported.

Johnson: There needs to be a different kind of strategy. We live in a different era now. One of the interesting things that we did in the U.K., in order to keep prolonging the whole decision-making process surrounding the replacing of Trident submarines—we haven’t won it yet, but what we have done is constantly delay it. How did we do that? We educated and then enlisted the support of people in the military, in the business community, parliamentarians, and other stakeholders in how the budgets were going to be divided, but also in what was in Britain’s primary security interests. And so we changed the nature of the debate. We didn’t just reproduce the anti-nuclear debates that we’d had in the 1950s, the 1960s, and then the 1980s, which were three different stages, we took it to another stage. As I said, we haven’t won that yet, but we’ve opened it wide in a way that it hadn’t been.

Granoff: At the conference I see the children, I see the concerned citizens, but I don’t see the business people. Japan’s economy is dependent on international trade. If one terrorist’s nuclear device goes off in any port city on the planet Earth, the entire economy of Japan will come to a grinding halt the next day. Japan could not survive with the ports of the world closed down for several months. It’s a very existential issue. If we do not obtain the elimination of nuclear weapons and the global cooperation needed to safeguard nuclear material, it is not a matter of “if” such an event will happen, it is only a matter of “when.” So the business community of Japan, for its own self-interest, has the highest interest in calling for the universal abolition of nuclear weapons. And yet I have not seen them at this conference. As it’s an integral part of civic society, we need to make more efforts to reach out to the business community.

What is the current situation in Russia?

Palazhchenko: Nuclear disarmament is still officially the policy of the Russian government. And that’s very important because, particularly during the 1990s, when after the break up of the Soviet Union and Russia’s economic difficulties, the country was significantly weakened, including weakened internationally. There was a temptation in some government circles to actually say, “Well, nuclear weapons are our only guarantee of security and therefore we must reemphasize nuclear weapons. And we must forget about the goal of nuclear disarmament.” Nevertheless, and I think this is very much to the credit of Russia and the president of Russia, this did not happen and in all of the recent statements, including the new START treaty that was signed by President Medvedev and President Obama, the goal of nuclear disarmament and Russia’s obligations, in connection with the Non-proliferation Treaty, have been reemphasized.

That, however, is something that may or may not be final, because unfortunately there are people in the Russian establishment who have the support of a certain section of the public who actually do believe that nuclear disarmament is a fiction, that it’s a pipedream, that it’s something that will not actually happen, and that therefore the real effort, the real emphasis, must be on the maintenance of the nuclear forces, the nuclear deterrent policy, and on developing new kinds of missiles, etc. So we have to balance these two tendencies. On the one hand, I think it is good that the official policy of the Russian government is to support the goal of nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, we have to see those unfortunate tendencies among a certain section of the Russian political establishment with, as I said, some support of a certain section of the Russian public. So that means we have to find ways to work to educate both the people and the Russian elites about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

The participation of civil society in efforts for nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition depends on the degree to which citizens understand the real consequences of nuclear war and recognize the danger posed by nuclear weapons in the world today. Mr. Ware, you have been involved in nuclear disarmament education, as well as peace education, in New Zealand. How is the non-nuclear policy of the government there linked to the nuclear awareness of its citizens?

Ware: One thing from New Zealand that is important is the understanding that it is possible to change people’s perception of security. Because we were in the Cold War, we felt that our alliance was vital to security, that we needed nuclear weapons for deterrence. But it was an educative process both in terms of public education but also education in the schools. Since the end of the Cold War, we have been actively teaching about the after-effects of radiation on the human body and the environment that was caused by French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. We have also taught conflict resolution through peaceful means. It starts with conflicts in the home, in the school, in the family, in the community. How do you solve those? And then once you see, oh, peace is possible in these difficult ones, then you start applying some of those principles into the international relations and then the young people have more hope. They also feel that they can participate because they’ve had experience in solving conflicts in their own lives. That was important in changing that perception. And that perception helped New Zealand then reshape its foreign policy.

Johnson: It’s very important to keep the connections with hibakusha, with the citizens and cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and disseminate their messages and the reality of the atomic bombings. It’s also very important to be involving the next generation, the students, the children. These are all very, very important to continue to do.

Ware: The Nobel laureates work is very good. If they can have more of an action plan, not just conferences but how can those Nobel laureates actually, in between the conferences, put these ideas forward in collaboration with hibakusha, mayors, parliamentarians and key organizations. All this is going to help change the norm, which is very important.

Palazhchenko: I agree. There is some peace education in Russia, but there isn’t enough. Generally, I think the kind of thinking that is outdated, that belongs in the first half of the 20th century, is still quite widespread in Russia. So there is a need for political leadership, there is a need for interacting with international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations in order to educate people about peace, in order to educate people about where Russia’s real national interests lie. I believe Russia’s long-term interests lie in the abolition of nuclear weapons. We need to learn that nuclear weapons are not a solution to Russia’s security problems or the world’s security problems.

Granoff: Overcoming sorrow, hatred, and suffering, denying violence, and promoting the spirit of reconciliation and dialogue—for these reasons Hiroshima is an inspirational venue. The positive attitude toward life of the people of Hiroshima is an inspiration to the rest of the world. The testimony of the daily life and the beautiful qualities of the people of Hiroshima: their dynamism, their creativity, their generosity, their manners. These are all an affirmation of the magnificence of the human spirit. Hiroshima has a powerful message for the world. I’ve been here several times, and every time I’ve come here I’ve come away with a deeper appreciation for my own community. There are many parts of the world where people carry a sense of being victims. The people of Hiroshima seemed to have conquered such negativity.

On the role that should be played by Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack

“(Japan should take) the initiative of starting a certain process on a future prohibition treaty.” Pavel Palazhchenko

At the summit, the expectations felt toward Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Japan were a key element of the discussion. In reality, though, Japan lies under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and it cannot be said that the nation is fully demonstrating leadership for nuclear abolition. What are your thoughts in this regard?

Johnson: Due to the A-bomb experiences, there’s an immense feeling in Japan of wanting the abolition of nuclear weapons, and when there’s been petition drives, you can get millions of petitions, actually much more quickly than in most other countries. But unfortunately, it seems to stop there, as if that’s going to make a difference to government and therefore make a difference to what Japan does on the international stage. But the problem is, it doesn’t.

Ware: I have the same feeling. They don’t seem to have a lot of impact on the government’s policy. So how can you get that public sentiment to have more impact? And that’s where the mayors, as representatives of civil society, and the parliamentarians, need to take a stronger role.

Palazhchenko: Generally, my impression has been that the government of Japan can do more on nuclear issues, particularly seeing the kind of passion against nuclear weapons that exists here in Hiroshima and knowing that this is generally the sense of the Japanese people. Again, I think that the government could do more, particularly on the specific issues by taking certain initiatives. One of those initiatives has just been mentioned, that is to say the initiative of starting a certain process on a future prohibition treaty. And there is a sense, so far as I’m concerned, that we should expect more from the Japanese government.

Granoff: The American public is often told that if progress is made, even on arms control, like the Test Ban Treaty coming into force, or the cut-off of production on fissile material, or the ratification of START, it will stimulate countries like Japan to become nuclear weapon states. And unless the people of Japan explicitly say--“We will not become a nuclear weapon state, as the world moves toward the abolition of nuclear weapons; We will not become a nuclear weapon state because a test ban will make us all more secure, because a fissile material cut-off treaty will make us all more secure, and we reject nuclear weapons”--it makes it very difficult for us in the United States to argue for progress. So the people of Japan have an enormous role to play in ending the distortions in the United States.

Johnson: What has to happen in Japan to translate the incredible energy and concern of Japanese citizens, particularly when they come to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for nuclear disarmament, to direct that onto policy makers, to have Japanese citizens say that they do not want nuclear weapons to be threatened or used on their behalf, which means they do not want to live under the U.S. nuclear umbrella anymore.

Granoff: Japanese people have a moral obligation to speak out forcefully regarding the rejection, on moral grounds, of the existential reality of nuclear weapons. Because the people of Japan, more than any other people, have the moral authority and therefore obligation to speak out to the world and say: “We will not become a nuclear weapon state. Don’t use us as an excuse for holding up progress.” That would be a great contribution to disarmament advocates the world over.


Alyn Ware
Alyn Ware was born in New Zealand in 1962. He is a peace educator and an advisor for peace and disarmament issues. He is currently vice-president of the International Peace Bureau and global coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, an entity he founded.

Pavel Palazhchenko
Pavel Palazhchenko was born in Russia in 1949. He is the head of the International Department of the International Non-governmental Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies (or The Gorbachev Foundation). In 1985, he became the principal English interpreter for former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev. Since then, he has participated in US-Soviet summit talks and other events.

Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson was born in the United Kingdom in 1954. She is the director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. She has served as an adviser for the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (2004-06) and the Middle Powers Initiative (2007-). She is also an editor of the international journal “Disarmament Diplomacy.”

Jonathan Granoff
Jonathan Granoff was born in the United States in 1948. He is the president of the Global Security Institute, a think-tank focusing on nuclear issues, located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. He is a lawyer and an international peace activist.

(Originally published on November 22, 2010)

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