Hiroshima Memo:Participating in the Global Forum on Disarmament & Non-Proliferation Education

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

Must not be a one-time event

I attended the two-day Global Forum on Disarmament & Non-Proliferation Education, which got underway at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum on August 10. The event was sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations University.

The focus of the forum was what sort of education is necessary to raise awareness of nuclear disarmament and peace among many citizens, particularly young people, who will be the leaders of the future, and how to spur them to action.

In addition to government officials from 19 nations, including Finland and Kazakhstan, the forum was attended by representatives of international bodies, peace research institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local governments as well as atomic bomb survivors, students and members of the news media, all of whom gathered to address the same issue. The forum also provided an opportunity for these people from various walks of life to look into what sort of cooperation is possible in the effort to bring about disarmament and non-proliferation.

This was the first time this type of forum has been held at the initiative of the Foreign Ministry. One factor behind this is that private efforts, including those of international NGOs, have been playing an ever larger role in the nuclear disarmament and abolition movement in recent years.

There is a strong sense that diplomacy, including the issue of disarmament, is a matter for the government, so the presentations by junior high, high school and college students in Nagasaki on their efforts toward peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons made an impression on the adults present, including those from overseas.

One example was the campaign calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons being conducted by the High School Students’ 10,000 Signatures Petition Drive, which has been going on since 2001. Every week the students stand on the street and collect signatures on their anti-nuclear petition. And as high school peace ambassadors, every year they travel to the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual Conference on Disarmament Issues. As of last year’s visit, they had taken petitions bearing a total of 690,000 signatures to the conference. The petitions are displayed at the U.N. offices.

Their campaign has been taken up by high school students in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto prefectures as well as in Iwate, which suffered heavy damage from last year’s tsunami. On the 19th of this month 16 high school peace ambassadors, including some from these areas, will depart for Geneva. And with the cooperation of atomic bomb survivors residing in Brazil and other groups, two high school students from that country will join them. Most of the funding for their trip will be provided by about 50 peace organizations in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The students have also launched a drive to provide 10,000 pencils to high school students under the slogan “Education not arms! Pencils not missiles!” The campaign was sparked by the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Representatives of the committee not only visit the Philippines every year to distribute the pencils that have been collected but also invite several high school students from the Philippines to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer. The students learn about the histories and cultures of each other’s nations as well as the ravages of war and the atomic bomb.

The efforts by these Nagasaki high school students were praised by Khaled Shamaa, Ambassador of Egypt and Permanent Representative to the International Organizations. He said he hoped that in addition to visiting Geneva the students would also use Twitter and other social networking sites to interact with high school students from many other countries around the world and convey their desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Many participants in the forum also pointed out the importance of conveying the experiences of atomic bomb survivors to the next generation and disseminating them in Japan and abroad via the Internet and other methods. I gave a presentation on the Chugoku Shimbun’s “Survivors’ Stories” initiative by which “junior writers” interview atomic bomb survivors about their experiences. I also mentioned that the interviews are translated into English and posted on the website of the Chugoku Shimbun’s Hiroshima Peace Media Center.

At the forum there was also a discussion on the concept of a “weapons of mass destruction-free zone” in the Middle East, for which negotiation preparations are currently underway. While referring to the slaughter of the Jews by Nazi Germany, one panelist asserted that Israel will not abandon nuclear weapons until all other nuclear nations have done so. This comment also provided an opportunity for other panelists and members of the audience to ask what the goal of disarmament and non-proliferation education is.

The continued reliance on the “nuclear umbrella” of the U.S. by the government of Japan and the Foreign Ministry also came in for criticism as weakening the atomic bomb survivors’ call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

There is room for improvement in the selection of topics for the forum and the way it is run, but I think the goals of having various people share their experiences in working toward nuclear abolition and peace, sharing opinions frankly and then learning from each other and putting this knowledge to use in the future were fulfilled to some extent.

The 2012 Nagasaki Declaration that was adopted at the close of the forum included an action plan for nine endeavors such as the further enhancement of disarmament and non-proliferation education. The declaration also demonstrates the sponsors’ resolve that the forum not be just a one-time event.

At the end of the forum, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said to me ruefully, “If more elementary, junior high and high school teachers from Nagasaki had participated, they would have had a good opportunity to put the experience to use in their peace education.” As I looked around the venue, with its many empty seats, I had the same feeling.


Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education
In 2002 the disarmament of nuclear-weapon states was flagging amid growing concern about the proliferation of nuclear materials. That year 10 experts on the disarmament issue who had been appointed the previous year by Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations, prepared a “Report on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education” and submitted it to Mr. Annan. The report pointed out the need to educate the public on disarmament and non-proliferation. At the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, participants unanimously adopted a final document that included a 64-item action plan. One of the items emphasized the need for nations to voluntarily undertake disarmament and non-proliferation education. The Japanese government is promoting its own disarmament and non-proliferation education through various measures such as naming atomic bomb survivors who recount their A-bombing experiences overseas as “Special Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons.” The global forum was also part of that effort.

(Originally published on August 14, 2012)