ASIA AND THE WORLD: Atomic Test Ban Crucial to Nuke Free World

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By Taro Ichikawa in Tokyo

When the world commemorates the International Day against Nuclear Tests for the second time on August 29, it would have reasons to rejoice at the progress made toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, and at the same time take note of roadblocks ahead before that goal is achieved.

A significant reason to be delighted, as the UN points out, is that in the meantime, the Southern hemisphere of the planet has already become almost entirely one nuclear-weapon-free zone by virtue of regional treaties.

These are: the Treaty of Rarotonga, covering the South Pacific, the Treaty of Pelindaba, spanning Africa, the Treaty of Bangkok covering Southeast Asia, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, straddling Latin America and the Caribbean and the Antarctic Treaty. Since March 2009, the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia has entered into force – the first such instrument situated entirely north of the Equator.

The significance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests is underlined in the UN General Assembly unanimously adopting resolution 64/35 on December 2, 2009, its preamble stating that "every effort should be made to end nuclear tests in order to avert devastating and harmful effects on the lives and health of people" and that "the end of nuclear tests is one of the key means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world."

Since the International Day against Nuclear Tests was first declared, there have been a number of significant developments, discussions and initiatives relevant to its goals and objectives. For this reason, the situation is rather complicated, as aptly explained by Akio Suda, Japan's Ambassador to the stalemated Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on July 28 at a UN conference in Matsumoto.

The Matsumoto gathering from July 27 to 29 was organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) through its Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. Some 60 participants from Governments, academia and think tanks, international and non-governmental organizations, as well as the media attended the Conference. Unlike other UN conferences, it was open to the public "as a way to raise general awareness of and support for disarmament and non-proliferation".

The overarching theme of the Conference, which has been hosted by Japan since 1989, was: 'Urgent and United Action towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World'. Issues to be addressed included the implementation of the Action Plan of the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference; nuclear disarmament measures by nuclear-weapon States; the prospects of negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty; taking concrete steps towards the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention; as well as the role of civil society in peace and disarmament.

Enhancing nuclear safety and security was also high on the Conference's agenda, especially in the wake of the recent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A special session was devoted to peace and disarmament education, including discussions with high school students on the importance of promoting peace and security through disarmament efforts.

JAPAN'S OFFICIAL VIEW

Explaining Japan's official view on central themes of the conference, Ambassador Suda said: "When we talk about where we now stand concerning nuclear disarmament, we can list several important and positive movements over the past two or three years. The momentum seems to be high towards a world free of nuclear weapons. With this momentum, we should certainly intensify our discussions on the process of nuclear disarmament towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons."

At the same time, he warned: "We have to look at the reality. Besides some progress in nuclear weapons free zones and CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) ratifications, there has been very little movement in multilateral nuclear disarmament since, say, the Prague speech more than two years ago or the NPT Review Conference last May."

Suda told the Conference that "in the process of reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons, to ban the production of the basic materials for nuclear weapon purposes, a cut-off provides a firm and indispensible basis for further disarmament."

But the CD in Geneva is deadlocked precisely on the issue of Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) as Pakistan maintains that it is discriminatory and goes as far as to benefit its neighbour India. And yet, Suda said, FMCT will have significant impact: There will be no further nuclear proliferation among states outside the NPT. "It will reduce structural discrimination under the NPT, by obliging nuclear-weapon states of, at least, banning the production and receiving verification thereof."

Further, FMCT "will lay a firm legal basis for the continuous reduction of the total number of nuclear weapons in the world by making the disarmament process irreversible. Once nuclear possessing states reduce their stockpiles of fissile materials voluntarily or by any reason, they cannot go back to the prior level."

U.S. PERSPECTIVE

Pointing to reasons for rejoicing, Ambassador Susan F. Burk, Special Representative of the U.S. President for Nuclear Non-Proliferation said the May 2010 "NPT Action Plan's 64 actions and its decision on the Middle East represent a set of follow-on actions whose implementation promises to strengthen the Treaty."

On disarmament, she pointed out, the New START Treaty has entered into force and implementation is well underway. "The U.S. is committed to continuing a step-by-step process to reduce the overall numbers of nuclear weapons, which would include the pursuit of a future agreement with Russia for broad reductions in all nuclear weapons – strategic, non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed."

Another positive development was meeting of the P5 (UN Security Council's permanent members U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain) in Paris on June 30-July 1 to work together in pursuit of their shared goal of nuclear disarmament, including engagement on the steps outlined in Action 5, as well as reporting and other efforts called for in the Action Plan. This was a continuation of discussions begun in London in 2009. "In order to ensure that these conferences evolve into a regular process of P5 dialogue, we agreed to hold a third conference in 2012," Burk said.

She assured that the U.S. remains committed to securing ratification of the CTBT, and is engaging the U.S. Senate and the American public on the merits of that treaty. Washington is also continuing to work with partners to move forward on FMCT negotiations.

In support of the peaceful uses agenda, in December 2010 the IAEA Board of Governors approved a proposal authorizing the Agency’s Director General to establish an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) administered and controlled low-enriched uranium bank as a fuel assurance for Member States in the event of disruption of the fuel supply to their peaceful programs.

According to Burk, the United States also has been working closely with the IAEA to implement the Peaceful Uses Initiative, towards which Washington will contribute $50 million before the 2015 NPT Review Conference. It has already funded more than $9 million in projects with involvement from more than 80 countries. While Japan and South Korea have agreed to contribute to the Initiative, the U.S. is actively seeking other partners.

President Barack Obama's Special Representative for Nuclear Non-Proliferation said the U.S. was committed to a successful Middle East conference as envisaged in the NPT Review Conference's Action Plan: "A first step is naming a conference host state and facilitator, which we aim to do in the very near future. Together with the United Kingdom and Russia, the United States has held extensive consultations with states in the region on how we can ensure a successful conference in 2012."

In an obvious attempt to avoid possible disappointments, Burk said: "The success of the conference and similar efforts cannot be imposed from outside. It will depend on the willingness of the regional states to help build an atmosphere conducive to constructive dialogue on all relevant issues."

YOUTH FORUM

Following on the footsteps of the UN Conference, 900 youth from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa held a forum at the Peace Hall of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The youth of the Soka Gakkai availed of the opportunity to officially launch a peace declaration on July 31, calling for increased efforts by civil society toward the goal of the abolition of nuclear weapons. The declaration advocates that the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference be held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki so that world leaders will see for themselves the reality of the effects of nuclear weapons.

The declaration states: "Nuclear weapons are an 'absolute evil' which fundamentally threaten humanity's right to exist, and their abolition is an indispensable element for building a culture of peace." It affirms that nuclear weapons are against international humanitarian law, and calls for a conference to be convened toward the preparation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention which would ban them comprehensively, at the earliest opportunity. The declaration builds on ideas expressed by Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda in his annual peace proposal for 2011.

At the forum, Nobuyuki Asai, chair of the Soka Gakkai Youth Peace Conference, also presented to Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki, more than 57,000 paper cranes made by Thai people who viewed SGI’s antinuclear exhibition 'Transforming the Human Spirit: From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace,' shown in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of Thailand in 20 venues throughout the country up to February 2011.

Mayor Taue welcomed the Soka Gakkai’s initiatives, saying, “It is not sufficient for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to speak out against nuclear weapons. We need the voices of many like-minded people from around the world. To receive these cranes from the people of Thailand is truly encouraging.”

Other guests attending the forum included Masato Oya, president of the Nagasaki Institute for Peace Culture, and Masahito Hirose, official of the Nagasaki Testimonial Society, as well as representatives of other civil society groups active in advocacy toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Representatives of the Soka Gakkai youth peace committees and young women’s peace committees from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa have been meeting in August almost every year since 1989 to hold commemorative and awareness-raising events. They have also conducted numerous surveys over the years, tracking attitudes toward the threat of nuclear weapons.

Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist association with over 8 million member households in Japan, has a 50-year track record of efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 2007, it launched the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition initiative in order to help galvanize global grassroots support toward this goal.

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