NUKE ABOLITION: Turning Nuke Free 'Utopia' into Reality

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By Ramesh Jaura

It sounds like a utopia. But it is a "concrete utopia", very much in the spirit of Ernst Bloch's philosophy and concomitant with Nichiren Buddhism. Whereas the former visualises elimination of all forms of oppression and exploitation, the latter envisions transformation of the human spirit – from a culture of violence to a culture of peace – leading to sustainable human security that encompasses a world free of nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction.

The touring exhibition 'From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit' is one tool to achieve that objective in the repository of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Tokyo-based organisation with some12 million members around the world who have embraced life-affirming Buddhism, as taught by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren.

The exhibition was created by SGI in 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Soka Gakkai's president Josei Toda's Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. It was launched on September 8, 2007 in New York as the opening of a new campaign, the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition at a civil society forum specifically aimed at mobilizing youth.

Since then, it has toured more than 220 cities in 27 countries, including Geneva at the UN Office, Wellington (New Zealand) at the Parliament House, Oslo (Norway) at City Council hall (Norway), and in Vienna at the United Nations. The latest showing was from October 7 to 16 in Berlin (Germany), which SGI vice president Hiromasa Ikeda praised as "a city of peace".

Explaining the significance of the October showing, co-organised by IPPNW Germany, affiliate of Nobel laureate International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and Global Cooperation Council, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda said in a message. "Berlin is a city that, transcending the legacy of Cold War confrontation, continues to forge a brilliant new future."

SGI is, along with IPPNW and ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), a leading campaigner for abolition of nukes, a target that also the touring exhibition has set itself.

The exhibition coincided with the 50th anniversary of Ikeda's visit to Berlin when in October 1961 he stood before the Brandenburg Gate dividing the city and symbolic of the division of Germany. The Berlin Wall, built just two months earlier, he recalled, presented a deeply disturbing and unforgettable sight: the wall, and the ranks of soldiers and tanks, represented the front lines of Cold War confrontation.

And yet, that wall, long considered unmovable, was brought down – not the least – through the efforts of ordinary citizens. He is similarly convinced that nuclear weapons, whose abolition is considered to be impossible, will without fail be eliminated through the efforts of awakened citizens.

Germany has played an important role in promoting peace and stability and in integrating Europe and, he said in his message on the opening of the exhibition, he was certain that Germany would play a critical role in future challenges.

Göttingen Declaration


He recalled the words of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker – "The political situation of the world must be radically transformed so that a truly peaceful order comes into existence" – who throughout the Cold War, strove to make people aware of the threat posed by nuclear weapons. 2012 will mark the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Göttingen Declaration in which von Weizsäcker, Division Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics, Göttingen, played a pivotal role.

The declaration signed by 18 leading nuclear physicists expressed "deep concern" at the "plans of the German Army of acquiring atomic weapons". They "felt compelled to point out publicity certain facts known to the experts, but seemingly not sufficiently known to the public."

The declaration pointed out: "Tactical atomic bombs (the German army planned to acquire) have the same destructive effects as normal atomic bombs. The designation 'tactical' is used in order to express that they are to be used not only against human settlements, but also against troops in surface combat. Every single tactical atomic bomb or atomic grenade has similar effects as the first atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima."

Since tactical atomic weapons were available in large numbers, the physicists said, their destructive effect would be on the whole much larger. These bombs were designated as "small" only in comparison to the recently developed "Strategic" bombs and mainly to the hydrogen bombs.

It went on to say: "There is no limit known to the possibility of increasing the destructive effect on life and property of Strategic atomic weapons. Today a tactical atomic bomb can destroy a small city; a hydrogen bomb can make uninhabitable a region the size of the industrial district of the Ruhr. The whole population of the German Federal Republic could be exterminated today by means of the spreading radioactivity of hydrogen bombs. We do not know any practical possibility to protect large populations from this danger."

Tactical Nuclear Weapons


Notwithstanding the declaration, the United States stationed tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Germany and other European countries as part of NATO's "nuclear sharing" policy, which was initiated in the 1950s to dissuade U.S. allies from developing indigenous nuclear weapons programs and to persuade them to be protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

In addition to Germany, U.S. TNWs are deployed in several other European countries such as Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Deployment has dramatically dropped from its peak in the 1970s, when more than 7,000 weapons were stationed in Europe. According to knowledgeable sources, in late 2007 only about 350 remained.

The drop in deployed TNW resulted mainly from the post-Cold War Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) that Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev announced in 1991. These initiatives called for a drastic cut in both U.S. and Soviet TNW in Europe.

In January 2007, the U.S. Air Force removed the U.S. air base at Ramstein (Germany) from a list of installations that receive periodic nuclear weapons inspections. According to Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, this indicates that the 130 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons that had been stockpiled at the air base during the Cold War may have been permanently removed.

If so, Germany now hosts only one site with U.S. nuclear weapons: Büchel air base. Since NATO and the United States make no public disclosures as to how many nuclear weapons are deployed, the exact number of TNWs in Germany is unconfirmed. Nonetheless, it is estimated that 20 nuclear warheads are now stationed at Büchel.

The issue of withdrawal of TNWs has been discussed within the German government for several years. But in October 2009, the new German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (liberal FDP) left no doubt about his resolve to have nukes (TNWs) out of Germany. He said the new German government would support the vision of U.S. President Barack Obama for a world free of nuclear weapons.

At the same time, he added: "We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed. Germany must be free of nuclear weapons." This view was affirmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel (conservative CDU). But nukes continue to be stationed on German soil.

"We can defeat the culture of violence"


Precisely against this backdrop, German parliamentarian Uta Zapf (social democratic SPD) found the exhibition title "wonderful" as it aims to show that "we can defeat the culture of violence". Zapf chairs the parliamentary sub-committee on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.

A nuclear weapons free world is for sure not yet around the corner. Nor is peace yet anchored in human spirit, as also evidenced by the new NATO strategy. Nevertheless, there is reason to "engage ourselves as we are doing with this exhibition, to banish the inhuman evil of nuclear weapons," she said.

"In fact, we need the optimism that the exhibition title embodies, because the world is still littered with weapons and nuclear arms. Certainly there has been nuclear disarmament, and the number of atomic weapons has been reduced also during the Cold War. Now with START II a step ahead has been taken after a long time," argued Zapf.

"Positive outcome of the NPT Review conference in May 2010 also gives cause for optimism. In fact, its action plan shows a way to completely abolish nuclear weapons. . . . It is important that the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty) comes into force. The test moratorium of great nuclear powers USA, Russia and China does not suffice. Only a treaty ratified by great nuclear power owners will give us the certainty that no more atomic arsenal will be built up in the future." But there are miles to go before that objective is achieved.

In November 2010, at their summit meeting in Lisbon, NATO members agreed a new Strategic Concept which will serve as the Alliance's 'roadmap' for the next 10 years. After U.S. President Barack Obama made explicit his vision for a nuclear weapon free world and the need to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, NATO members Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands called for U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to be removed from Europe.

However, despite much discussion on the subject in the run-up to the release of the Strategic Concept, the new document failed to move with the times saying instead that "It commits NATO to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance".

Nevertheless, there has been growing pressure from European civil society and some NATO governments for discussions on the future of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe to be undertaken as part of NATO's Defence and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR). The DDPR was mandated following debates over revising the Strategic Concept, and is scheduled to be completed by May 2012.

Genuine Security

While the outcome of NATO debates is anxiously awaited, the indisputable fact is that today humanity faces a daunting array of challenges – from poverty and environmental destruction, to devastating unemployment and financial instability – which require the joint, coordinated response of all nations.

"These challenges make all the more clear the folly of diverting precious human and economic resources to the maintenance of nuclear arsenals. What humanity requires is genuine security, not nuclear weapons," says SGI President Ikeda who since 1983 has been presenting every year proposals aimed at peace and disarmament.

In his 2011 proposal to the UN, Ikeda pleads for undertaking three challenges toward the creation of a world free of nuclear weapons: "We should establish the structures through which states possessing nuclear weapons can advance disarmament toward the goal of complete elimination; we should establish the means to prevent all development or modernization of nuclear weapons; and we should establish a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) comprehensively prohibiting them."

He pleads for "a fundamental revision of the framework for nuclear disarmament, such that the goal of multilateral negotiations is not confined to arms control but aims toward a clear vision of nuclear weapons abolition."

Responding to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call for the regular convening of a UN Security Council Summit on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, Ikeda says: "These summits should not be limited to the members of the Security Council: participation should also be opened to states that have chosen to relinquish their nuclear weapons or programs, as well as specialists in the field and NGO representatives."

"This process should aim toward holding the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bringing together national leaders as well as representatives of global civil society, this would be a nuclear abolition summit which could mark the effective end of the nuclear era," he adds. With that happening, the utopia would have been turned into reality. [Global Perspectives]

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