By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - Jayantha Dhanapala was awarded the IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament on November 17 at the United Nations in New York.
Dhanapala, UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs until 2003, has remained committed to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world since leaving his post, presiding since 2007 over the Nobel Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
“A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime,” Dhanapala told attendees at an official ceremony sponsored by the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International.
“Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale. We the people have a ‘responsibility to protect’ the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed ‘R2P’ applications.”
The event was attended by UN ambassadors including the president of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, who said that “the work of organisations such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs – which Mr. Dhanapala presides over – Inter Press Service, our host this evening, or Soka Gakkai International, the sponsor of this award, contributes to raising awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to advocating for their total elimination.”
Kutesa spoke of the importance of upcoming opportunities to make further inroads into global non-proliferation and disarmament. “The 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will present an opportunity to further strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”
Kutesa’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers including Dr Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Zerbo noted that Dhanapala was born in the same month (December 1938) that German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission.
“In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.”
The result of this work was that the CTBT, which was being contested in Geneva, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1996. Dhanapala continues to support the CTBTO, as part of a group of experts who work to advance the CTBT’s entry into force.
Zerbo recalled Dhanapala’s criticism of India’s position in opposing the CTBT. India’s criticism of the CTBT has been that it will not move disarmament sufficiently forward. In response to this, Dhanapala has said, “Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely,” Dhanapala has pointed out.
Collectively known as the “Annex 2” states, India forms part of a group of eight countries that are required to ratify before the treaty before it can enter into force. India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to sign the treaty, while 5 other states have signed but failed to ratify.
Zerbo also noted the relevance of Dhanapala’s nationality in his advocacy for disarmament and non-proliferation, saying, “Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world.
“One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme. In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure.”
IPS Director General Ramesh Jauraspoke of the origins and importance of the award. “The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the UN at global level, and actors who would embody that action,” he said.
“The UN way is not to recognise individuals, so the award is a recognition of the bridge between ideals and practice." The award has been resurrected after a six-year hiatus, and will be in place next year again.
There are several opportunities in the coming months for inroads to be made in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Notably, early next month’s Vienna Conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, Dhanapala called on groups to support the ICAN and PAX “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” divestment campaign, saying, “I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.” (IPS | November 19, 2014)
Image 1: From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS
Image 2: Documentation of speeches on the occasion of IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament available at: