December 8, 2009
By Neena Bhandari
Inter Press Service
MELBOURNE - For the global religious community, the use of nuclear arms is an overwhelmingly important ethical issue for the human family. Thus, nothing less than the immediate abolition of such weapons is needed from the highest levels, said speakers at the Parliament of the World’s Religions currently underway in this Australian city.
The Parliament, considered the world’s biggest inter-religious gathering, brings together people of various faiths to tackle issues relating to peace, diversity and sustainability. It opened on Dec. 3 and runs until Dec. 9 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Its theme, ‘Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth’, reflects the urgent need for religious and civil society groups to act on crucial issues threatening the world’s survival, nuclear arms being one of them.
Considered the most significant human-made destructive force on the planet, nuclear devices pose a spiritual as well as existential threat to humanity, participants said.
"The time for us to act decisively is now," said Dr Sue Wareham, immediate past president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War in Australia, and Australian Board Member of the international campaign to abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN).
Noting that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will have its five- yearly review in May 2010, Wareham said, "Progress towards nuclear disarmament will be critical at this meeting if we are to prevent further spread of the weapons, which should no longer be seen as status symbols or legitimate military weapons, but rather they should be seen for what they are —illegal and inhumane instruments of terror."
ICAN’s goal is the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty to prohibit the development, testing, production, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.
"Such a treaty is feasible and necessary," Wareham said during the session on ‘The necessity of nuclear disarmament and steps toward its achievement’. "It is about reclaiming the right of every person to live free from fear of nuclear holocaust. This is a human rights, environmental, economic, health, political and security issue and above all it is an ethical issue."
In June, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stressed that nuclear disarmament is "the most urgent political problem" that the world faces. In September, the first ever U.N. Security Council Summit on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament resolved to "create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Non- Proliferation Treaty".
Many civil society organisations around the world have galvanised to ensure that the 2010 NPT review sees real progress.
"We need a massive global uprising against nuclear weapons as was done to abolish slavery, to save humanity from annihilation," said Ibrahim Ramey, director of the Human and Civil Rights Division at Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom Foundation in Washington, D.C.
MAS Freedom has adopted the support of global nuclear abolition as one of the 12 points of its national (United States) legislative agenda for 2008-2012. "In light of the revelation of the Quran and the need to affirm the most positive of Muslim social values, we must demand the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the conversion of massive nuclear (and conventional) military spending into resources for social uplift and the sustaining of human life," Ramey said.
In 2008, the United States spent some 52.4 billion U.S. dollars for the maintenance of its nuclear arsenal while more than 37 million Americans live in poverty and nearly 50 million live without health insurance.
"Relatively new nuclear weapons states like India and Pakistan are both immersed in great levels of persistent poverty and insecurity while they devote scarce resources to building dangerous and unsustainable nuclear arsenals that can never be used without the certainty of inevitable mutual annihilation," Ramey pointed out.
Ramey called on the global community to get involved in networks pushing for nuclear abolition and put pressure on national governments to support the NPT. He said Article 6 of the treaty specifically compels the nuclear weapons signatory states to enter into negotiation for the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.
He likewise urged nations to encourage bilateral declarations of "no first use" by states parties to global conflicts, especially in the ongoing hostilities and disagreements between Israel and Iran, and India and Pakistan.
In the U.S., Ramey said, "We are calling for an executive order by President Barack Obama to de-alert U.S. nuclear forces by separating nuclear warheads from strategic missile delivery systems, thus reducing the danger of an accidental nuclear launch against potential adversaries."
He said people of all faiths and non-faith must support organisations like Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in their efforts to intensify the campaign against nuclear arms. In 2007 SGI launched its "People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition" initiative to rouse public opinion and help create a global grassroots network of people dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons.
The Tokyo-based SGI, a Buddhist association with over 12 million members in 192 countries and one of the world's longstanding advocates of nuclear disarmament, has intensified its global campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The campaign, which began in 1957, has picked up steam following President Obama's public declaration that the "United States (the only country to launch a military strike with nuclear weapons) will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons." "While we need states and governments to take responsible action to reduce the nuclear threat, civil society clearly has an important role to play," said Hirotsugu Terasaki, SGI's executive director of the office of peace affairs in Tokyo.
"In an ultimate sense, nuclear arms are product of and made possible by a particular form of human egotism—the self-centredness that is ready to sacrifice others in order to protect our own interests or society. Unless we uncover and disarm this aspect of the human heart, a genuine and enduring solution to this threat of nuclear arms will not be possible," Terasaki added.
At the heart of the SGI’s nuclear abolition efforts is the desire to appeal to people’s better nature and to restore confidence in the power of dialogue. Terasaki argued that "the logic of states and their competing interests would lead to the conclusion that the possession of such weapons enhances a state’s security position." Yet civil society "refuted this logic, stressing the injustice of weapons that harm non-combatants more than soldiers and continue to do so long after a conflict has officially ended."
Various religious communities, like SGI, have engaged in an extensive range of grassroots activities, petition drives, and developed educational tools, including volumes of nuclear survivors’ testimonies, DVDs and publications showing what individuals can do to mobilise public opinion for global nuclear disarmament.
Speaking on 'Nuclear Weapons Abolition: Response and Advocacy by Religious Communities', Kimiaki Kawai, program director for Peace Affairs at SGI, expressed belief that "the initiatives for nuclear abolition should not be driven by passive, negative emotions such as fear or guilt." Instead, they should become "a positive endeavour to build a culture of peace motivated by human conscience and high moral concerns."