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2021 Peace Proposal (Part 9 of 13 Segments)

Value Creation in a Time of Crisis

Daisaku Ikeda, President Soka Gakkai International

January 26, 2021

As we stand at this crossroads in history, I would like to consider the example of Professor Joseph Rotblat (1908–2005), who long served as the president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and whose life story may offer us a guide for achieving the paradigm shift to which we aspire.

Of the many scientists engaged in the Manhattan Project, the US-led endeavor to develop the atomic bomb during World War II, Prof. Rotblat was the only one to quit before its completion. Several years before joining the project, he had moved to Britain from his native Poland in order to pursue his research, but was separated from his wife when Nazi Germany invaded their homeland. Asked to participate in the Manhattan Project as part of the British mission, he left for the United States torn by a conflict between his conscience and the desire to deter the Nazis from developing and using a nuclear weapon.

At the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, his office was adjacent to that of Edward Teller (1908–2003), who would later be known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. One day, the military general in charge of the Manhattan Project told him that the real objective of building the atomic bomb was to subdue the Soviet Union, rather than to outpace the Nazis’ development efforts and thereby demoralize them. [52]

In a dialogue we conducted many years later, Prof. Rotblat recalled his deep shock at this revelation: “I began to feel that I was at Los Alamos for the wrong reason. I felt as if the soil beneath my feet was beginning to crumble.” [53] He submitted a request to be relieved from participation in this top secret project and, despite various forms of pressure to rescind his decision, he returned to Britain by himself. Tragically, it transpired that his beloved wife had been killed in the Holocaust.

When he heard about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in a news broadcast on August 6, 1945, he determined to devote the rest of his life to ensuring that nuclear weapons would never again be used. In 1946, he organized the British Atomic Scientists Association in order to campaign against any use of nuclear weapons. To promote public awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, he helped sponsor a mobile exhibition in train carriages which traveled throughout the British Isles, Europe and the Middle East. He switched his field of study to the therapeutic use of radiation, as he wanted to see his research used in ways that would help save lives. His earlier work on the radioactive element Cobalt-60 continues to contribute to the treatment of malignant tumors to this day.

In 1954, a hydrogen bomb test was conducted at Bikini Atoll, exposing local inhabitants and the crew members of the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5) to radioactive fallout. This occasioned an encounter between Prof. Rotblat and the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970). Prof. Rotblat went on to sign the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, and in 1957, he cofounded the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in which he continued to play a pivotal role until his passing in 2005. His was a life devoted to the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.

His views on the reality of nuclear deterrence, voiced when he and the Pugwash Conferences jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, are still relevant today:

Nuclear weapons are kept as a hedge against some unspecified dangers. This policy is simply an inertial continuation from the Cold War era. . . As for the assertion that nuclear weapons prevent wars, how many more wars are needed to refute this argument? [54]

In our dialogue, Prof. Rotblat and I discussed how nuclear weapons were first developed in the name of counteracting Nazi Germany and how their possession and competitive development was justified with ever-changing reasons and strategic theories. We reached the conclusion that nuclear weapons do not continue to exist out of necessity, but rather, their existence has necessitated a search for arguments to justify their existence. [55]

So long as states continue to possess nuclear weapons, citing the threat of some “unspecified dangers,” the actual threat these weapons pose to our planet will persist into the indefinite future. In contrast, the TPNW, which aims to eliminate “the risks posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons,” [56] establishes a path for countries to move forward together toward the eradication of that threat.

In their efforts to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, the Pugwash Conferences saw their first successes with the entry into force of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although the treaty prohibited nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater, it did not prohibit underground nuclear explosions. This in turn led to the adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear tests, three decades later, in 1996.

Although the CTBT has yet to enter into force, it has been signed by 184 states and, through the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), has a verification regime to ensure that no nuclear explosion anywhere on the globe goes undetected. This regime helps forestall the creation of the kind of “unspecified dangers” that Prof. Rotblat warned against. Further, mobilizing the data collection resources of its network of monitoring stations, which spans the entire globe, the CTBTO helps protect the lives of people everywhere, enabling, for example, early disaster warning and the detection of nuclear power plant accidents.

Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched an initiative in March 2020 to use nuclear-derived technology to help more than 120 countries with COVID-19 detection tests. [57] The IAEA has a track record of assisting countries to expand access to cancer treatment and rapid detection tests in the fight against epidemics such as Ebola and Zika. Regarding this initiative, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi declared: “When people turn to the IAEA for assistance in times of crisis, the IAEA has not failed them and will not fail them.” [58] These activities echo Prof. Rotblat’s lifelong commitment to saving lives through his research and activism.

If a deterrent force is needed in the world today, it is certainly not that of nuclear weapons. Rather, it is the power of joint action and solidarity transcending national borders, brought to bear against the intertwined crises of climate change and COVID-19 and related economic impacts.

The international community’s attitude toward biological and chemical weapons changed dramatically after the entry into force of the treaties banning these weapons. States initiated the process of destroying them: more than 90 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapon stockpiles have so far been eliminated. [59] A similar change regarding nuclear weapons might not immediately occur among nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-dependent states, but it is not as if the process would be starting from scratch.

Three international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons were held between 2013 and 2014. With each iteration, the number of participating governments increased, including those of nuclear-dependent states, with the United States and the United Kingdom among the 158 states that attended the third conference. [60]

Among the conclusions drawn from those conferences, I think that the following three points are particularly important:

The impact of a nuclear-weapon detonation would not be constrained by national borders and would cause devastating long-term effects on a global scale.

It is unlikely that any state or international body could adequately address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear-weapon detonation.

The indirect effects of a nuclear-weapon detonation would be most concentrated on the impoverished and vulnerable segments of society.

Though the threats differ in their nature, the impacts of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic resemble those of nuclear weapons in each of the above ways. The devastating impact that COVID-19 has had upon the world should bring home to all states, including the nuclear-dependent and nuclear-weapon states, the critical importance of eliminating the threat of these weapons, which are capable of wreaking havoc on a truly unimaginable scale.

Removing this grave danger that has persisted from the Cold War era is at the heart of both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, and the TPNW, which just entered into force this month. The NPT calls on its signatories to make every effort to avert the danger of a nuclear war [61] and the devastation it would visit upon all humankind. The two treaties complement each other, providing a dual basis for setting into motion global efforts to put nucleardependent security policies behind us.

Here I would like to make two proposals to the NPT Review Conference scheduled for August this year: that there be a discussion on the true meaning of security in light of crises such as climate change and the pandemic; and that the final document include a pledge of non-use of nuclear weapons and a pledge to freeze all nuclear-weapon development in the lead-up to the 2025 Review Conference.

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