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The Path to a Nuclear-Free World is Getting Harder but Giving Up isn’t an Option (Interview with Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues, SGI)

By Ahamed Fathi,ATM

New York ATM/INPS –

The Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT review conference is being held at the UN Headquarters in New York. It brings together delegates from treaty member states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the treaty’s three pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful use of nuclear energy, and disarmament. The conference is held during a time of increased nuclear tensions not seen since the time of the cold war. JAPANESE

Among the conference attendees Soka Gakkai International-SGI, a Japanese NGO with its roots Buddhism, and holds UN ECOSOC consultative status, SGI aims to eradicate nuclear weapons and has 12 million members and branches around the world. ATN interviewed SGI Director General Hirotsugu Terasaki.

With the increasing hazards of escalation from Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons against countries opposing its invasion of Ukraine to North Korea conducting nuclear testing, the stakes for Iran galloping to acquire nuclear weapons could not be higher. This was reiterated by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and several European and Middle Eastern Foreign Ministers.

Excerpts from the interview:

ATN: Today, we are previlegaed to have Mr. Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues at Soka Gakkai International. A Major NGO focused on the area of Nuclear Disarmament not just in Asia but around the world. I understand that you have any members and followers. Give a little bit of back ground of SGI.

Terasaki: Soka Gakkai International, SGI for short, is an international organization established by the Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist lay organization in Japan.  

Through the SGI network worldwide, we are collaborating various activities. Specially as an NGO with consultative status with the UN ECOSOC, SGI has consistently committed to support UN on multiple issues being addressed by the UN. 

In the postwar Japan, when our organization was growing significantly, the world was in an era of nuclear arms race. Nuclear weapons are an absolute evil that deprives people of their right to survive. From the viewpoint of our ethics, of humanity, and of life, nuclear weapons must be abolished no matter what. This has been the prime point of our peace movement consistently since the end of WW2. 

To date, the protection of humanity’s right to exist, which is at the root of our movement, has expanded to the areas of activities of the UN, including human rights, humanitarian activities and the SDGs. 

There are about 12 million members around the world who are participating in the SGI network for peace and promoting diverse activities in their respective regions. 

ATN: This is very impressive. It is not everyday you see an NGO with then of millions of members. What are your activities in Japan and specificlly coming to NPT Review Conference in 2022, wht is your message to the rest of the world?

Terasaki:The world today is in the highest tension under the nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. In this sense, we are now at really critical moments in the NPT, which was originally designed to achieve nuclear disarmament and a nuclear-free world.

It is crucial whether countries can find the path toward disarmament, rather than nuclear expansion, to be able to begin a new step forward toward the original goal. While respecting and learning from the arguments of each country, in order to encourage each country once again, we, as civil society, should send a clear message that nuclear weapons do not protect the peace and stability of humankind. It is with this strong determination that we are participating in the NPT Review Conference. 

ATN: Yesterday, I had a briefing with the under-secretary of state for non-proliferation and global security. I asked about why the US government not warming up TPNW, the new commer in the architect of the nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. And he said that we just have techinical problems. We agree on the core principles. But the issues are mostly legal about the verification systems. He also added that the US has over the past years got rid of 80% of inventory. Yet in reality, the US and Russia each possess 6000 nuclear warheads. Are you potimistic that one day we are going to see truly with the world conflicting interests between the powers. Are we going to see a world free from nuclear weapons?

Terasaki:Thinking of the future of the humanity, it is important for each and every one of us, the citizens of each country, to learn and share the true nature of nuclear weapons. Without learning and sharing the essence of nuclear weapons, and if we only treat nuclear weapons as a diplomatic issue in the political arena, it will be difficult to make progress in the discussion of disarmament. 

The TPNW entered into force last year, and the first Meeting of the State Parties was held in June. I think it is very important to share the idea, once again, that nuclear weapons must be banned.

In order to move the process forward from the present reality to reach this goal, I believe that we must distill our wisdom and speak out with our strong will, that first of all, the nuclear weapons must be prohibited, and that is what we are aiming for. It is obvious that if the NPT is to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, the TPNW is a milestone. 

Most countries have said that the NPT is an important cornerstone. If so, each country should deepen the discussion by making concrete proposals for each step toward that goal. 

Nuclear weapons can be said to be holding the humanity hostage to its very existence. The power of these nuclear weapons makes the world today. However, because we cannot see nuclear weapons in front of our eyes, few people feel their reality.

Therefore, we must make people clearly aware of this existence through educational activities in civil society. I believe that this creates the greatest foundation for the process to move forward. We, on the civil society side, will proceed with patience and with even more effort. 

ATN: I share your asprirations but when you said that the people of the world should stick together and demand the abolition. I understand that Japan and the United States, South Korea and Europe can surely talk. But how about countries with totalitarian regimes like Russia, China, North Korea, and a new comer described by the director of the IAEA who said that Iran is galloping like a horse to own a nuclear weapon. Do you see that we are still in a conflict between democracies and totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and under this scenario, if democratic countries give up nuclear weapons, only ones who keep them are totalitarian regimes. Is that realistic?

Terasaki: Of course, we must have a scheme to gradually and surely advance disarmament as a whole, and we must have a shared way of thinking to that end. 

Basically, the nuclear weapon states are distrustful and suspicious of each other, which makes it difficult for them to move in the direction of disarmament. Of course, they need to have more discussions in the diplomatic arena about the way of mutual security. Perhaps, the nuclear weapon states fear the nuclear weapons, because they have them, they themselves become the frightened side. It is that vicious circle. (Needless to say, the cost of maintaining such weapons is enormous.) 

We came to the NPT this time, promoting participants to declare first that “we will never use nuclear weapons unless the other side uses them”. If all nuclear weapon states simply adopt this policy of No First Use of nuclear weapons, it will secure space and time for discussions for the time being. I am arguing that we should start from there. 

ATN: One last question. SGI hosted today a side event. It was highly attended. Wht is the take from the side event?

Terasaki: During the General Debate of NPT, many countries touched on how to reduce the risk, and there are many different ways of risk reduction now. I feel there is probably a shared feeling that we all have to do something or we will not be able to move on.

Therefore, I would like all the state parties to make a step forward in this critical situation by reaching an agreement on some direction, so that they learn a lot to develop further into the future. 

The process can only progress through the accumulation of successful experiences. This persistence depends on how many countries have a strong awareness that unless they strive for a nuclear-free world, they will never truly have peace and security for all of us. I hope that we, the civil society, will be on the side of this talk with tenacity holding this belief as well. (ATNサイトへ

INPS Japan

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Intererview with Mr Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues, SGI(by UN News)