Vernon C. Nichols, President
NGO Committee on Disarmament
Action And Cooperation For A Nuclear-Free 21st Century:
INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
My dear friends and dedicated peace workers, it is an honor for me to be with you once again for your World Conference. I believe that the ideas and actions of the peace movement all over the world have made an enormous contribution to humanity's survival in the last half of the 20th century.
Our impact on the minds of ordinary people has been great. Wherever they live, most people want an end to nuclear weapons. The images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the compelling witness of the Hibakusha, have played a large part in achieving this result. We have also influenced government leaders as the conversion of prominent generals and admirals to the anti-nuclear movement has shown. President John F. Kennedy said, "Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, the pursuit must go on."
We know the nuclear peril continues to loom ominously over us. We cannot relax our efforts. Like many of you here, I have children and grandchildren and other young people whom I love and whose future I care about. Beyond this personal caring, we know that every responsible person cares about the fate of humanity and of our planet, all threatened by the nuclear danger. So I appeal to you. We must redouble our efforts to achieve the nuclear-free world we long for and must have. Gensuikyo's contributions stand before us as a bright and shining example. Your World Conference is always an inspiration. I am confident in 2000 that it will have an even stronger impact.
Most of my own work has an international focus. I am honored to serve as President of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Disarmament at the United Nations in New York, where I am also the Main Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Our Committee publishes 'Disarmament Times" which covers disarmament issues in the international, and especially the UN, context. Our special May issue, "Disarmament: A Basic Guide", copies of which are available for you, is being reprinted as a booklet for wider use. We organize panels on specific disarmament topics at the UN. A major series takes place in cooperation with the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs in the October Disarmament Week. Topics this fall will include, "Outer Space,' "Ballistic Missile Defense," and "Nuclear Deterrence." We serve as a liaison body with the UN for peace and disarmament NGOs as we did in accrediting NGOs for the May Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. We network broadly with peace and disarmament NGOs across the globe.
Some modest gains in nuclear disarmament have been made recently, as in the NPT Review. There the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) did commit themselves to the unequivocal elimination of nuclear weapons. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has boldly called for an international conference on nuclear dangers. We must work to get our governments' approval for this. But most of the same stubborn problems remain and some new threats have emerged as well, primarily the US pursuit of National Missile Defense (NMD), in spite of two failed tests out of three in the recent series. In the US we know that the Presidential campaign prevents nuclear disarmament progress now.
But we cannot passively wait; the campaign is a time to raise nuclear issues, to educate the public and prepare for post-election action. On one hand, economic prosperity in industrialized countries obscures the nuclear threat for many. On the other, the daily struggle for subsistence in developing countries leaves little room for other concerns. Clearly the obstacles to nuclear disarmament are massive.
Opportunities do lie before us with the new millennium. Perhaps the best of these is psychological. The calendar has changed from 1999 to 2000. People are attuned to new openings and inclined to put old attitudes behind them. We must relegate nuclear deterrence to the category of "old thinking" associated with the Cold War. It is wrong because out of touch with reality. Confidence building is the direction in which we need to move in international relations.
The May NGO Millennium Forum at the UN crafted a strong "Declaration and Agenda for Action: Strengthening the UN for the 21st Century." This is to go to the Heads of State Millennium Summit on September 6-8 as the UN General Assembly opens. Its Peace, Security and Disarmament section states, "The victims of Hiroshima/Nagasaki A-bombs have vehemently warned us that the errors of the 20th century must not be repeated in the 21st." It asked the UN to develop a draft proposal for global disarmament to be discussed in a fourth Special Session of the General Assembly for Disarmament. The level of armed violence in the world should be reduced by specific actions, including nuclear abolition. It asked the governments: (1.) To promptly carry out their obligations in the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate all nuclear weapons and to ban them... governments should, by the beginning of the year 2001, convene the conference to eliminate nuclear dangers proposed by Secretary-General Annan. Governments should immediately undertake to close laboratories researching and developing new nuclear weapons, de-alert nuclear weapons, and withdraw nuclear weapons from foreign states. (2.) ...Forum participants consider that unilateral deployment of nationwide missile defense by any country could have dangerously destabilizing effects and create pressures to permanently retain high levels of nuclear weapons or even to increase existing levels. The deployment of theatre missile defenses in Asia or other regions could have serious regional destabilizing effects. Such plans should be relinquished in favor of a worldwide missile launch warning system and a conference to review methods of ending production of long-range surface-to-surface missiles and long-range bombers. (3.) To expand the networks of nuclear free zones until they cover all areas other than territory of weapons states, and this should be complemented by maritime measures that close ports to naval vessels unless they certify that they are not carrying nuclear weapons. Civil society should energetically promote all these measures to control nuclear weapons." Now the job before citizens of each country is to lobby their governments promptly in support of these appeals.
International action is one aspect of the nuclear goals we seek. Earlier I spoke about the success at the NPT Review in May where the Nuclear Weapon States were persuaded to commit themselves to the unequivocal elimination of their nuclear weapons. Long, hard work by other states and NGOs was required to get this agreement. Unfortunately, statements have been made already showing that some NWS are trying to interpret this commitment as something less than its language means. The actions of the NWS both in Geneva at the UN Conference on Disarmament and in New York at the Commission on Disarmament do not reflect the progress, which was expected after the NPT agreement. This means that we are called upon to insist that the NWS live up to their commitments and quickly. We also must ask our own governments who are not NWS to apply similar pressure. At the NPT, the seven countries making up the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), and its NGO support body, the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI) played a vital role in getting the NWS' agreement on elimination of nuclear weapons. We need to ask our governments to support the NAC, and even better, to join it. This will be important for us to influence negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament and in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly in its fall consideration of disarmament resolutions to be recommended to the General Assembly. These are the arenas where we need to work for our goals of abolition, test and weapon development bans, renunciation of first-use and agreement not to use nuclear weapons against non-NWS.
You are familiar with the effective use of celebrity spokespersons by the UN to present its messages to the general public in compelling fashion. UNICEF has led in this. The UN Department for Disarmament Affairs has enlisted the American actor, Michael Douglas, through the assistance of an officer of our NGO Disarmament Committee, as a spokesperson. I think the Hibakusha could use a similar strategy. I have heard them say how strongly they wish to continue their witness as long as they can. We mourn too many deaths this year. I think we could engage sympathetic film and TV professionals to work with surviving Hibakusha to present their stories in a form, which would have greater appeal to the general public and especially younger people. I think some of these professionals would donate their services but I realize costs would be involved. Let me clarify.
Personally I find the straightforward-filmed testimony of the Hibakusha extremely moving by itself. But I am of the older generation and remember the atomic bombs being dropped. I am already committed to the peace movement. We need to reach out to the vast majority who were not alive then and aren't yet part of the peace movement. I am convinced that the skill of film and TV professionals is needed to package the message of the Hibakusha in the most attractive form for this majority of the general public. I also think this could be done in such a way that the dignity and worth of the Hibakusha would not be compromised at all. This same person who enlisted Michael Douglas told me just before I came to Japan that he is willing to make the necessary contacts for such a project. I hope that you will seriously consider this idea and that we can do it.
On July 16th in Washington DC on the anniversary of the Trinity Test and the beginning of the Nuclear Age, a vigil of remembrance of all nuclear tests and all who have suffered and continue to suffer because of them was held. It was sponsored by the US Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation's 40-day People's Campaign for Nonviolence. A Litany of Remembrance for the Nuclear Age was used. (Copyright, the Atomic Mirror) I wish to read these lines from it as I close:
"We remember each child born since the dawn of the Nuclear Age, the
miracle and sacredness of each living being. We remember "Little
Boy" and "Fat Man," the atomic bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Today, we remember
the terrible destructive power and violence latent within us, and made
manifest in the bomb. We look into our hearts and draw from the deep
wells of beauty, creativity, and humanity's spiritual traditions, to nurture
a culture of peace and health. Today, we remember our nuclear history so
that we will not repeat it."
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