Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The recent submission of a draft resolution by a group of countries calling for the convening of a United Nations conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons demonstrates the strong will within the international community for the elimination of these weapons of mass destruction.
As a Buddhist faith-based organization committed to grassroots public education for nuclear weapons abolition, the SGI wishes to submit the following statement to help further the deliberations of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.
It has become increasingly evident that the logic of nuclear weapons fails on its own terms. Despite assertions to the contrary, they are not an effective guarantee of national, much less human, security. This reality is placed in stark relief by the chilling specter of nuclear terrorism.
The destruction wrought by nuclear weapons is so indiscriminate, uncontainable and enduring that a tacit consensus has emerged that they are in fact unusable and of no real military utility. Deterrence, based on the implicit threat of actual use, is now in fact their only role. But even this “non-use use,” by compelling the world’s peoples to live under the constant threat of apocalyptic destruction, has intolerable humanitarian impacts. It is impossible to see how this is compatible with the security interests of States and their citizens.
In a world of growing needs and finite resources, the opportunity costs of nuclear weapons have become increasingly unbearable.
If the immense resources now spent on nuclear weapons were to be applied to such fields as hygiene, health and education, the lives of vast numbers of people would be improved. The continued maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons runs counter to the spirit of Article 26 of the UN Charter, which calls for the “least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.”
Nuclear weapons also subvert the nonmaterial basis for human security, such vital yet intangible public goods as human dignity and hope. The proliferation of despair, nihilism and senseless violence in the decades since the first use of nuclear weapons has roots in their toxic impact on the human spirit.
By threatening to obliterate the accumulated achievements of human society, erasing the individual and collective record of our lives, nuclear weapons undermine our existence as historical, cultural beings—the very heart of our humanity. They erode the meaning of human life and impede our ability to look to the future with hope.
What can justify the continued possession of nuclear weapons at the cost of these grave risks and burdens? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a mistaken quest for national prestige is a core motivation here.
The discourse of national prestige must be transformed such that the possession and use of nuclear weapons—including their use in the implicit threat of deterrence—is thoroughly stigmatized within the international community. A global norm must be established that nuclear weapons are, in simplest terms, nothing to be proud of.
The prestige equation must be shifted so that the courage and vision of countries that have chosen non-nuclear paths to security are recognized and lauded. Similarly, States that move to recalibrate their security stance away from reliance on nuclear weapons should be recognized as making not only a wise decision for their own national interest but also as contributing to the security of all States and the cause of human security for all.
At the heart of the nuclear weapons issue is the radical negation of others—of their humanity and their equal right to happiness and life.
As Buddhists upholding the value and dignity of life, we believe that this can only be countered through a sustained effort to expand our individual and shared capacities for imaginative empathy. In the Buddha’s teachings we find these words: “All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”
There is a universal impulse to avoid suffering and harm. We all have an intuitive sense of the unique value of our individual being. To the degree that we can realize that others feel the same way, we can sense the reality of their suffering and embrace their dignity. Such empathy makes genuine dialogue possible. And dialogue is the most certain path to realizing our shared quest for the authentic experience of security.
The challenge of nuclear disarmament is not something that concerns only the nuclear-weapon States; it must be a truly global enterprise involving all States and fully engaging civil society. All States have an obligation to promote and participate in good faith negotiations for disarmament, bringing them to a successful conclusion.
We stand at a crucial juncture in history; the international community has the opportunity to start deliberations on the concrete means and methods of eliminating nuclear weapons from Earth. This is the challenge we face now as people sharing this planet. We must muster the courage to act now on behalf of humanity’s present and future
Therefore, we urge the UN General Assembly to:
1. Adopt a resolution to start negotiations on a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons in 2017 leading towards a world free from nuclear weapons in an open, transparent, comprehensive and inclusive manner;
2. Continue to encourage all States to participate actively in the negotiating process to fulfill their obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to the total elimination of such weapons;
3. Ensure that youth and women can play a significant role in the process, enabling their heretofore underrepresented perspectives to foster urgently needed new thinking in pursuit of a world free from nuclear weapons;
4. Heed the voices of the world’s hibakusha (atomic survivors), who urge the abolition of nuclear weapons and whose suffering must never be visited on any other individual, family or society, thus ensuring that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons remains at the heart of all nuclear disarmament efforts.