Mainstreaming Youth Participation

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Section four of nine of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2019 peace proposal, “Toward a New Era of Peace and Disarmament: A People-Centered Approach.”

Diverse group of youth with the UN Secretary-General holding a Youth2030 banner UN Secretary-General António Guterres (center) with youth attendees of the High-Level Event on Youth2030 on September 24, 2018, to launch the United Nations Youth Strategy [© UN Photo/Mark Garten]

The third and last of the disarmament themes I would like to discuss is the mainstreaming of youth participation.

At the UN, “youth” has become a keyword across many fields. At the center of this is the Youth2030 strategy launched last September, which aims for the empowerment of the world’s 1.8 billion young people and for younger generations taking the lead on an accelerated engagement with the SDGs. Similar developments can also be seen in the field of human rights, with the UN designating youth as the focus of the fourth phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education. I called for such a designation in my proposal last year and hope that all efforts will be made to ensure that this fourth phase is successful.

The importance of youth to disarmament is clear, something which Secretary-General Guterres stressed in the Disarmament Agenda. The fact that he chose the University of Geneva over UN Headquarters or some other diplomatic venue to launch the agenda speaks volumes.

“And young people like the students present in this room are the most important force for change in our world. . . I hope you will use your power and your connections to advocate for a peaceful world, free from nuclear weapons, in which weapons are controlled and regulated, and resources are directed towards opportunity and prosperity for all.”

He addressed the long-festering issue of nuclear weapons alongside the risks of conflicts sparked by the development of new technologies as grave threats to the future of his young listeners. He singled out cyberattacks as a source of particular concern. Cyberweapons could be used not only to strike military targets but to infiltrate critical infrastructure to paralyze whole societies. They carry the risk of impacting large numbers of civilians and inflicting grave damage.

This kind of arms competition threatens the processes of daily life even when there are no active hostilities. But the issue goes beyond the physical threats to peace and humanitarian concerns: we must also consider the impact on how people live their lives, in particular the impact on youth. Because of the complexity and scale of the issue of arms competition, it inculcates a widespread resignation, the sense that reality is beyond our power to change. This is perhaps its most fundamental and grievous impact.

This was a concern that occupied Weizsäcker and is reflected in his call to overcome the pathology of peacelessness. He anticipates two types of criticism that might be directed at his advocacy for institutionally guaranteed peace. The first is the idea that we are already living in conditions of peace, a peace that is ensured by large-scale weaponry. The other is that there has always been war and that it will occur again in the future because it is part of human nature. Weizsäcker points to the paradox that these two criticisms are often voiced by the same person, who, on the one hand, asserts that we are living in peace but on the other, dismisses peace as a “pious wish.” This contradiction often goes unnoticed by the proponent of these arguments.

related article 2019 Peace Proposal Synopsis 2019 Peace Proposal Synopsis Read an overview of the key themes and proposals in Daisaku Ikeda’s 2019 Peace Proposal, “Toward a New Era of Peace and Disarmament.” According to Weizsäcker, when confronting an issue on which it is difficult to remain focused, people’s psychological reaction is often to drive it out of their consciousness. While this might at times be necessary if we are to maintain mental equilibrium, it can hardly be termed an optimal response when a decision impinging on survival is required. This prevents us from thinking seriously about what is required to create peace, the actions we must take to achieve that end.

Half a century has passed since Weizsäcker made this observation, but even today there are many people in the nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states who, even if not actively supporting deterrence policy, consider it an unavoidable necessity for the maintenance of national security. So long as nuclear war does not actually break out, there would seem to be no problem with thinking that large-scale weaponry maintains peace and averting one’s eyes from the threat posed by nuclear weapons. But, in fact, this pervasive resignation regarding the nuclear issue has a deleterious effect on the foundations of society and on the future of young people.

If security strategies based on nuclear deterrence fail and nuclear war breaks out, it will result in horrific devastation and enormous loss of life for both friend and foe. But the damage done by deterrence theory is not limited to this: even if nuclear weapons are never used people will still be forced to live with the absurd and existential threat they pose, while the protection of defense and military secrets will be prioritized and justifications for curtailing people’s rights and freedoms in the name of national security will remain. When a pervasive sense of powerlessness is added to the mix, it creates a mood within society that it is acceptable to overlook human rights abuses as a necessary evil as long as they do not have a direct impact on one’s own life. If the overpowering negativity arising from the pathology of peacelessness continues to exert its influence, young people will be denied the opportunity to develop a healthy and rich humanity.

In 1260, Nichiren (1222–82), the Japanese Buddhist reformer who developed his understanding of Buddhism based on the Lotus Sutra, which expresses the essence of Shakyamuni’s teachings, submitted the treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” to the highest political authority of his day. In it, he identified a widespread sense of resignation as the root cause of the disorder assailing society.

At the time, the Japanese people suffered from repeated disasters and armed conflicts, and many were sunk in apathy and resignation. Society as a whole was permeated by pessimistic philosophies that despaired of the possibility of resolving challenges through one’s own efforts, and many people’s sole focus was on maintaining a sense of inner tranquility. Such ways of thinking and acting ran entirely contrary to the teachings animating the Lotus Sutra, which call on us to maintain unyielding faith in the potential existing within all people, to work for the full development and flowering of that potential and to build a society in which all people shine in the fullness of their dignity. Nichiren’s treatise urges an earnest confrontation with the challenge of how to spark the light of hope in the hearts of people beaten down by repeated disaster, how to mobilize social change to prevent wars and internal conflicts. He thus stresses the need to root out the pathology of resignation that lies hidden in the deepest strata of our social being, infecting us all: “Rather than offering up ten thousand prayers for remedy, it would be better simply to outlaw this one evil.” His treatise calls on us to reject resignation in the face of our deep social ills and instead to muster our inner human capacities so that we may together meet the severe challenges of our age as agents of proactive and contagious change.

As heirs to Nichiren’s spiritual heritage, the members of the Soka Gakkai have, since the times of our founding and second presidents Makiguchi and Toda, viewed our mission within society as the construction of a popular solidarity of action dedicated to eliminating misery from Earth.

In his analysis of Shakyamuni’s perspective on the nature of suffering, which is seminal to Buddhist thinking, the philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) declared that it had no hint of pessimism. Elsewhere, Jaspers explored means for overcoming the sense of powerlessness. He used the term “boundary situation” (Ger. Grenzsituation) to describe the unavoidable realities that individuals confront. He pointed out that the only way to avoid a boundary situation in our present existence is to close our eyes to it, but that to do so would be to shut ourselves off from our inner potential.

Here, I would like to focus on Jaspers’ insight that boundary situations are concrete and particular to each of us and that it is this that enables us to find the path to a breakthrough. In other words, each of us carries the unique burdens of our lives in the form of the particularities of our birth or surroundings, and these restrictions serve to narrow the conditions within which we live. When, however, we recognize our own boundary situation and resolve to overcome it, the narrowness of our individual circumstances, which cannot be supplanted for anyone else’s, is transformed into the depth with which we live out our original selves.

Jaspers states that “in this boundary situation there is no objective solution for all time; there are only historic solutions for the time being.” It is this that generates the particular weight of each of our actions—actions that only we can take.

related article Conservation and Education in the Amazon—Brazil SGI Conservation and Education in the Amazon—Brazil SGI by  Celso Hama,  Brazil Introducing the Soka Institute Amazon Environmental Research Center in Brazil. Jaspers’ call could be said to describe the approach that propelled me in my own actions, starting during the Cold War era, to open a path for peace and coexistence. In 1974, a time of heightened Cold War tension, I made my first visits to China and the Soviet Union. At the time, I encountered criticism from people who demanded to know why a person of faith would travel to countries whose official ideology rejected religion. For my part, however, it was precisely as a person of faith strongly desiring the realization of peace that I wanted to lay the foundations for friendship and exchange, and it was this that made me feel I could not squander the opportunity presented by the invitations extended to me by the China-Japan Friendship Association and M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, respectively. Needless to say, I was not in possession of any infallible plan or method that could guarantee success. Rather, I earnestly embraced each encounter and dialogue in the uniqueness of that one-time-only circumstance, creating opportunities for educational and cultural exchange one step at a time.

After the end of the Cold War, convinced that no country or people should be isolated, I traveled to Cuba, whose relations with the United States at the time were at a low point, to Colombia, which faced a severe terrorism problem, and elsewhere. Refusing to give in to a sense of powerlessness or resignation, convinced rather that my nongovernmental status as a person of faith opened unique avenues of action, I traveled to each of these places. In the same spirit, I have continued to author annual proposals for peace and disarmament for the last thirty-five years and have taken action to expand the solidarity of civil society.

Now that the longstanding goal of a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons has been attained, I would like to address the young people of the world in light of my own experiences: Each of you is a possessor of life imbued with dignity and limitless possibility; although the realities of international society may be severe and seemingly immovable, there is no need for you to accept or resign yourselves to this reality, now or in the future.

In June last year, the Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and I issued a joint appeal to youth, rooted in our conviction that, indeed, another world is possible.

“The lives and dignity of tens of millions of people are violated by war and armed conflict, starvation, social and structural violence. We must open our arms, minds and hearts in solidarity with the most vulnerable in order to rectify this grave situation.”

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) offers a model in this regard. It mobilized the passion and rich creativity of the younger generation in support of the adoption of the TPNW, for which it was recognized with the conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

The SGI’s own efforts as an international partner of ICAN from its inception have likewise been propelled by youth. In 2007, the SGI launched the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition. Japan’s youth membership led the way in gathering 5.12 million signatures calling for a world free from nuclear weapons. In Italy, our youth membership championed cooperation with the Senzatomica campaign, holding awareness-raising exhibitions in more than seventy cities around the country. Student members in the US have launched Our New Clear Future, a movement to promote dialogue and consensus-building toward the abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2030, with activities held on university campuses nationwide.

Some of the above activities were included in a report submitted by the SGI last year as a contribution to the UN’s Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security mandated by Security Council Resolution 2250, adopted in 2015. This resolution requests the Secretary-General to carry out a study on young people’s “positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution” and to make its results available to the Security Council and all member states. The contributions of the SGI youth members were referenced in the Progress Study. The report submitted by the SGI youth outlined the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition and provided the following analysis: “In fact, involving youth seems to have the ripple effect of reaching those who are not aware of the issue, and further energizing those who are already engaged.”

To call forth and mutually strengthen the will for transformation from within people’s hearts—it is in this capacity for life-to-life resonance that the essence of youth is found.

As we survey the tasks that lie ahead—achieving the early entry into force of the TPNW and, beyond that, encouraging the participation of nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states leading toward the elimination of nuclear weapons—it is clear that nothing is more indispensable to arousing and sustaining global public interest and support than the powerful engagement of youth.

It is my firm conviction that it is vibrant mutual inspiration among youth that holds the key to achieving disarmament across the three thematic areas I have explored here.

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