Speakers and Panelists
YUZAKI Hidehiko, Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture
Beatrice FIHN, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
Alexander KMENTT, Former Ambassador and Director of the Department for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation at the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs
NAKAMITSU Izumi, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
Mary POPEO, Business Director of NPO Peace Culture Village
The final session of the 2020 Hiroshima – ICAN Academy Part I was broadcast live online on the evening of August 6, the 75th anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. A panel of experts on nuclear disarmament issues gave in depth answers to insightful questions from Hiroshima – ICAN Academy participants. The discussion included the valuable perspectives of national and local government, civil society activists and of the United Nations. It provides a fascinating look into the challenges facing the drive to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth and the concrete actions that are being taken to move us in the right direction.
How can governments and civil society work better together for nuclear disarmament?
Sometimes it is easy to forget that governments are controlled by people. Civil society provides different expertise and resources than those available to local governments. So respecting each other is very important. Hiroshima Prefecture works with a lot of independent NGOs and research institutes. We also expect that civil society will respect the decision making process.
The Hiroshima – ICAN academy is a perfect example of cooperation between government and civil society. City and local governments are becoming more and more important in how we shape the world.
I go around the world and people say, young people don’t care, but I think they do, I think the challenge is first allowing young people to take space in this field and allow them to contribute so that they can feel like they can actually shift things and make change.
Government and civil society have different, but complementary roles. An active civil society that is in regular touch with their government and their elected representatives is an essential part of democracy. It is sometimes challenging, but an ongoing dialogue is really what makes a democracy. It’s our job to push governments as far as we can and it’s the government’s job to listen and respond to their electorates.
The first thing is to find a common objective to work towards. Governments are made up of people, just like us and I’ve been amazed at how much influence individuals in government can actually have. Thus, it’s important to find individuals within government with whom we can develop a good relationship. These people can give important insights into where things are stuck and where we need to push harder. A constant flow of accurate information, combined with frank exchanges, sharing each other’s limitations and challenges, helps develop credibility and trust. Once governments realize that we are not looking to shame them, but to make progress, we are able to focus on finding solutions to problems and developing more creative strategies.
The nuclear weapons
field is a very closed security expert bubble that is difficult to
access. Much of the discourse is abstract and it’s easy to forget
the actual impact these weapons have in real life. Civil society has
an important role in reminding us of the unspeakable suffering and
destruction caused when these weapons are used.
I worked very closely with civil society, ICAN in particular, in the process of getting to the TPNW. It’s often perceived that civil society and governments need to be on opposing sides, but it is actually a partnership. If there is a partnership, great things can happen.
Austria was among a large group of countries that were very frustrated with the lack of progress on disarmament. We came to agree that a new approach was needed as it was unrealistic to expect nuclear weapons states and the states that rely on extended nuclear deterrence to lead the way on disarmament. Similarly, in civil society, the anti-nuclear campaigns of the past needed to be reinvigorated. We have respective roles and avenues of action. States operate in multilateral meetings, draft statements and pass resolutions and hold conferences. These in turn are opportunities for civil society to raise issues, bring their experts and contribute new perspectives. It is very fruitful for both sides. Civil society helps governments convince their own political system that this is worth investing resources and political capital. Civil society can then use this dynamic to lobby other institutions and eventually create examples for other countries to follow.
Mary Popeo introduced the activities of the Hiroshima-based Peace Culture Village (PCV) with the aim of raising human consciousness through Hiroshima-based peace education and called on Hiroshima – ICAN Academy participants to reach out and connect with activists in Hiroshima. Education is key in PCV’s mission. “Even if we do eliminate nuclear weapons, if human beings don’t learn to relate to each other openly, honestly, intensely in order to create universal well-being then we will just continue to find ways to destroy each other and ourselves.“ They aim to catalyze the development of this consciousness through holistic and intersectional perspectives, linking disarmament to other aspects of peace culture. They work hard through their online and in-person activities to help young people in particular to connect Hiroshima to their personal stories and contexts. The use of engaging and immersive technology is a major tool such as the “Peace Portal” launched on August 6, 2020 uses digital technology to provide Hiroshima-based learning activities to people around the world who would not otherwise be able to visit Hiroshima
ICAN’s campaign strategies for advancing its disarmament agenda
We obviously focus on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) itself, a legal tool to delegitimize and stigmatize nuclear weapons to allow us to come up with a new norm in which nuclear weapons are unacceptable. Until we achieve this, we cannot get to disarmament. Parallel to getting that enforced, we have other projects that aim to make the treaty relatable, to get people to understand that there is a law and that it relates to them.
divestment activities involve going after the money. The nuclear
weapons industry is still a huge industry; in 2019, the 9 nuclear
arms states spent about 73 billion USD on nuclear weapons. It should
not be acceptable to invest in nuclear weapons, so we are working on
banks, pension funds, investors and other financial institutions to
make it uncomfortable for them to invest in nuclear weapons
production. Resources such “Don’t Bank On The Bomb” allow us to
examine where we put our money and, by moving our own money,
individuals can play a part in shaping this new norm.
With our cities’ appeal we circumvented states that were not prepared to sign the treaty by going directly to the cities that will be the targets of these nuclear weapons. That the French government was unhappy about the city of Paris coming out in support of the TPNW shows that this has an impact.
The same is true of parliaments. Even if a government doesn’t support the treaty, we need individual elected officials to raise these issues in parliaments around the world. We are rallying parliamentarians to start questioning the assumption that we have no choice but to accept the existence of nuclear weapons.
All these projects are meant to start poking holes in the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and make it easy for people to say, “I don’t like nuclear weapons.” If you look at other issues, such as same-sex marriage in the US, it was only once the culture changed that most politicians started saying that they had been in favor of same-sex marriage all along. We need to understand that the leaders will not change their positions until we change, so we are trying to make it easy and normal to challenge the acceptance of nuclear weapons, to create a context in which politicians will be compelled to come out against them.
What is your view on the contribution of small and middle power states and what is their role in generating new norms in world politics?
International law operates on the basis of the sovereign equality of states so any country, big or small, legally has rights. As, at the end of the day, legitimacy is important to even the most powerful countries, by joining together we can punch above our weight and help change international discourse at government level. It’s too early to say whether this approach will be successful in changing the policies of countries that have and rely on nuclear weapons, but there are encouraging signs that we are having an impact. The role of Austria on its own is very limited, but in partnership with like-minded countries, working together with civil society, we can be agents of change and quite effective.
Nuclear umbrella states
The nuclear umbrella states, the countries that are part of the security arrangements and prepared to participate in using nuclear weapons are a key part of the problem. One of the reasons this treaty is so powerful is that it has exposed the countries that are standing in the way of disarmament. Countries like Germany and Japan commemorate the anniversaries of the A-bombings, but, at the same time, they are prepared to do the same thing again. If we are ever going to get to the nuclear arms states, we need to get to these countries first. They are insulating the nuclear arms states from pressure, but this a very uncomfortable position for countries that pride themselves on being humanitarian champions. The humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons goes against the principles of these countries, so they are trying very hard to keep the issue of nuclear weapons separate from other humanitarian issues. We need to keep applying pressure and challenge them to answer uncomfortable questions about the implications of nuclear weapons. Humanitarian framing is key here, as it is too easy to say no to the treaty if we only take a technical view.
This Hiroshima – ICAN Academy is definitely one example and we have a lot of education programs about nuclear issues that begin in elementary school here in Hiroshima. The voices of hibakusha survivors are central to this peace education. We can also learn from the varied approaches to learning about international relations in other countries. I see more student-centered approaches where the emphasis is on learning rather than teaching. We are for nuclear disarmament, but we also need to listen to the other side to move discussions forward.
Against the background of positive developments in nuclear disarmament in recent years and the increasingly unstable situation brought on by nationalism, new technologies and the breakdown of past treaties, how can we break the current disarmament impasse and achieve further progress?
There is no one single bullet that will solve this very complex situation. We have to pursue a variety of measures simultaneously.
One of the first things that we all need to do is to understand the legitimate security concerns of nuclear weapons states and what is driving them to reverse the progress made in the past couple of decades and engage in a new arms race. An understanding of this can become the basis for our strategy to try to reverse these negative trends.
In parallel, we need to mitigate the risk of accidental nuclear detonation by working out pragmatic risk reduction measures. This is an area where we can find common ground, as, while nuclear weapons states may not agree with a return to disarmament, they can still share the objective of avoiding an accidental nuclear war. We can use this common interest to start a process to produce risk reduction measures that will itself be useful in building trust between each other and amongst themselves.
The stalemate the moderator mentioned is everywhere. I think we need a fresh and comprehensive look at our approaches to eliminating nuclear weapons. We do need to build on existing mechanisms, but insert new ideas into disarmament thinking. The UN sees the TPNW as injecting much needed and long-awaited new energy into the debate. Placing human beings at the center of our security is a critical element.
The role of young people is also essential in bringing these fresh ideas, new approaches and energy to international security debate and disarmament discourse. It should be a priority of the UN and other entities to create more opportunities for younger people to arm themselves with necessary knowledge and skills to allow them to tackle this role.
How can we keep up the recent positive momentum?
Nuclear deterrence is a powerful concept that has been developed over many years and it would be wonderful if we could be absolutely sure that it will work. The humanitarian risks associated with these weapons are extremely powerful arguments that challenge the notion that nuclear deterrence will always work. We need to have a conversation about what happens if that is not the case. It is impossible to make progress on disarmament if the concept of nuclear deterrence is sacrosanct. Of course, this goes the other way too. If it can be proven that nuclear deterrence will always work and is the absolute security guarantee, well I will probably shut up.
With the addition of cyber issues, hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence we need to ask the nuclear weapons states at what stage will their perspective on deterrence start to tilt? I strongly believe that nuclear disarmament is not going to happen unless countries that rely on these weapons are willing to challenge the dogmatic view of nuclear deterrence. I think, at the end of the day, that this will only be possible once everyone has agreed that these weapons are too terrible and the concept of nuclear deterrence is too risky.
I think it’s important
to remember that every single country in the world has a legitimate
security interest. And every single person in the world has a
legitimate security interest. But that does not mean that it is
acceptable to threaten the mass murder of civilians to protect
yourself, not on an individual basis, not on a country basis.
It is easy to forget that this is a question of power and the powerful countries get to dominate, and we somehow have to respect their security interests, but ignore those of the people and other countries. We talk a lot about leadership and lack of leadership, but I don’t see a lack of leadership. There are a lot of leaders out there, we just have to choose who we look to.
Change is always uncomfortable. There will never be a day when the nuclear arms states will find it comfortable to give up their nuclear weapons. They were created during the Cold War, the whole justification was the Cold War, but when the Cold War was over, they invented new justifications, just as power always does. The moment of going from relying on weapons of mass destruction to not relying on them, will always be difficult and there will always be people opposing it.
We cannot wait for the nuclear arms states and the nuclear umbrella states to lead on this issue. That is why we have to look to the treaty as that new creative solution that has momentum and energy, because once that shift happens, just like with gender equality and anti-racism, even the people in power will realize that actually this is better.
I have a lot of hope for the future. I think sometimes we think that only 100% success, total elimination of nuclear weapons, is good enough. That is a depressing mentality to have, because we don’t know if this is working. We do know, however, that not doing anything is not working. Moreover, if there was no civil society, no activists and no governments taking a position, we would probably have already seen nuclear war. So this is essential work to prevent what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening again. Every Tweet, every government that ratifies the treaty, every petition we sign, every parliamentarian that asks a question, every city that joins us, every bank that divests; each step pushes us forward. We don’t know which action will be the decisive one, but we do know the direction in which we have to move and we must do everything we can to make our contribution.
Trying to bring in new perspectives and dimensions to the debate is very important. The humanitarian dimension has existed since just after the bombing, but the TPNW utilized this dimension in a new way that has been very successful. Ms Nakamitsu’s appointment is also an example from this, as she was brought in from outside to shake up the disarmament debate. We do have to challenge the theory of nuclear deterrence and at the same time work to find alternative security strategies for the nuclear power states and the umbrella nuclear power states. To do this, we need to have a good understanding of the motivations and needs of the other side.
The role of women and minorities in the campaign
Gender parity and increasing diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it leads to better decisions being made. When I joined the UN and was first deployed as a peacekeeper in Bosnia there were challenges as there were virtually no women there, but I don’t feel I was discriminated against. I encourage young women to join the ranks and the UN is working very hard to promote gender parity and transparency.
I agree with Ms. Nakamitsu, but we also need to be careful we don’t just add more women and minorities to imperfect power structures, but change the structures themselves. I experienced being dismissed as young and naive, but I see that changing as younger people have more confidence, but I still feel my views are sometimes dismissed as naive and feminine, while the same arguments made by my male colleagues are viewed as rational.
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