How does disarmament contribute to the SDGs?
July 17, 2020
“The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.” This message in an exhibition at the UN Headquarters in New York shows the reality of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that trillions of dollars of weapons purchased worldwide in the name of “defense” or “security” are useless before the viruses that threaten lives of people.
In 2007 I had a privilege to live in Costa Rica, which abolished armed forces in 1948 and since then has made efforts to maintain peace with non-military means such as diplomacy and international law. Costa Rican people all said to me that “military does not defend people.” Even elementary school children said that “it harms people with weapons.” I still wonder why so many people, especially national leaders, do not recognize this simple truth.
In this paper, I consider how disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament contributes to the SDGs, especially peace (Goal 16). First, I envisage a goal of peace and its actors. Second, I consider how disarmament in general contributes to peace. Third, I mention relations between nuclear disarmament and the SDGs. Forth, I give my view on nuclear deterrence, which has disturbed disarmament. Finally, I propose universalization of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as an action to be taken at national and international levels, and peace and disarmament education at local and individual levels.
1. A goal of peace and actors
Peace is not only absence of war but also presence of freedom, human rights, and sustainable environment. I learned that Costa Rican people think of peace linked to happiness in their daily lives such as time with family, understanding such values as freedom, human rights and sustainable environment are on basis. Karen Olsen de Figueres, wife of Jose Figueres, who led Costa Rica to abolish its army taught me that “peace is not born but established.” This changed my image of peace completely. Until then I had imagined that peace was like something that came from the distance.
Moreover, it is individuals as well as states who establish peace. Article 1 of the UN Declaration on the Right to Peace provides that “everyone has the right to enjoy peace such that all human rights are promoted and protected and development is fully realized.” This can be interpreted that each individual is in a position to exercise the right to peace.
2. Disarmament to peace
As the UN Disarmament Agenda mentions, disarmament plays a vital role in peace. First, it disables governments and non-state actors from fighting an armed conflict. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution renounces war potential as well as war itself. This has guaranteed those who suffered the scourge of war inside and outside Japan and their succeeding generations, that the tragedy would not be repeated, because it is impossible to fight a war without military. Thus, disarmament provides a direct approach to peace.
Second, disarmament discourages others to attack yourself. Costa Rica also prohibits its standing army in Article 12 of its constitution, and has long promoted international disarmament negotiation, based on its non-armed pacifism. When the use or threat of use of force is prohibited under Article 2 paragraph 4 of the UN Charter, it is difficult to find a reason for attacking an unarmed country. In this way Costa Rica has strategically defended itself.
Third, disarmament contributes to resolve conflicts. Non-armed pacifism helped Costa Rica to gain trust as an arbitrator of the regional conflicts in Central America in 1980s because they were unwilling and unable to threaten the parties to obey by force.
3. Nuclear disarmament and SDGs
In a view of non-armed pacifism, nuclear disarmament is one of urgent challenges, because such weapons of mass destruction are extreme violence against the Goal 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) and therefore incompatible with any of SDGs. A single nuclear weapon, kills hundreds of thousands of people as it happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It deprives survivors of good health and well-being (Goal 3). It harms life below water (Goal 14) and life on land (Goal 15) with radioactivity. Estimated sharp decline in agricultural products invokes starvation (Goal 2). It also causes irreparable damage on natural environment and undermines efforts to counter climate change (Goal 13).
Although nuclear weapons influence many of the SDGs as I mentioned above, I see the elimination of nuclear weapons as a cornerstone for peace. Below I would like to explain how nuclear disarmament contributes to peace (Goal 16). First, decreasing number of nuclear warheads is the most effective step toward a world without nuclear weapons. Second, putting weapons off alert contributes to avoid accidental or miscalculated detonation resulting in catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Third, stopping to modernize and upgrading arsenals prevents more serious damage in case of being used, and saves a large amount of money that otherwise could be spent for the SDGs. Forth, verification enhances transparency and mitigates hostility, contributing to mutual trust and common security.
4. Nuclear deterrence
Deterrence has been a main purpose of possessing nuclear weapons for decades, but it goes contrary to peace.
First, nuclear deterrence deteriorates security environment as a whole. Nuclear-weapon states and their allies still see the nuclear deterrence as an important security policy. The US and Russia have restarted nuclear arms race, seeking new types of weapons to be used if needed. The escalated tension between the nuclear-armed states has made the world more dangerous and unstable. The national security policies for a few nuclear-weapon states take hostage that of the entire world.
Second, nuclear deterrence worsens its own security. Strengthening one’s arsenal to deter an enemy attack increases hostility and induces the enemy to do the same. This leads to intensify the threat to its own security.
5. Action at national and international level: Universalization of TPNW
The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is a landmark progress in nuclear disarmament. It prohibits State Parties under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
Although nuclear-armed states and umbrella states are not willing to join the TPNW, its entry into force and increase in number of State Parties would further strengthen the legal norm against nuclear weapons and would raise the threshold for their use or threatened use because such an act could invoke international condemnation against it. For this purpose, it is an effective way to push governments to give up nuclear deterrence and join the TPNW.
6. Action at local and individual levels: Peace and disarmament education
What should we do now? The first step is to understand that we need to abolish nuclear weapons. For this purpose, listening to atomic-bomb survivors, the Hibakusha, and knowing what happened to them could be a starting point. Most of those who have had a chance to meet the Hibakusha or visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, come to think that this tragedy must never be repeated and nuclear weapons should be abolished. The most important thing is to understand that the tragedy could happen to ourselves. They were ordinary people just like ourselves and were enjoying everyday lives until the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two bombs deprived them of their physical and mental health, loved ones, and daily lives. They are still, even 75 years after the bombing, suffering from radiation-caused diseases. This is not a problem of the past or only for the Hibakusha, but our own, because over 13,000 nuclear weapons continue to threaten the whole humanity.
The second step is to find what we can do. This is preferable to be easy so that everyone can start at once. When I was a high school student, I had a chance to participate in a peace workshop. Then I learned from a third-generation Hibakusha of Nagasaki about problems of nuclear weapons and “The 10,000 High School Students Signature Campaign.” After the workshop, the participants started to collect signatures locally. I took courage to speak up in front of schoolmates. To my surprise, many friends accepted my appeal kindly and some collected signatures of their neighbors. Thanks to their help, I proudly sent hundreds of signatures. This experience made me believe that I had something to be able to do.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person events were cancelled, but online meetings have spread at an amazing speed. This also gave opportunities for those who could not attend otherwise including working mothers like myself. Online tools help both the elderly Hibakusha who have difficulty in traveling and those who cannot afford to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Opportunities to learn from the Hibakusha and activists at schools and local communities would educate people to pursue and act toward a world without nuclear weapons and war. In a long term, this would be a driving force to elect political leaders who support the TPNW. Thus, peace and disarmament education would help individuals to take a step forward.
Finally, I desire to hand over a world without nuclear weapons to next generations. As a mother, I wish my children and their friends to imagine what there will be in the world without nuclear weapons and how to maintain it.
*This article was prepared for the “UN 75 in Hiroshima” event hosted by Hiroshima Prefectural government. Although I was not able to provide this presentation at the event as a result of the final screening, JALANA granted me an opportunity to publish it on this website.