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Eminent Buddhist Leader Urges Halt to Nuclear Weapons and Killer Robots


By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | TOKYO (IDN) – In the run-up to the forthcoming round of crucial talks on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Buddhist philosopher, educator and a staunch advocate of nuclear disarmament, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, has called for easing tensions to halt further escalation of the conflict over nuclear weapons development. [2019-04-19] JAPANESE | SPANISH | CHINESE

Underlining the importance of the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) from April 29 to May 10, 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, Dr. Ikeda has urged the need to gather the support of States parties for multilateral efforts toward nuclear disarmament. 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the accord.

In a wide-ranging interview with International Press Syndicate’s flagship agency IDN, he also expressed the ‘strong’ hope that the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by 122 states on July 7, 2017 will enter into force by August 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dr. Ikeda is President of the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the world’s largest Buddhist lay organization with approximately 12 million practitioners in 192 countries and territories. He has submitted 19 Peace Proposals to the UN since the beginning of the 21st century.

Following is the complete text of the E-Mail interview with Dr. Ikeda:

Question: What would you like us to regard as the central message of your 2019 peace proposal, “Toward a New Era of Peace and Disarmament: A People-Centered Approach,” to the upcoming PrepCom for the 2020 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference?

Answer: The 2020 NPT Review Conference will mark the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT. The world is standing at a crucial crossroads between returning to an intense nuclear arms race and reducing tensions in order to realize nuclear disarmament.

Of particular concern is the fact that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, once a symbol of the end of the Cold War, is on the brink of termination. Both the United States and Russia have announced suspension of their compliance with the Treaty, which will terminate in August if the confrontation between them remains unresolved.

Prospects for the United States and Russia agreeing to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), due to expire in February 2021, are also uncertain. The world is facing the growing possibility of losing the framework for nuclear disarmament.

During the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva held in February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his concern: “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War.” I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Question: What do you think the NPT PrepCom should explore in order to prevent such a turn of events?

Answer: It is urgent that the upcoming session explore ways to ease tensions to stop further escalation of the conflict over nuclear weapons development. Measures to increase momentum for nuclear disarmament should also be discussed.

In our dialogue, “Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century,” Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who played an instrumental role in realizing the INF Treaty in 1987, described the global situation at the time: “We had to discover how to ensure our own security and lift the threat of nuclear self-destruction.” This, coupled with U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s belief that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” enabled both countries to embark on nuclear disarmament.

Looking back, the same vision was already in place at the inception of the NPT. The preamble highlights the need to make every effort to avert the danger of a nuclear war, and Article 6 stipulates the obligation to pursue good faith negotiations toward nuclear disarmament. As I stressed in my peace proposal this year, it is essential that the spirit of the NPT be reaffirmed if we are to break through the persistent impasse of the nuclear problem.

In a statement made at the April 2018 PrepCom for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, the Nordic countries urged states to focus on what united them, saying: “We have to join forces to maintain and strengthen the relevance of the [NPT] and refrain from any action which may undermine it.” I think that commitment to the obligation stipulated in Article 6 of the NPT is what binds the global community together in this regard.

As the bilateral framework for nuclear disarmament is on the verge of collapse, there is an urgent need to return to the original spirit of the NPT and bring together the voices of the States parties to call for multilateral efforts toward nuclear disarmament. To achieve this, constructive discussions must take place with sufficient attention given to “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons,” the shared concern expressed in the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

The UN Disarmament Agenda presented by Secretary-General Guterres in May 2018 set forth a new perspective for the resolution of the nuclear problem—“disarmament to save humanity.” I urge states to share this vision at the 2020 Review Conference and strive to build a foundation for launching multinational negotiations for nuclear disarmament based on Article 6 of the NPT.

Question: What do you think would help the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to come into force as soon as possible?

Answer: The TPNW has so far been signed by 70 states and ratified by 23 states since it was adopted at the UN in July 2017.

Even though it has long been said that it is impossible to prohibit nuclear weapons, powerful support from civil society, including the world’s hibakusha (victims of nuclear weapons) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which the SGI is an international partner, made the establishment of the Treaty possible. The number of States parties is steadily growing.

The entry into force of the TPNW requires the ratification of 50 countries. I strongly hope that this will be achieved by August 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How nuclear-dependent states act will be key to whether the TPNW can enter into force at an early date, and, with a further significant increase in the number of States parties, become a universal treaty.

To encourage nuclear-weapon states to change their policies, it will be essential that nuclear-dependent states demonstrate a solid will in calling for a world without nuclear weapons. From this standpoint, I suggested in my peace proposal this year the creation of a group of like-minded states, Friends of the TPNW, and urged Japan—as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack in wartime— to participate in this group and support the Treaty.

According to Norwegian People’s Aid, a partner of ICAN, 155 states already adhere to the prohibitions against developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, receiving the transfer of, using, threatening to use, allowing any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons and assisting or receiving any assistance to engage in any activity prohibited under the Treaty. In other words, nearly 80 percent of the states of the world, including many that have not yet ratified the TPNW, have implemented security policies conforming to the prohibitions it sets forth.

If, in addition to these countries, nuclear-dependent states began working to overcome obstacles preventing them from joining the Treaty, the momentum toward a world without nuclear weapons would become truly solid. Moreover, if Friends of the TPNW could further deepen recent discussions within the international community concerning the threat and humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, this would be greatly helpful in spanning the chasm between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. I believe that Japan should take the initiative and serve as a bridge in these efforts.

Question: What do you think should be the focus of discussions to resolve differences of opinion over the TPNW? In particular, what would you like Japan to undertake to enable the process to move faster?

Answer The Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament, established by Japan in 2017, had its fourth meeting in Kyoto in March. The experts from nuclear-weapon, nuclear-dependent and non-nuclear-weapon states who participated in discussions at this meeting raised a new issue. Namely, changes in the security environment engendered by the development of cyber technology and precision weapons are affecting the relevance of the notion of nuclear deterrence. Some participants pointed out that awareness of these changes could create common ground for discussion between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states.

The Japan NGO Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, in which the Soka Gakkai Peace Committee participates, offered the following recommendations from Japanese civil society to the fourth meeting of the Group of Eminent Persons (EPG): “The expansion of the international norm of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, and the creation of the TPNW within this context, are historic achievements. The EPG must clearly make note and place these achievements as the factual basis for interstate dialogue.”

The role Japan can play in nuclear disarmament is also drawing attention from the world of faith. In this sense, it is significant that His Holiness Pope Francis plans to visit the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in November.

The SGI would like to continue working with other NGOs and faith-based organizations to broaden global solidarity in support of the TPNW in order to achieve its entry into force in 2020, marking humanity’s departure from the nuclear age, 75 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Question: While nuclear weapons are being modernized, lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) are beginning to pose a grave threat to international peace and security. What do you think can be done?

Answer: LAWS, also called Artificial Intelligence (AI) weapons or robot weapons, are under development in several countries but have not yet been deployed.

An international framework must be created to ban their development or deployment before any atrocity takes place. I have been warning of the threat they present from a humanitarian and ethical perspective because these weapons, when given a command to attack, automatically go on killing with no hesitation or pangs of conscience.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a civil society coalition of which the SGI became a member in 2018, is working to ban the development and use of LAWS. Concern over the security and militaristic consequences of these weapons is growing in the international community. If any country were to deploy them for military use, the impact would be equivalent to that of the advent of nuclear weapons and radically transform the global security environment.

The UN Disarmament Agenda warns against the threat posed by LAWS, as the incorporation of AI may cause such weapons to perform “unanticipated or unexplainable actions.” Despite widespread concern, different countries have varying views over an international ban on these weapons. Although the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS) has been working under the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) since 2017, its fourth meeting held in March in Geneva was unable to make any concrete progress because of wide gaps in opinion.

However, states and civil society presented important perspectives at this meeting, which could serve as the groundwork for further discussions. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) emphasized: “Human control at all three stages, in design (development stage) and in use (activation and operation stages), is essential for compliance with IHL [International Humanitarian Law].” Human Rights Watch pointed out that while existing IHL establishes fundamental rules regarding civilian protection, accountability and ethical considerations, “it was not designed for situations in which life-and-death decisions were delegated to machines.”

Most states seemed to agree on the crucial importance of “ensuring appropriate levels of human judgment in decisions to use force” despite their differing views on prohibition. It should also be noted that Japan, which has repeatedly stated it has no plan to develop LAWS, highlighted the concerns of civil society regarding these weapons.

On the other hand, states reluctant to prohibit LAWS argued that technological advances in precision targeting would reduce civilian casualties in the event of use of such weapons. I cannot help but perceive the same kind of mentality in their argument as that which seeks to develop “clean” and “smart” nuclear weapons. The fundamental premise must be that assuming a distinction between “good” LAWS and “bad” LAWS will have serious consequences in the light of the spirit of International Humanitarian Law.

In its Statement to the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls for a legally binding instrument to prohibit fully autonomous weapons from the standpoints of international humanitarian and human rights law and in terms of moral and ethical objections raised over these weapons. It also stresses, to prevent an arms race, the need to stop development before it goes too far.

Question: Specifically, what do you see as the most dangerous aspect of LAWS?

Answer: As I stated in my peace proposal, LAWS would create not only a physical disconnect – the situation in which those who direct attacks and those who are targeted are not in the same place, as already seen in the case of drone strikes – but also an ethical disconnect, completely isolating the initiator of the attack from the actual combat operation. This blatantly goes against human dignity and the right to life, principles established in the international community that are rooted in the lessons of two world wars and numerous tragedies of the last century. I cannot emphasize enough that we must not overlook the ethical disconnect inherent in LAWS.

If LAWS were to be used in actual combat, would there be any room for deep remorse over one’s actions, which must be felt by many of those who have engaged in combat, a poignant sense of powerlessness in the face of war or a personal resolution to dedicate oneself to peace for the sake of future generations?

In a world of AI-controlled weapons systems, there would be no chance of the complicated feelings that cross the lines of friend and foe arising, nor the weight of humanity bearing down… Would it then be possible to hold off, even for a moment, the decision to attack?

Fully autonomous robotic weapons would lower the threshold for military action. This could not only inflict catastrophic damage but also drastically limit possibilities for post-conflict reconciliation between former enemies. While they would be different in nature from nuclear weapons, any use of fully autonomous weapons would have irreversible consequences for both the country using them and the country they are used against.

Therefore, I strongly urge all parties to come together to work for the early adoption of a legally binding instrument comprehensively prohibiting the development and use of LAWS. Some argue that it is not easy to create a framework to ban weapons that are still in the development stage and yet to be deployed. But there is a precedent – blinding laser weapons were prohibited by a CCW protocol prior to deployment.

With keen awareness of the true nature of fully automated weapons, the SGI would like to continue working tenaciously to build international opinion calling for the prohibition of the development and use of LAWS. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 April 2019]

Photo: Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun.

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