An Interview with Dr. David Krieger, President of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
1. How do you think civil society has influenced international efforts for abolition of nuclear weapons over recent years?
I think civil society has been very influential in the achievement of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In doing so, they have worked closely with like-minded countries, those that are tired of hearing excuses from the nuclear-armed countries about why they cannot fulfill their Non-Proliferation Treaty nuclear disarmament obligations. I think that Abolition 2000, which is a network formed in 1995, has helped to pave the way for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). I also think that the Middle Powers Initiative, in which a small number of key civil society organizations worked closely with middle power countries, helped lay the groundwork for the civil society-governmental cooperation that ICAN used so successfully in achieving the TPNW. ICAN itself had over 450 civil society organizations in its campaign. It has been civil society, the voice of the people from throughout the world, that has kept hope alive throughout the Nuclear Age. I don’t think there are people anywhere who want to become victims of nuclear warfare. ICAN and other civil society organizations have given voice to the reasonable hopes and desires of people everywhere. The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize recognizes all who have spoken out for a world free of nuclear weapons, including importantly the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and those who suffered the folly of the many decades of nuclear testing.
2. Setsuko Thurlow said that adoption of the TPNW is a beginning of the end of nuclear weapons. And our era has been characterized as the “nuclear age” with such weapons. Can you share with us what “nuclear age” means?
Different eras have been called by different names; for example, the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. I believe that our time is best thought of as the Nuclear Age. It is the predominant technology of our time and the greatest threat to the human future. For me, the Nuclear Age represents a time in which our technologies have become powerful enough to destroy humankind. It requires us to achieve new and higher standards of ethics and morality. It requires us, as Einstein suggested, to change our modes of thinking or face “unparalleled catastrophe.” Our challenge now is to get out of the Nuclear Age with our world still intact.
Setsuko Thurlow is a wise and compassionate woman. She is a recipient of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award and a member of our Advisory Council. I respect her tremendously, but I think it is still too soon to know if the TPNW is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons. It may be, but it is not yet clear, and may become clear only in retrospect. The nuclear-armed countries are still fighting the Treaty, and not yet showing any real signs of sanity when it comes to nuclear weapons abolition. As an example, the US, UK and France issued a joint statement when the TPNW was adopted at the United Nations, in which they said they would not sign, ratify or ever become parties to the Treaty. Right now these nuclear-armed countries are digging in their heels and refusing to cooperate with the vast majority of the world when it comes to nuclear disarmament.
3. You have said: “Hope does not just occur. It is a conscious choice, an act of will. One must choose hope in the face of all we know.” Can you expand more about hope?
I still believe that hope is a conscious choice. Hope gives us the power to act, and our actions, in turn, reinforce our hope. Without hope, we might just fall into despair and stop trying to make the world right. I also think that Beatrice Fihn is correct when she says that we have a choice to make: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us. That’s the stark choice that nuclear weapons present to us. It is essentially the choice presented in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels?”
I’m not sure that we can change the minds of the leaders and politicians in the nuclear-possessing countries. If we really want to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, we would be better off changing out the leaders and politicians who will not recognize the abolition of nuclear weapons as an urgent goal. Current leaders in nuclear-possessing countries are locked into old ways of thinking. We need leaders who are committed to ending the nuclear weapons threat to all humanity. To bring such leaders into positions of authority will require a much stronger people’s movement. We must continue to build such a movement and never give up.
4. As a Buddhist faith-based organization, SGI has been working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons from the moral and ethical perspective by raising public awareness. What do you think about the efforts made by SGI?
I hold SGI’s work on nuclear weapons abolition in very high regard. In the early days of Abolition 2000, SGI gathered more than 13 million signatures on the Abolition 2000 petition to end the nuclear weapons threat, support a new abolition treaty and reallocate resources from nuclear weapons to meeting human needs. I was honored to present these petitions to the chair of the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Since then, we’ve worked closely with SGI on many other nuclear abolition issues.
SGI brings a moral perspective to nuclear weapons, going back to Soka Gakkai’s second president, Josei Toda, who called nuclear weapons an “absolute evil.” SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has always been mindful of this and has been committed to achieving the abolition of nuclear weapons. I was particularly pleased that we could work closely with SGI in supporting the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Zero lawsuits against the nuclear-armed countries. I also appreciate the moral perspective that SGI brings to bear on nuclear weapons issues.
5. SGI launched a new campaign titled “People’s DecadeⅡ” this year. What do you expect from SGI with regard to the campaign?
The SGI campaign “People’s Decade II” is very much needed. The more people are engaged in the nuclear abolition movement, the more progress will be made. A decade-long campaign is enough time to make some real progress through a focus on disarmament education. For example, it should be more than enough time to achieve the 50 ratifications needed for the TPNW to enter into force. It is also enough time to make progress
on empowering the people in nuclear-armed countries and their allies to stand up and speak out for a world free of nuclear weapons, and to demand both leadership and progress toward this goal from their countries.
I would offer five brief pieces of advice. First, focus on youth, the leaders of tomorrow, helping to support them in becoming the leaders of today. Second, add some advocacy elements to the education. Help people, through education, to express their activism. Third, look into the NAPF Peace Literacy Program headed by Paul Chappell. It’s a very exciting new program which holds great promise for creating new peace leaders. Fourth, help people to understand the importance of choosing hope. Fifth, instill in the young people the importance of never giving up.