Obama’s Prague Agenda Is for Youth to Inherit

Masako Toki
April 18, 2014

View the full article from Kyodo News:
Obama’s Prague agenda is for youth to inherit

President Obama’s Prague Speech

President Obama in Prague, prague.usembassy.gov

President Obama in Prague, prague.usembassy.gov

Since President Obama made his momentous Prague speech five years ago calling for a world without nuclear weapons, people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to request that the president visit their cities.

While many feel that Obama’s Prague agenda has lost momentum in the face of the harsh realities of both international security and domestic politics, it is fair to say that significant progress has been made on both the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation fronts.

Progress in Nuclear Disarmament & Nonproliferation

On the heels of the fifth anniversary of the Prague speech the Ministerial Meeting of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) was held in Hiroshima on April 11-12.

Rose Gottemoeller, US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, the first representative from a nuclear weapon state to attend an NPDI meeting, delivered a statement confirming America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, as President Obama had pledged in Prague.

It is significant that the Ministerial Meeting of the NPDI, which was established in 2010 at the initiative of Japan and Australia and comprises 12 non-nuclear weapons states striving for a world without nuclear weapons, took place in one of the cities that was devastated by a nuclear weapon.

The Hiroshima Declaration that was adopted at the Ministerial Meeting called for world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to witness the consequences of using such weapons.

The Prague speech, which came at a time when confidence in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was at an all-time low, contributed to a possible breakthrough in the stalled nuclear disarmament process.

There are no other cities that welcomed President Obama’s speech with stronger enthusiasm than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His powerful speech not only laid out a concrete path to strengthen nonproliferation regimes, but also imparted tremendous hope in those who sincerely believe a world without nuclear weapons can be realized.

The following words spoken by the president resonated in many people’s hearts, especially those of Japanese: “…as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” I could not recall any other incumbent US president mentioning a moral responsibility in the context of nuclear weapons’ use.

Japan’s National Security

At the same time, this also generated some concerns in Japan, which is protected under US extended nuclear deterrence. Japan’s reliance on the US nuclear umbrella is a pillar of the country’s national security policy and is often criticized both domestically and internationally as undermining the goal of a nuclear-free world.

The increased US and international interest in the nuclear disarmament process has created mixed feelings in Japan. To mitigate this concern, President Obama clearly assured in his speech that the United States will guarantee that defense to its allies.

Contrary to Tokyo’s official policy, a majority of the general public hopes that the Japanese government will pursue security without relying on the US nuclear umbrella.

The Importance of Education

Overcoming the dilemma between disarmament advocacy and reliance on nuclear deterrence is not easy. It will only be resolved through tenacious efforts to educate succeeding generations.

The vision that President Obama cast by his Prague speech can be realized only if young people continue to forge ahead toward this goal.

As the president stated, “This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence.” These words allude to the important role of education to accomplish a world free of nuclear weapons.

In this regard, it was encouraging that high school students were invited to the NPDI side-events, where they shared their views with the NPDI foreign ministers in Hiroshima.

For my work at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute I have the privilege of implementing a project to promote disarmament and nonproliferation education to high school students around the world, including the United States, Japan and Russia.

Earlier in April, we organized a students’ conference where over 70 students and teachers gathered to discuss their vision for the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Among them was a Youth Special Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons from Hiroshima who was also invited to the NPDI meeting.

The power and promise of education to achieve this goal should be more widely recognized by world leaders. When President Obama visits Japan for the first time in more than three years, the time will be right to highlight the importance of education in moving toward a world without nuclear weapons, following the significant NPDI meeting in Hiroshima.

Comments Are Closed