We are living in an era marked by an absence of values, in which no measure of worth other than the monetary is recognized. Discussions of poverty and income disparity, for example, are cast solely in terms of monetary values, making them needlessly sterile and soulless.
Growing income disparities are an undeniable fact, and legal and systemic measures to create and maintain a social safety net are of course essential. However, these respond only to the symptoms, when more fundamental, curative measures are required. To ensure the genuine and lasting effectiveness of our response, a spiritual undergirding--a fundamental reevaluation of our priorities--is necessary.
We need to develop the awareness that the standard of values that judges human worth solely on the basis of economic capacity represents the effective absence of values. We need to ask ourselves why there is such pervasive pessimism and nihilism in advanced industrial societies.
When science and technology are divorced from the question of value, they are subject to no real control and potentially pose a deadly peril to human society. If this tendency is left unchecked, the consequences for humanity could be truly dire. The nightmare unleashed through the development of nuclear weapons technologies demonstrates all too clearly the immensity of the danger.
We need to replace this nihilism and pessimism with a new sense of value that will open the door to a new era; religion can be a source of energy to achieve this. There is a need for the kind of religion that is compatible with and embraces the insights of science, but can serve to guide and restrain those technologies which, if misused, have the potential to wreak devastation on humankind.
A key function of religion is to help people replant their feet firmly in the here and now, enabling an out-of-control civilization to realize its needed course correction. The here and now is the foundation and pivot of all aspects of human activity. If we lose sight of this and base ourselves in a virtual world, we end up the slaves of the very technologies that we ourselves created.
Toward a world without nuclear weapons
The year 2010 will be critical in terms of finding a path toward the resolution of global issues, with a number of important international meetings scheduled, including the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in May.
U.S. President Barack Obama has signaled a potentially fundamental transformation in the status of nuclear weapons. In his speech in Prague, the Czech Republic, in April 2009, he provided an important new impetus to long-deadlocked efforts for nuclear disarmament by calling for a world without nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons embody the deepest negative impulses of the human heart. The work of abolishing them is laden with profound difficulties, and it is unrealistic to expect rapid or simple progress. It is vital to maintain an approach that is both flexible and persistent.
The time has come for the nuclear-weapon states to develop a shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons and to break free from the spell of deterrence. A new kind of thinking is needed, one based on working together to reduce threats and creating ever-expanding circles of physical and psychological security until these embrace the entire world.
The nuclear-weapon states should evince their resolve to move beyond deterrence by undertaking the following three commitments at the 2010 NPT Review Conference and working to fully implement them by 2015.
- To reach a legally binding agreement to extend negative security assurances--the undertaking not to use nuclear weapons against any of the non-nuclear-weapon states fulfilling their obligations under the NPT.
- To initiate negotiation on a treaty codifying the promise not to use nuclear weapons against each other.
- Where nuclear-weapon-free zones have yet to be established, and as a bridging measure toward their establishment, to take steps to declare them nuclear non-use regions.
In addition to expanding the frameworks defining the legal obligation not to use nuclear weapons in this way, it is also necessary to further clarify the norm that nuclear weapons are indeed weapons that must never be used. To achieve this, the threat or use of nuclear weapons should be included among the war crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The establishment of this norm will clear the way toward the abolition of nuclear weapons--the fervent desire of people the world over.
In addition, we need to create a system, based on the United Nations Charter, for the General Assembly and the Security Council to work together for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Article 26 of the UN Charter states that the Security Council has responsibility for formulating plans for regulating armaments in order to promote the maintenance of international peace and security, minimizing the diversion of the world's human and economic resources for armaments. However, to date the Security Council has failed to fulfill this role. It is time that new efforts be made to fully implement Article 26 so that the Security Council fulfills its disarmament obligations, strengthening impetus toward nuclear abolition and the demilitarization of our planet.
None of these proposals will be easy to implement, but all of them build on existing institutional foundations. They are by no means unreachable goals. The NPT Review Conference should initiate movement toward these goals, and such efforts should culminate in a nuclear abolition summit in 2015--held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki--which would effectively signal the end of the era of nuclear weapons.
The impact of the current economic crisis on the more vulnerable members of society has been particularly severe. There are growing concerns that new humanitarian crises may arise in different parts of the world unless targeted assistance addressing the needs of these populations is provided. Three concrete areas where measures should be taken concern employment, children and the empowerment of women.
Human dignity is gravely threatened when individuals are unemployed or work under inhumane or degrading conditions, or if lack of job security makes it impossible to plan for the future. The G20 should take responsibility to be the driving force for global employment recovery. One means to achieve this would be the establishment of a task force dedicated to promoting decent work and the Global Jobs Pact under the G20 umbrella.
It is children who are forced to pay the highest price when their societies face a crisis. There are concerns over the increasing numbers of children who are denied access to adequate nutrition and health care or are forced to quit school in order to work. UNICEF has advocated child-friendly schools and the building of classrooms that can withstand earthquakes and storms. Schools should function as a refuge to protect children from various threats--as strongholds of human security--and become a venue for fostering children as protagonists of a new culture of peace.
Finally, girls' education has a crucial impact on all aspects of human development. Empowering a girl through education will lead to a brighter future for herself, her family and her children, eventually permeating society as a whole with the light of hope. We need to establish an internationally administered fund dedicated to realizing a better future for women, in which a portion of developing countries' debts is forgiven and the equivalent amount allocated to girls' education.
In all these efforts, the key is the power of dialogue and engagement to awaken that which is best in each individual. Just as there is no easy path to learning, there is no easy path to the realization of good. We must root ourselves firmly in reality, deliberately taking on difficult challenges, ceaselessly training and forging ourselves in the "smelting furnace" of spiritual struggle and earnest engagement with others.
There is always a way, a path to the peak of even the most towering and forbidding mountain. What is most strongly required of us is the imagination that can appreciate the present crises as an opportunity to fundamentally transform the direction of history.