The convenor of the group, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, said Monday, "The quest to eliminate nuclear weapons cannot begin to succeed without the determined engagement of policymakers in the Asia-Pacific region."
The largest number of declared and undeclared nuclear powers is in Asia: China, India, Pakistan and possibly North Korea.
"While nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, they can and must be outlawed, as chemical and biological weapons have been," said a statement released by the newly inaugurated Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).
"We believe that we have a particular responsibility to work for change in the Asia Pacific region," said a joint statement from the group, which includes five former prime ministers and 10 former foreign and defence ministers.
The signatories include James Bolger, former prime minister of New Zealand; Malcolm Fraser, ex-prime minister of Australia; Yasuo Fukuda, former prime minister of Japan; and Geoffrey Palmer, ex-prime minister of New Zealand.
Focusing primarily on Asia, the statement says as the world's economic, political and security centres of gravity shift inexorably here, "our stake in a secure world order – and obligation to contribute with ideas, policy proposals and vision to that end – have grown commensurately".
What happens in the Asian region impacts every dimension of the global nuclear agenda.
"We have shown the way forward with nuclear weapons-free zones in the Treaties of Raratonga and Bangkok, but also have – in South Asia and the Korean Peninsula – two of the world's most acute areas of nuclear tension."
John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS that Evans's initiative in forming ALPN comes at a crucial time.
He said there are indeed very serious challenges to be overcome in this key region, among them the Pakistan-India nuclear arms race and North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
"The region's growing reliance on nuclear power is another," he added.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States are now discussing ROK's desire, opposed by the U.S., to acquire its own capability to produce fuel for nuclear reactors, he pointed out.
Building such a capability would exacerbate the problems of denuclearising North Korea, he added.
ALPN's proposal for international or multinational control of nuclear fuel production may offer a partial solution.
But ALPN shies away from the more fundamental solution of transitioning away from nuclear power, said Burroughs.
The APLN statement also said that existing nuclear arsenals amount to some 23,000 weapons, with a combined destructive capacity of 150,000 Hiroshima bombs, noting, "That nuclear peace has held since 1946 owes more to good luck than good stewardship."
In a today's world of multiple nuclear-armed states, significant regional tensions, command and control systems of varying sophistication, potentially destabilising new cyber technology and continuing development of more modern (including smaller and potentially more useable weapons), it cannot be assumed that such luck will continue, the statement warned.
Terasaki Hirotsugu, executive director for Peace Affairs at the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International, told IPS it is clear that Asia has a critical role to play in achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
"I support the views expressed in the APLN statement on this point," he added. Shared efforts to reduce the perception of threat and build trust are crucial.
To this end, he said, it is vital to open and maintain avenues of communication at all levels – diplomatic, academic, cultural and otherwise.
"Only patient, persistent efforts in this field can break down the walls of fear and mistrust that drive governments to seek and maintain nuclear weapons," said Hirotsugu, whose organisation has been leading an intense campaign for a nuclear weapons-free world.
He also said that multilayered efforts to build trust ultimately hold the key to achieving denuclearisation in South and Northeast Asia.
Besides Asia, the Middle East has been dominated by a single nuclear power: Israel, which has refused to publicly declare its status.
But that domination has been threatened by Iran, which Western powers say is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, an assertion denied by the Iranians.
The world's five declared nuclear weapons states, under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), are the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Burroughs told IPS the formation of ALPN also is a welcome boost to the global nuclear disarmament enterprise, which has faltered since New START, the modest U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement of 2010.
ALPN says that the use of indiscriminately inhumane nuclear weapons is an affront to every fundamental principle of international humanitarian law.
"While the ALPN stops short of advocating commencement of negotiations on a global ban on nuclear weapons, it does call for developing the elements of the Nuclear Weapons Convention supported by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon," said Burroughs.
Hirotsugu told IPS that in Northeast Asia, local governments, such as of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as peace, faith-based and citizens' organisations are all engaged in activities based on their particular strengths and concerns.
The shared strength of all these actors is that they have the potential to look beyond national horizons and to represent the concerns of ordinary citizens, with varying degrees of independence from official stances and national policies, he said.
In Northeast Asia, cross-border communication and collaboration among such movements are growing, with the potential to help unlock long-standing diplomatic stalemates.
"I have to believe that similar or even greater potential exists among the civil societies movements of South Asia," he declared.
thalif deen | u.n.bureau chief | inter press service news agency | room L-214 united nations | firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com www.ipsnews.net | 212-963-6156