Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War: "On Human Security & Natural Disasters" calls for people-centered human security

Although the Japanese people are grateful that the U.S. military assisted the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) for a couple of months by bringing food and water to earthquake and tsunami victims, U.S. troops have now returned their focus to their primary mission: waging war and preparing for war.

The U.S. military and the JSDF did not have the expertise or means to resolve the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear plant. And the U.S. military and the JSDF were unable to resolve the most challenging aspects of the triple disaster (permanent evacuation, recovering irradiated dead bodies in Fukushima, providing a rescue program for beloved pets and domesticated animals in the evacuation zone, and rebuilding lives damaged by economic devastation and psychological trauma resulting from the disasters).

The Kan administration still appears overwhelmed by the "biggest industrial accident" in world history: unable to acknowledge ongoing realities, much less able to rationally address the prevention of likely future nuclear accidents in Japan.

Natural disasters are on the rise because of global warming. Further, manmade disasters (oil spills, natural gas explosions, nuclear plant accidents...) are ever-increasing because of inadequate risk management, cost-cutting, and lack of proper oversight resulting from deregulation. 3/11 changed everything in Japan. Business as usual is not working. Relying upon and disproportionately funding short-term, incomplete military disaster assistance programs is not a solution to future natural and nuclear disasters. With all its resources and manpower, the US military was unable to lead Japan in the containment of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In this article from its April 2011 newsletter, the Global Article Campaign to Abolish newsletter argues that national governments need to shift their spending priorities from short-term military aid to support for efficient, peaceful, long-term disaster response programs administered at regional and local levels: civilian authorities, community-based workers and volunteers:

On April 14, the UN General Assembly held its fourth Informal Thematic Debate on Human Security, during which the need for holistic "people-centred" responses to world crises was discussed.

The debate took place just a few weeks after the unprecedented triple disaster that hit Japan in March and reminded the world that the unpredictability and force of nature rank among the biggest threats to human security.

The fact that a highly developed country like Japan - known to be Asia's best example for disaster preparedness and technological capabilities for predicting, monitoring and dealing with frequent earthquakes, as well as a key proponent of a Human Security approach - is struggling to manage disaster relief operations and mitigate the subsequent nuclear crisis, has led some to question how the Human Security framework is relevant to prepare for, and respond to natural disasters.

The UN University in Tokyo also held a workshop on Human Security and Natural Disasters this month, with experts from academia, NGOs, government and UN agencies, to analyze how a human security approach can be applied, and identify policy recommendations and avenues for the future.

During this month's debate and panel discussions at the UN, Member States considered how to define human security beyond the outline agreed at the World Summit in 2005. Indeed, discussions on Human Security have so far essentially focused on war, development and human rights, based on the three pillars of "the freedom from fear, the freedom from want and the freedom to live in dignity."

Yet, today's immense human suffering caused by natural disasters (with 200 million people around the world affected by natural disasters last year alone) calls for a broader definition of Human Security that would include natural disasters as a possible fourth pillar.

Based on his deep involvement in the recovery process of Japan's most affected area, Human Security Advisor to the UN Secretary General Takasu Yukio emphasizes the importance of human dignity along with basic human needs, and insists on the need to agree on a common understanding on what Human Security means and entails. Negotiations towards a UN resolution are expected to start this coming May.

Indeed, as part of the UNGA discussions, some delegations warned against replacing the concept of development by the one of Human Security, expressed concerns about possible linkages with the concept of responsibility to protect, and rejected the use of force in relation to Human Security.

Though comments on the use of force were not directly related to disaster relief operations, concerns over resorting to the military in this context are also relevant, and in fact have been raised in the current Japanese context.

Indeed, while disaster response is generally seen officially as a civilian responsibility, military forces often take the lead in case of large scale disasters, due to their great organizational capability and ability to react promptly. Like in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, in the US in the wake of 2005 Hurricane Katrina or in the aftermath of the earthquake in Sichuan, China in 2008, Japan has been relying on its military at a level unseen since the Second World War with more than 100,000 of its Self-Defence Forces (SDF) - or 40% of its total military - deployed.

In light of the growing trend for military engagement in relief activities, and though it is more contentious in conflict settings and in the case of foreign military involvement in relief activities, voices, such as the one of the ICRC, are being raised to caution that this trend tends to "blur the lines between humanitarian and military actors [compromising] the neutrality and independence, restricting humanitarian access and increasing security risks" and to call for the maintenance of a clear distinction between the respective roles of military bodies and humanitarian actors.*

While some politicians and analysts have chosen to highlight the role played by the SDF in disaster relief for political ends, the current situation has on the contrary made clear that SDF alone cannot do much without the crucial assistance of local civilian authorities, community-based workers and volunteers playing a vital role. The tragic situation has also served as a bleak reminder that the military is powerless stop threats such as the one currently posed by nuclear reactors, thus bringing people to question whether SDF can really defend the people when it needs it the most and wondering what they have thus been trained for, in light of the country's pacific constitution that renounces war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces and other war potential.

On April 21, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization, Nihon Hidankyo, submitted a petition to the Japanese Government in which they demand that the concept of protecting people through military means be replaced by comprehensive health care and monitoring systems, as well as a major transformation of energy policy from reliance on nuclear energy to renewable energy, as nuclear energy and technology represent a man-made hazard that come in the way of preparedness and safety precautions. They also notably urge the government to "discard the notion that military might can secure Japan's safety, adhere to Article 9 of the constitution, and commit to human co-existence through the prioritization of peaceful and safe diplomatic policies."

In light of the lessons learned from the current disaster in Japan and the current debate on Human Security, the Global Article 9 Campaign joins its voice to call for a shift of priorities - from military defense to people-centered human security; from buying weapons to preventing disasters; and from expanding armed personnel to training community workers.

Read more about the UN General Assembly Informal Thematic Debate on Human Security here.

Read the full Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo)'s petition here.

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