Nuclear Politics 2023: SIGS Launches Inaugural Summer Program

August 03, 2023
Participants in SIGS' Nuclear Politics 2023 program are in discussion

The Soka Institute for Global Solutions held its inaugural summer program, “Nuclear Politics 2023,” in collaboration with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The five-day program provided nuclear disarmament education free of charge for 16 students from nine universities, who attended workshops and engaged in far-ranging dialogues on the existential threats of nuclear weapons and strategies to avert a nuclear war.

“SIGS seeks to build a network of young people who work toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” said Andrea Bartoli, executive adviser of the institute. “They will see and strengthen such agency, choosing hope, rather than succumbing to a prevailing sense of powerlessness, indifference, or despair—a hope to imagine a world free of nuclear weapons.”

During the five days of intensive study of nuclear disarmament, the participants completed a rigorous curriculum on the history of nuclear weapons, the humanitarian and philosophical underpinnings of disarmament, and risk reduction strategies. The sessions were based on dialogues where each lecturer or moderator posed thought-provoking questions and the participants then exchanged their perspectives.

“When I learned about the devastating impact of the use of nuclear weapons, I was so shocked, and wanted to do something to contribute to nuclear disarmament,” said guest lecturer Masako Toki, senior project manager at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “Throughout my youth, and now, I have been so fortunate to study Daisaku Ikeda’s peace proposals every year, and he always emphasized the importance of peace and nuclear disarmament.”

After a daily schedule of sessions and discussions, the participants watched movies about nuclear catastrophes at night. SUA Professor Tetsushi Ogata, managing director of the institute, said such intensive programming was meant to foster bonding between the participants to establish a network that would carry on after the program concludes. “In the end, no one can disarm or abolish nuclear weapons alone,” Professor Ogata said. “The task requires a network of peoples and organizations to work collaboratively on a long-term basis.” 

Berenice Ramirez, a 2023 UC Irvine graduate, said her biggest takeaway from the program was developing an understanding of the importance of networking and community building. “We have power through our citizenship, and we also have responsibility within that power to do something,” Ramirez said. “Going forward, I believe that nuclear disarmament will always remain at the forefront of anything I do.”

Garrett Welch, a masters student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, said his experience in the program was enriched by the connections he made with other students. Noting that, in his experience, people interested in nuclear disarmament often come from relatively similar backgrounds, Welch found the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in this program refreshing. “The dialogues were different, and people participating enabled me to engage with other aspects of nuclear disarmament I don’t usually engage with,” Welch said. “It forced me to defend my position in a way that will be crucial to me in my work moving forward.”

In his annual peace proposal in 1987, Mr. Ikeda called for the establishment of an institute for global solutions that would be “part of a network of research centers, universities, and United Nations study facilities from which a strategy for world stability and peace for the 21st century can emerge.”

Inspired by the vision outlined by Mr. Ikeda that peace proposal, SUA President Edward M. Feasel established SIGS on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of SUA’s Aliso Viejo campus in May 2022.

In his concluding remarks during the final session of the summer program, President Feasel drew a clear connection between nuclear abolition and SUA’s heritage of promoting peace. The father of Soka education, Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, died in prison while being held for his opposition to World War II. His disciple, Jōsei Toda, was also imprisoned but survived, and in 1957 denounced nuclear weapons and called for their elimination. Toda’s disciple and SUA founder Mr. Ikeda has worked consistently since then to abolish nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear abolition is ingrained in our Soka tradition,” President Feasel concluded.