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Statement Accepting 2008 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development

Vienna Austria

New Delhi, India
Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development Ceremony

President Pratibha Patil, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am greatly honoured and humbled - indeed privileged and moved - to accept the 2008 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development.

It is a fitting tribute to Indira Gandhi´s vision that peace and disarmament should be linked with development in the prize that bears her name. For, like few other leaders, before or since, Indira Gandhi saw the big picture and understood the link between security and development. A tireless campaigner for nuclear disarmament, she recognized the insanity of an international security system rooted in the concept of mutual assured destruction. In one memorable image in 1983, when two nuclear-armed superpower blocs were still staring each other down, she said: "The hood of the cobra is spread. Humankind watches in frozen fear, hoping against hope that it will not strike."

Likewise, she recognized that a world economic order "based on domination and inequality" was not sustainable. "To help developing countries is not mere largesse," she told the United Nations General Assembly, adding: "What better investment can the North make in its own future than by turning today´s deprived of the South into tomorrow´s consumers?"

As we approach the 25th anniversary of Indira Gandhi´s untimely death, it is easy to be discouraged and to conclude that the world has learned little in the meantime. Over one billion of our fellow human beings go to bed hungry every night and two billion people - one third of humanity - live on less than $2 per day.

Nuclear weapons, far from being eliminated by 2010, as Rajiv Gandhi urged in his landmark speech presenting a comprehensive action plan to the General Assembly in 1988, are still very much with us. There are still 27,000 nuclear warheads on this planet. If used, they would bring about "the end of life as we know it on our planet earth," to quote Rajiv Gandhi.

The current global condition is marked by inequity and insecurity. Conflicts have been left to fester for generations in many regions, from Palestine to the Korean Peninsula. The obscene inequality in the distribution of the wealth of the planet has persisted, while we continue to witness human life valued much more highly in some parts of the world than in others. Governments engaged in little more than hand-wringing while millions of innocent lives were lost in Rwanda, Congo, Darfur and other places, and the international community´s "responsibility to protect" is too often notable by its absence. In the meantime, we continue to witness repression and denial of the most basic human rights in many parts of the world.

Global military spending was almost $1.5 trillion last year. That is 12 times what the developed world spent on official development assistance to the poor. The budget for all UN peacekeeping operations in the current year is about seven billion dollars. In other words, the world spends 200 times more on weapons of war than on keeping the peace.

But we must not lose hope. The Cold War ended and the cobra, luckily, did not strike. Nuclear disarmament is, after a long hiatus, finally back on the international agenda. Presidents Medvedev and Obama have made a commitment to cut their countries´ nuclear arsenals by as much as a third. There is a real prospect of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty coming into force. And the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has agreed to negotiate a treaty that would outlaw the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. By demonstrating their irreversible commitment to achieving a world free from nuclear weapons, the weapon states can greatly contribute to the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime and gain the moral authority to call on the rest of the world to curb the proliferation of these inhumane weapons.

I have no doubt that India, which as early as 1948 called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, will remain a powerful voice campaigning for a world free from nuclear weapons, in the tradition of Jawaharlal Nehru and both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

Although the misery of the world´s bottom billion still shames us all, we should take some comfort in the fact that hundreds of millions of people, including here in India, have been lifted out of poverty in the last 25 years. India´s economic metamorphosis has been dazzling. Much credit for this should go to the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and, of course, to the creativity and ingenuity of the Indian people. India has become a beacon of hope to the developing world.

India can take justifiable pride in being the world´s largest democracy, in which 1.2 billion religiously, ethnically and linguistically diverse people co-exist peacefully, respecting and cherishing their diversity - and recognising that diversity is strength. India has destroyed the myth that under-development and democracy cannot coexist. But India, like many developing countries, still faces a major challenge in its efforts to bring healthcare, education and other basic needs to all of its people, so they can live free from the indignity of poverty.

I believe that we still have much to learn from Indira Gandhi today. As Prime Minister, she reached out to India´s adversaries. In domestic policy, her heart and mind were always focused on improving the lot of the poor. In pursuing that goal, she understood that energy is development, and development is a debt we owe to each and every human being.

India has built up an impressive indigenous nuclear energy programme since Mrs Gandhi switched on the country´s first fully domestically built nuclear power station in Kalpakkam in 1983. I have no doubt that India will continue to make effective use of nuclear and other clean sources of energy to provide electricity to the hundreds of millions who do not have it.

I am delighted at the recent ending of restrictions on India´s nuclear trade, which has already opened the door for India to accelerate its use of nuclear power to help meet its energy needs, combat climate change and secure energy independence. I trust that India will spare no effort in practising and advocating the highest standards of nuclear safety and security. In the best tradition of India´s human solidarity, I also trust that she will continue to share her technological expertise and economic know-how with developing countries in need.

Having touched upon some of our failures as an international community, and as a human family, I should end by highlighting some of the lessons we need to learn.

First, insecurity anywhere today can easily turn to insecurity everywhere. The organization which I have the honour to lead - the International Atomic Energy Agency - has a mandate which I like to sum up as human security. Our twin goals are not unlike the vision of Indira Gandhi; to try to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and move to a world free from nuclear weapons, and to ensure that the benefits of nuclear technology - for power generation, medicine and agriculture - are harnessed for development. Global recognition of the inextricable link between security and development is the only way to break the vicious circle of under-development fuelling insecurity and vice versa.

Second, the threats we face - poverty, war, warped ideologies, environmental degradation, communicable diseases, weapons of mass destruction - are all interconnected and all are "threats without borders," making traditional notions of national security obsolete. By their very nature, these security threats require multinational cooperation and strong international institutions to implement national policies that cannot be implemented by governments acting alone.

Third, festering conflicts can be resolved - look at post-war Europe or, more recently, Northern Ireland. But committed, sustained diplomacy is needed. Solutions to any problem that are not rooted in fairness and justice are not sustainable. Too often, dialogue - the first tool of diplomacy - is perceived as a reward for good behaviour, rather than as a means to change behaviour and reconcile differences.

Ultimately, we need a new global system of collective security that entails an overhaul of the United Nations system and, above all, of the Security Council. A new system in which no country feels the need to rely on nuclear weapons or other inhumane weapons for its security. A new system with effective global mechanisms for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacemaking. A new system in which security is not perceived as a zero sum game or based on domination or balance of power, but rather an equitable and inclusive system that enables all of us to live together free from fear and from want. This means that we need a new system that places human security and human solidarity at its core; a system that grasps our shared destiny as one human family.

Indira Gandhi once said: "Minds and attitudes can and must be changed, and injustice and suffering can and must be diminished." Her words are as relevant today as they were then. We need to adjust our moral compass and do what it takes to bring about lasting change. This is key to our survival.

For it is only when every human being lives in peace, freedom and dignity that we will have a world at peace with itself.


Last update: 26 July 2017