Interview with Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and winner of Nobel Peace Prize

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica and an architect of the peace accord in Central America, is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He is also an ardent advocate of the elimination of nuclear weapons. Sixty-five years ago, Costa Rica permanently abolished its armed forces. What do Hiroshima and issues involving nuclear arms look like to the eyes of this eminent Costa Rican citizen? The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Mr. Arias during his visit to Hiroshima at the invitation of Soka Gakkai.

What are your feelings toward Hiroshima?
Learning about the reality of the atomic bombing makes me realize how wrong the argument is that the atomic bombings were necessary to end the war, and renews my determination to strengthen the solidarity between people and nations which share the same feelings. Hiroshima has the power to change the thinking of politicians. Whether or not we can make the earth a safe place 20 years from now depends on what we do today. These are my strong feelings right now.

Do you feel it’s difficult to raise international interest in this issue?
Many people are suffering from poverty or from the rule of oppressive regimes. Children are unable to get an education. Many people are barely getting by, day to day. In such circumstances, it’s certainly difficult for them to take an interest in the threat of nuclear weapons.

Just a tiny portion of the world’s military expenditures would be able to pay for measures to fight poverty and support education. We can eliminate sources of conflict. In order to consider the issue of nuclear weapons, we must take a broader view of the reality of war and conventional weapons.

Your comment is connected to your experience working on regulations involving conventional weapons.
Last year, the United Nations finally adopted the Arms Trade Treaty, which imposes restrictions on trade in conventional arms. I put my heart and soul into this effort. In Central America, weapons obtained by drug rings and others have posed a threat even after the peace agreement was made.

It was a difficult path, but the campaigns by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had a significant impact. In lobbying influential members of the U.N., they sought to generate more public interest from the world at large.

A-bomb survivors and NGOs have been calling for a new treaty on nuclear weapons, too.
The power of nuclear weapons is incomparably destructive and inhumane, so we must have a treaty to ban them rather than mere regulations. But it is not easy to dispel the myth of nuclear deterrence, and I don’t think the nuclear weapon states will easily give up the weapons they have.

The real leadership of the United States, the nuclear super power, will be put to the test. When President Barack Obama visits Japan next month, he should come to Hiroshima and express his determination to pursue a world without nuclear weapons. He and I are both Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and I strongly urge him to take this step.

Costa Rica is a small nation, with a population of 4.8 million, but has a strong presence in the international community. What can Japan learn from Costa Rica?
Never to increase military expenses. This seems to be difficult, though, in the face of China’s military expansion. But a nation’s security is improved by adopting the attitude of making more friends rather than engaging in confrontation. This would also make Japan’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons more persuasive.


Oscar Arias Sanchez
Oscar Arias Sanchez was born in 1940. He was a professor at the University of Costa Rica and Minister of National Planning and Political Economy before serving as president from 1986 to 1990. He also served as president from 2006 to 2010. Mr. Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, and was one of 17 Peace Prize laureates who signed the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Declaration, a statement issued in 2009 which called for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on March 31, 2014)