Hiroshima Memo: The Crossroads of Nuclear Weapons Abolition

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

As the 21st century dawned, people around the world earnestly hoped that this century would mark an end to the possession of nuclear weapons. Eight years in, we are now standing at a critical crossroads: Will we choose the abolition of nuclear weapons or their perpetuation and proliferation, potentially leading to nuclear war?

During these eight years, nuclear proliferation has continued unabated, without worthy progress made in nuclear disarmament. There is now grave concern over the acquisition of nuclear weapons and weapons-grade materials by Islamic militants through black market channels. In point of fact, it is no longer a question of “if”; acquisition by terrorists is now an emerging reality.

Four former high-ranking officials of the United States, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have called for nuclear disarmament in an article titled “Toward a Nuclear-Free World.” Their strong concern over a potential nuclear attack by terrorists led them to make this statement. The fact that political leaders in the United States and in the nuclear powers of Europe, as well as many others, have endorsed this call is a reflection of the same apprehension.

“Nuclear proliferation cannot be checked without a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons.” “Nuclear deterrence cannot thwart a nuclear attack by terrorists.” “The abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to prevent a nuclear war.” The A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have time and again made these appeals to the world. Starting a year or two ago, a rapid increase has been seen in international public opinion in favor of nuclear disarmament, but this development has come as a consequence of the rising risk of nuclear war, and particularly, nuclear terrorism. If we fail to seize this momentum of strong public opinion, nuclear war will become the inevitable outcome.

Pressure from the international community and confidence-building among the pertinent countries are needed in order to promote nuclear disarmament within the existing nuclear powers and to prevent potential nuclear powers from developing nuclear weapons. An approach to disarmament that is based on a double standard, applying different nuclear policies to different countries, only aggravates the situation.

Recent developments have underscored the gravity of these issues. Tension has been building between the United States and Russia over the U.S. missile defense (MD) deployment in Eastern Europe, coupled with the conflict in Georgia. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) approved the nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India, a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which erodes the foundation of the NPT regime. Furthermore, North Korea is preparing to restart its nuclear facilities.

Stronger than these setbacks, though, is the world’s voice which calls for nuclear disarmament, yet how can this hope be realized? Much remains to be done to overcome the many difficulties and forge a clear path toward achieving this end. The citizens of nuclear powers and the people of the international community who wish to bring about a nuclear-free world, including NGOs and governments, must unite in concerted efforts. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, witnesses to the horror of nuclear war, play a key role in this quest. And the government of Japan, as the sole nation to have experienced a nuclear bombing, must play a central role as well.

For nearly eight years, the Bush administration has been unable to inspire a future of brighter prospects for human beings. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. public views his diplomatic and military policies as failures. The call for “nuclear disarmament” by the presidential candidates of this superpower in their election-year pledges cannot end up an empty slogan. The new president must exercise strong leadership in developing a policy that implements concrete measures to move toward the disarmament goal.

(Originally published on September 22, 2008)

Related articles
Now is the time to abolish nuclear weapons (Sept. 28, 2008)
Hiroshima Memo: The Contradiction of U.S. Nuclear Policy (April 30, 2008)
Former top U.S. officials present vision of a nuclear weapons-free world (April 25, 2008)