Editorial: Hiroshima must lead the way to a nuclear-free world

How many more years will the atomic bomb survivors be able to tell of their experiences? Their numbers are down to around 243,000, a decrease of about 8,000 from a year ago, and their average age is over 75.

In anticipation of the January 20 inauguration of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, who shares their desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the expectations of the survivors are rising.

Mr. Obama’s declaration that the U.S. will seek a nuclear-free world was reflected in his appointment of John P. Holdren, a member of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international organization working to abolish nuclear weapons, as his science advisor.

The new administration must waste no time in tackling the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was adopted in 1996. Because nine countries including the U.S., China, India and Iran, have yet to ratify it, the treaty’s implementation remains uncertain.

Ratification by the U.S., a nuclear superpower, would have a major impact. China, which is believed to be boosting its nuclear capability, and other nations would likely adopt a more positive stance toward the treaty.

Some have suggested, however, that it is overly optimistic to expect progress on nuclear arms reduction with the change in the U.S. administration. Mr. Obama has said that the U.S. must “always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist.” His decision to retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush appointee who promoted the development of nuclear weapons, is worrisome.

Tension between the U.S. and Russia heightened last year with the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe and the unrest in Georgia. The direction of arms reduction negotiations between the two nations is uncertain, and there is concern about the prospect of a new cold war.

What about Japan, the only nation to suffer atomic bombings? Every year the government has submitted a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. At the same time, the nation is clearly dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Policies that make Japan reliant on the U.S. must be changed.

For these reasons, the efforts of the A-bombed cities are assuming greater importance.

More than 2,500 cities in 133 countries have joined Mayors for Peace in response to the call from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This number increased by about 500 last year. As with the realization of treaties banning anti-personnel land mines and cluster bombs, if cities and their residents around the world mobilize, they can sway international opinion.

Last September’s G-8 Summit of Lower House Speakers in Hiroshima was attended by representatives from the U.S., Russia and other nuclear nations. The chance to learn about the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb was no doubt highly significant for them. If Hiroshima’s invitation to hold next year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here is accepted, it will offer a good opportunity to make world leaders aware of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation movements are likely to gain momentum in the run-up to next year’s review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. How closely can the government work with atomic bomb survivor groups and non-governmental organizations? Its handling of this will be subject to scrutiny.

Sunao Tsuboi, chairman, of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, said, “The role of Hiroshima is to use various means to convey the horror of the destruction of nuclear weapons and to sway international opinion in favor of their abolition.” We hope the groundswell of support for nuclear abolition will spread from Hiroshima throughout the world.

(Originally published January 5, 2009)

Related articles
Editorial: The U.S. nuclear umbrella, past and future (Dec. 27, 2008)
Column: A promise of “change” (Dec. 3, 2008)