Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Interview with Ryuichi Teshima, foreign affairs journalist

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Staff Writer

On April 6, in Tokyo, the Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Ryuichi Teshima, 59, a foreign affairs journalist, about his reaction to the sweeping vision for “a world without nuclear weapons” that U.S. President Barack Obama revealed in a speech in Prague on April 5. Mr. Teshima praised this vision, saying, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Japanese government, should regard this as an ideal opportunity to take action for nuclear disarmament.”

How do you view the reference in Mr. Obama’s speech that “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act”?
This is the first time a U.S. president has gone so far as to refer to the nation’s moral responsibility for having used nuclear weapons, which, in itself, holds great significance. It was also a bold statement, given the fact that the right wing is still influential in U.S. life and the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, D.C., was forced to abandon plans to hold an exhibition of artifacts from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1995. I think Mr. Obama is attempting to address the issue based on his own convictions.

The speech, delivered two months after he assumed the presidency, should be hailed as a coherent and high-level proposal. It was not mere idealism in that he put a watchful eye on North Korea and Iran while expressing a mature nuclear strategy.

During the Cold War, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a treaty to abolish intermediate-range nuclear arms, which could have triggered a nuclear war. For the first time in history, that treaty enabled the U.S. and the former Soviet Union to eliminate a type of nuclear weapon. Following Mr. Obama’s recent moves, we are sure to see a new wave of nuclear disarmament.

What is your impression of his words indicating that “as long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal to deter any adversary”?
I believe Mr. Obama thinks that a unilateral reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal would upset the nuclear balance. He probably thinks that this would raise the risk of nuclear attacks and eventually increase the possibility of nuclear war because the danger may tempt the U.S. to a first-use of nuclear weapons. He is taking a practical approach, observing all aspects of the situation, to advance nuclear disarmament gradually.

In response to this kind of statement, some might argue that Japan should now get out from under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. But this argument lacks consideration for the consequences. Immediately after a nuclear test by North Korea in 2006, then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Japan and said to Taro Aso, who was foreign minister at the time, that the U.S. would honor the mutual defense treaty with Japan and it had the will and the capability to meet the full range of its deterrent and security commitments. The U.S. was probably concerned that Japan might go nuclear and it wanted to allay any concerns over the nuclear umbrella.

The real intention of the U.S. is to prevent Germany and Japan from producing their own nuclear weapons. We should also keep in mind that if Japan gets out from under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the international community will regard the move as a sign that Japan is inclined to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

What kind of policy should Japan employ now?
The U.S. is going to change its nuclear policy. Though Japan has submitted a resolution for nuclear disarmament to the U.N. for 15 consecutive years, the U.S. has consistently opposed the resolution. We now have a golden opportunity to persuade the U.S., under the Obama administration, to change its stance and provide its support. I would like to encourage the Japanese government and Japan’s diplomats to rise to the occasion.

Also, Japan should seek to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council as a representative of non-nuclear powers and work together with the Obama administration to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and strengthen the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Mr. Obama is considering a visit to Japan this fall.
I hope he will visit Hiroshima and give a “Hiroshima speech” that calls for eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. I sincerely hope that such a speech, as a signpost, could help pave the way for nuclear abolition. For the A-bomb survivors, this is an opportune time to act.

Ryuichi Teshima
After serving as head of the Washington, D.C. office of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), he has taught nuclear strategy theory as a professor at Keio University since 2007. His recent books include Budoshu ka samonakuba judan wo [Wine or Ammunition].

(Originally published on April 7, 2009)

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