Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Interview with Hiromichi Umebayashi, Special Advisor to Peace Depot

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Staff Writer

On April 5, U.S President Barack Obama offered a sweeping vision for a “nuclear-free world” in a speech in Prague. On the same day, North Korea launched a ballistic missile which flew over Japan. On April 7, in Tokyo, the Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Hiromichi Umebayashi, 71, who serves as Special Advisor to Peace Depot, an NPO. We asked him about these two developments affecting the current international security environment.

How does North Korea’s latest missile launch impact the security environment in East Asia?
This time, North Korea announced the launch, which they did not do in 1998 when they test-fired the Taepodong-1. In this sense, they were observing international norms. Japan’s response in such situations should be measured and open to communication with North Korea. In fact, Japan fueled hostility and a sense of crisis among its people, executing something like a military drill. This ended up putting China on alert and raised tensions in the region.

In terms of technology that can be used for both military civilian purposes, nuclear technology is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For missile technology, though, there is no comparable watchdog. I recommend a new framework be created for this purpose so international actions can be taken, such as the presence of an international team when a missile is launched. Japan could take the initiative in developing this framework.

North Korea announced the missile launch to the U.S., China, and Russia beforehand, but it did not tell Japan.
North Korea feels that Japan is not being cooperative in terms of the six-party talks. And deep down, I don’t think the U.S. is pleased with Japan’s response to the missile launch. The U.S. wants to proceed with the six-party talks, which have stalled, and resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula as well as finally putting a formal end to the Korean War. Japan’s strident reaction to the incident, which may complicate the talks, must be a source of concern to the U.S.

How does the incident affect arrangements for a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ), such as the “Three plus Three Nations Arrangement” which you have advocated?
To realize this arrangement, the six-party talks are very important. North Korea, in drawing the attention of the international community through their missile launch, becomes a key player in the process of obtaining the agreement of all parties involved in the talks. It is essential to persistently urge North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons by maintaining negotiations through the six-party talks.

Japan is now dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and may not support a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone. Maintaining the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty is not incompatible with getting out from under the nuclear umbrella. This should be stressed. The U.S. has a responsibility to protect Japan, but Japan can require that this security not be dependent on nuclear weapons. Once the NWFZ is established, there would be no need for the nuclear umbrella.

What are your impressions of the speech made by President Obama?
For this point in time, I commend it highly. That said, he did not respond to the dissatisfaction felt by non-nuclear states nor did he refer to the need for greater transparency in the nuclear arsenals possessed by nuclear states.

To persuade every nuclear power to sit down to talk about the elimination of nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Russia must first reduce the number of their weapons to 500 each. Otherwise, China will be reluctant to reduce its own nuclear arsenal. I hope Japan will make every effort to see that a specific number is included in the new arms-reduction pact that the U.S. and Russia are set to negotiate as early as possible after the First Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) expires. As the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear attack, Japan has a moral obligation to make such efforts.

Hiromichi Umebayashi
Mr. Umebayashi founded Peace Depot in 1997 after working as a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan Engineering Junior College (now Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology). He also serves as the East Asian Coordinator of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND).

Three plus Three Nations Arrangement
An arrangement, proposed by Mr. Umebayashi and colleagues in 1996, in which Japan, South Korea, and North Korea enter into a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and the U.S., Russia, and China pledge not to attack or threaten the NWFZ nations with nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on April 8, 2009)

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