Comment: Nakagawa’s remarks on nuclear weapons must be condemned by lawmakers from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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

On April 19, Shoichi Nakagawa, former Japanese Minister of Finance, made remarks concerning nuclear weapons at a meeting in Obihiro, Hokkaido, a city of Mr. Nakagawa’s constituency. Responding to North Korea’s announcement that it would resume its development of nuclear weapons, Mr. Nakagawa suggested that Japan should engage in discussions on the possibility of possessing its own nuclear arsenal. “It is common sense worldwide that only nuclear weapons can counteract nuclear weapons,” he said.

These remarks by a former minister may have significant impact at home and abroad and should not be overlooked. It must be pointed out, too, that such remarks have been to the detriment, not at all to the benefit, of the national interests of the A-bombed nation of Japan.

This past February, at a news conference in Rome after a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers and central bank governors, Mr. Nakagawa appeared to be in a daze, slurring his speech before the world’s mass media. After facing a storm of criticism, even from fellow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members, he was forced to step down as finance minister. Amid the rebukes--“His behavior before the world was disgraceful, an embarrassment”…“He has damaged Japan’s national interests”--were also calls for him to resign from the Diet. Now, just two months later, he has made remarks suggesting that Japan rethink its position on nuclear arms.

There is no doubt that a large majority of the Japanese public has reacted with wide indignation and disappointment in regard to North Korea’s missile launch and nuclear development. However, the assumption that North Korea might launch a missile tipped with a nuclear warhead, without warning, and so Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons for defense is an anachronistic view trapped in nuclear deterrence thinking of the Cold War era.

Mr. Nakagawa’s remarks seem aimed at taking advantage of the brinkmanship of North Korea, which has been seeking benefit from its missile launch and nuclear development. By inflaming the sense of crisis felt by the Japanese people, the missile defense program can be expanded and even the possession of nuclear weapons by Japan can be promoted.

If we acquiesce to Mr. Nakagawa’s point of view, nuclear proliferation cannot be stopped. No one would be surprised if South Korea began to argue that it needs nuclear weapons to face down North Korea. And Taiwan, too, might say that it needs nuclear weapons to stand up to China.

Israel is already in possession of nuclear weapons and missiles. I wonder if Mr. Nakagawa is accepting of Iran’s nuclear development and feels understanding for the nation’s concern that it must have nuclear weapons “to counter the threat posed by Israel.” If we follow this line of reasoning, how can nuclear weapons and missiles be prevented from spreading to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern nations?

If the A-bombed nation of Japan, which knows the devastation wrought by nuclear weapons only too well, embarks on it own path to develop such weapons, the sense of human morality now restraining nuclear proliferation will no longer hold sway and the earth will be reduced to a dangerous “nuclear jungle.”

Even at this stage, the world has already become burdened by nuclear materials and nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists at any time. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others, who promoted nuclear deterrence theory in the past, have begun to raise their voices for nuclear abolition, precisely because they now recognize that nuclear weapons heighten the peril rather than enhance our security and that dependence on nuclear deterrence produces no effect on nuclear terrorism.

Japan relies heavily on nuclear power for its energy needs. If the nation attempts to possess nuclear weapons and faces sanctions from the international community, the supply of nuclear fuel, a necessity for nuclear power plants, would be halted. This example alone demonstrates that a nuclear arsenal in Japan is an unrealistic option.

In a speech in Prague on April 5, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the U.S., as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, has a moral responsibility to act and he pledged to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. Now is the time for Japan to share Mr. Obama’s vision and join forces with the international community, including the U.S., which seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. Under these circumstances, Mr. Nakagawa’s remarks have greatly undermined the image of Japan as a “peaceful nation.”

But this sort of argument seems to linger in the LDP. Diet members from the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not ignore Mr. Nakagawa’s remarks; rather, they should plainly condemn these comments, regardless of party affiliation. This is the way these Diet members, who deeply understand “the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” can fulfill their roles as lawmakers from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

(Originally published on April 21, 2009)

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