Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Interview with Yohei Kono, Speaker of the House of Representatives

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Staff Writer

On April 22, in Tokyo, the Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Yohei Kono, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, about issues involving nuclear weapons. Mr. Kono, who also serves as the chairman of the bipartisan Japanese Parliamentary Association for the Promotion of International Disarmament, stressed: “Now is the time to sway international public opinion in favor of nuclear abolition.”

On April 20, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed some appreciation for U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague. How do you view current relations between the U.S. and Russia?
Mr. Obama’s speech in Prague is laudable in that he mentioned the “moral responsibility” of the U.S. as the only nation to have used nuclear weapons. Russia then took the opportunity to respond. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev spoke boldly in this regard, given the fact that the notion of nuclear abolition is resented by the militaries and hard-liners of both nations. International public opinion should rally support for them so they will not be isolated.

When we held the G8 Summit of Lower House Speakers in Hiroshima last fall, we provided an opportunity for the participants, including Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. Speaker of the House, to listen to the experience of an atomic bomb survivor. During the meeting, Ms. Pelosi said repeatedly that we must realize a peaceful world without nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama used a similar phrase in his speech in Prague. I believe Ms. Pelosi’s support for this idea has permeated the Democratic Party in the U.S.

I heard that you would like to see Japanese Diet members encourage U.S. lawmakers to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). What is your thinking behind this idea?
The A-bombed nation of Japan should show the strongest affinity for Mr. Obama’s speech in Prague. But I feel that Japan’s response has been weak. We should have pursued such actions as passing a resolution in the Diet that would show our support for the speech. Taking this opportunity, we could appeal to people who might feel wary of nuclear abolition.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso is said to have written a letter to Mr. Obama, but the letter has little impact if its contents are unknown to the public. I think it’s important to reveal the contents and convey the support of Japanese leaders to Mr. Obama. This would encourage people to stand up against nuclear weapons.

Is it frustrating to be in the position of Speaker of the House, where you are expected to maintain a neutral stance on the issue?
As tension has grown in the political environment, I must act with forethought in my role as Speaker. At the same time, I wish I could take stronger action. I wish I could fly to Washington, D.C. to persuade U.S. lawmakers opposed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to shift their stance as well as inform the nuclear weapon states, other than the U.S. and Russia, of Japan’s intentions.

What is your road map toward nuclear abolition?
If we seek a quick, one-stroke solution for nuclear abolition, we will face complicated and difficult problems. I believe, though, that it’s possible to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. First, the nuclear weapon states should reveal the numbers of their nuclear weapons, then politicians should hold discussions on abolishing these weapons. It is important to set a target, too, such as the 2020 vision advanced by Mayors for Peace which seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

An incident like North Korea’s missile launch provokes completely different, even opposite, reactions from Diet members. Some say we should “accelerate efforts for nuclear abolition” while others argue we must “rely on U.S. nuclear weapons.” It is vital for politicians to be pragmatic, but they should also take a further step and hold discussions in pursuit of the goal of nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on April 23, 2009)