Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: NPT review conference preparatory committee session opens

by Noritaka Egusa, Editor/Senior Staff Writer

The Third Session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will open at U.N. headquarters in New York on May 4. The review conferences, which are held once every five years, reflect the state of world affairs and have had an impact on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. With the current push for the abolition of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are paying close attention to next year’s review conference and the preparatory committee session. The Chugoku Shimbun took a look at the issues and prospects for the future.


Though the NPT, which took effect in 1970, has about 190 signatory nations, it has continually been criticized as inequitable.

The treaty limits nuclear nations to the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China. The peaceful use of nuclear energy is guaranteed to nations other than those five under certain conditions, including the undergoing of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but they are subject to international sanctions if they develop nuclear weapons. At the same time, though the treaty obligates the nuclear powers to work toward nuclear disarmament, that provision is not binding. Thus nuclear disarmament has been left up to voluntary cuts by the nuclear weapon states and to treaties between individual nations, such as the U.S. and Russia.

This inequity is also used as an excuse by nations other than the five nuclear powers when they develop nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan, which have conducted nuclear tests, and Israel, which is a de facto nuclear nation, are not signatories to the NPT. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty and (defiantly) conducted nuclear tests. Despite its name, the treaty’s ability to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons is questionable.

Nevertheless the indefinite extension of the NPT was agreed on at the 1995 review conference because, despite its inequity, the fact remains that there is no international mechanism for nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation other than the NPT.

Clear commitment

NPT review conferences are held once every five years. A breakthrough was achieved at the 2000 review conference with a “clear and unequivocal commitment” to the “total elimination of nuclear weapons.” The signatory nations unanimously pledged to abolish nuclear weapons, and a paragraph of the conference’s Final Document provided a set of 13 practical steps to that end.

But the terrorist attacks on the U.S. the following year completely changed the global situation. Though President George W. Bush launched a war in Iraq, the overwhelming military power of the U.S. could not bring about a real peace, and it was clear that it was ineffective in completely containing terrorism as well. The world now lives in fear of nuclear terrorism. The 2005 NPT review conference ended without any substantive agreement being reached.

Although the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions (Moscow Treaty), was signed in 2002, with North Korea’s nuclear tests and suspicions of nuclear weapons development by Iran, in recent years there has been anything but nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

As a result, the 13 steps set forth at the 2000 review conference have, for the most part, not been brought to fruition, and with the failure of the 2005 conference, this is proving to be an lost decade for the NPT. This was the state of global affairs until recently.

Hope for change

Amid growing disappointment and frustration on the part of the signatory nations and citizens calling for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, the administration of President Barack Obama came to power with high hopes that it would change the stance of the nuclear superpower. In a speech he made in Prague in April, Mr. Obama referred to the “moral responsibility” of the U.S. as the only nuclear power to have used nuclear weapons and pledged to seek a world without them.

In 2007, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and three other former top U.S. officials wrote an article calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which appeared in a prominent U.S. newspaper. Last year the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), a joint initiative of the governments of Japan and Australia that brings together leading figures from around the world, also began to debate these issues.

As a result of these changes in the situation, there are growing expectations for next year’s review conference, and the preparatory committee session is expected to lay the groundwork for the conference.

Members of the so-called New Agenda Coalition, such as Egypt and Mexico, played a major role in the success of the 2000 review conference by mobilizing the dissatisfactions of the non-nuclear nations. Who will take the lead at next year’s conference? This will likely become apparent as the preparatory committee session unfolds.

Mayors for Peace also believes that next year’s review conference is critical to nuclear abolition and about 50 of its member mayors, including Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, will be in attendance at the preparatory committee session.

Both Mr. Akiba and Mr. Taue will deliver speeches during the NGO Session on the second day. As president of Mayors for Peace, Akiba will call for support for the organization’s 2020 Vision, whose aim is the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020. Mr. Akiba is expected to issue a strong appeal for the adoption at next year’s review conference of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, which sets forth steps to achieve that goal.

A total of seven people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki will attend the session. Terumi Tanaka, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, has also traveled to New York and will seek the support for nuclear abolition of the movers and shakers representing various countries.

Preparatory Committee for the NPT Review Conference

The PrepCom meets a total of three times between the NPT review conferences, which are held every five years. This year’s session is being held at U.N. headquarters from May 4-15. The goal of the sessions is for the representatives of the signatory nations to engage in debate and to form a consensus that includes recommendations to the review conference. Ambassador Boniface G. Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe is serving as chair.

Hiroshima A-bomb survivor Emiko Okada to attend along with granddaughter
by Uzaemonnaotsuka Tokai, Staff Writer

Emiko Okada, 72, a resident of Hiroshima who has previously gone overseas to describe her experiences in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, traveled to the U.S. with her 11-year-old granddaughter Yuki Tominaga for the first time. Ms. Okada wants Yuki, a sixth grader at Nakayama Elementary School, to see firsthand her grandmother issue her plea for the abolition of nuclear weapons at the meeting of the preparatory committee of the NPT review conference, which will open May 4.

On April 23, taking a break from their preparations for the trip, Ms. Okada and Yuki walked through Peace Memorial Park. “Many people died here begging for water,” Ms. Okada said to her granddaughter.

Responding to her grandmother’s serious tone, Yuki commented, “I want the people of the world to realize that nuclear weapons won’t bring happiness to anyone.”

Ms. Okada was exposed to the atomic bomb in the front yard of her house, 2.8 kilometers from the hypocenter, when she was 8 years old. After the war she suffered from aplastic anemia. The remains of her sister, who was four years older, were never found, and Ms. Okada’s parents died one after the other about 10 years after the end of the war. She intended to keep her experience of the atomic bombing to herself, which had irrevocably changed her life.

But she changed her mind when, at the age of 50, she met the late Barbara Reynolds, founder of the World Friendship Center. Ms. Okada was inspired by Ms. Reynolds’s statement that if she, an A-bomb survivor, would take action the world might change. Ms. Okada traveled to the U.S. as an ambassador of peace, and she has also shared her account of the atomic bombing in Germany, India, Pakistan, Poland, and the Ukraine.

Ms. Okada and three other atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima will attend the preparatory committee session. Ms. Okada will be in New York until May 9 and sit in on the meeting of Mayors for Peace as well. She will also describe her A-bomb experiences at meetings of international non-governmental organizations.

“My strength is declining, and I don’t know what kind of shape I’ll be in next year, so I want to use my remaining strength to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” Ms. Okada said. Yuki will be on hand to see her grandmother wage her battle for peace.

(Originally published on May 4, 2009)

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