Editorial: Making solid progress toward nuclear abolition at the NPT PrepCom

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has existed in name only for the last decade, will finally assert its presence. The NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) has unanimously adopted the agenda for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

The adoption of the agenda was expected to be the most difficult part of the deliberations. The last review conference held in 2005 broke down, and even deciding the agenda proved to be contentious.

This PrepCom adopted 20 items. They include some remarkable points based on the declaration adopted by the 2000 NPT Review Conference, such as an unequivocal commitment to abolish nuclear weapons.

The main themes will involve the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, measures for non-proliferation, and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It is commendable that the nuclear powers’ efforts for nuclear disarmament are on the agenda.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which took effect in 1970, requires the five countries that possessed nuclear powers at the time of the treaty’s enactment, including the United States, to work toward nuclear disarmament. The treaty recognizes the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes so long as a nation agrees not to possess nuclear weapons. A review conference has been held every five years to assess the function of the treaty and form policies.

At the 1995 conference, an indefinite extension to the treaty was fixed. When the 2000 conference yielded the pledge to pursue abolition, momentum for nuclear disarmament seemed to grow.

However, the 2005 conference not only failed to adopt a final declaration, it constituted a setback for the treaty. The former Bush administration, in insisting on developing mini-nukes, backed off from nuclear disarmament.

President Barack Obama has brought a dramatic change to these conditions. Through the address he made in the Czech capital of Prague in April, he clearly demonstrated his intention to make concrete efforts toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons. In his message to the PrepCom, President Obama declared that the NPT regime should be strengthened in order to counter the peril of nuclear weapons.

Using the expression “Obamajority,” Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba stressed that President Obama’s vision of nuclear disarmament is shared by the majority of the world’s people and that support for this vision continues to grow.

A bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress, however, has compiled a report which refers to future nuclear strategy and argues that the environment is not yet suitable for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The report also recommends that the policy of nuclear deterrence be maintained for the foreseeable future. Since nuclear deterrence is a deeply-rooted belief in the United States, the situation is not likely to change significantly in the near term.

Still, negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons have begun between the U.S. and Russia. The two nations will hopefully effect substantial reductions in their nuclear arms, prompting other nuclear weapon states to cut the number of their warheads, too.

At the same time, non-signatories of the NPT should be encouraged to join in these efforts. India and Pakistan, which have conducted nuclear testing, and Israel, a virtual nuclear power, are not member countries. North Korea has formally withdrawn from the NPT and has now indicated that it will resume nuclear testing. Steps should be taken to persuade these nations to join the NPT framework.

Japan, in line with President Obama’s vision, has recently proposed “11 benchmarks” in regard to global nuclear disarmament. Prime Minister Taro Aso, as head of the only nation to have experienced a nuclear bombing, should show the spirit and the leadership that can sway the heads of other countries to move forward toward nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on May 9, 2009)

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