Interview with Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. Under-Secretary General, on impact of North Korea’s nuclear test

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

The nuclear test conducted by North Korea has dashed cold water on the efforts of nations pursuing nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. On May 26, the Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Nobuyasu Abe, the former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, in Tokyo, who has been engaged in nuclear disarmament issues, about the impact of the nuclear test.

How do you think this nuclear test will affect global nuclear disarmament?
In anticipation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next year, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to pursue “a world without nuclear weapons” in his speech, which brightened the outlook for the future. At such a moment, North Korea went ahead with the nuclear test. As a consequence, there is the possibility that those against the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the U.S. Senate will gain new momentum. I am concerned that conservatives in the U.S. will criticize the Obama administration for “making unilateral concessions on nuclear disarmament,” which might corner the administration into an awkward position.

How will the nuclear test affect Japan?
If North Korea does not stop its development of nuclear weapons, Japan has no option but to promote the missile defense (MD) plan and continue to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This would weaken Japan’s pressure on China to advance that nation’s own nuclear disarmament.

A nuclear-free world is a world that does not need a nuclear umbrella. As long as North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, we cannot create an environment conducive to nuclear abolition. I have to admit that the nuclear test by North Korea is detrimental to the discussions on nuclear disarmament.

Why do you think North Korea went ahead with the nuclear test?
North Korea seems determined to establish its own nuclear capability. The nation conducted the nuclear test too hastily for us to presume that its intention was merely to use the test as a bargaining tool in order to extract economic assistance. For this reason, it may be tough to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

What countermeasures can be taken against North Korea?
Japan and the U.S. have already pursued every possible sanction against North Korea. But unless the issue is addressed with China and Russia, it will be difficult to provide substance to the sanctions.

Still, no matter how difficult it may be or how long it may take, we should not give up hope. We should persevere in persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions by presenting certain desirable outcomes, explaining that the nation would benefit greatly from adopting a different course.

Are direct negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea the only option in the short term?
The U.S. has a powerful negotiating card in regard to North Korea’s security. But North Korea went ahead with the nuclear test before the Obama administration developed its policy toward North Korea. The administration failed to react swiftly enough.

I fear that the momentum for nuclear disarmament will be lost.
We should not allow this to happen. In the face of this nuclear test, I have recognized anew the importance of our pursuit of “a world without nuclear weapons.” The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) will hold a meeting in Hiroshima in October and compile its final report within this year. We will do our utmost to present proposals for a feasible road map toward a nuclear-free world.

Nobuyasu Abe
After serving as Director-General for Arms Control and Science Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mr. Abe worked as U.N. Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs for three years from 2003. He is now director of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament Non-Proliferation (CPDNP), the Japan Institute of International Affairs. He also serves on the advisory board for the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

(Originally published on May 27, 2009)

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