Editorial: Japan should play a leading role in realizing the UN resolution for "a world without nuclear weapons"

With the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopting a resolution calling for "a world without nuclear weapons," the international community has made a momentous decision in aspiring toward the aim long appealed for by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At the urging of U.S. President Barack Obama, the Security Council held its first summit that focused solely on the issue of nuclear disarmament. It was also unprecedented in that all 15 countries--including the five permanent members, all nuclear weapon states--showed a unanimous resolve to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth. The resolution adopted by the council can well be called historic.

In May 2010, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, held once every five years, is expected to help advance action on this resolution.

The resolution covers a full range of issues to be tackled in order to attain the goal of nuclear abolition.

The five permanent members of the Security Council--the nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China--are urged to move forward with nuclear disarmament. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear states and non-signatories of the NPT, are asked to join the treaty. Though the resolution did not go so far as to single out North Korea and Iran, it applies pressure to these two nations. North Korea has conducted nuclear testing while Iran has been refusing to accept nuclear inspections.

The fact that the framework of nuclear disarmament has been broadened to include the U.K., France and China, along with the U.S. and Russia which have already begun negotiations over nuclear arms reductions, is highly significant. This has been made possible, in particular, because the U.S., a nuclear superpower, elected to take the lead.

Behind this trend is the strong sense of crisis shared among nations, including the U.S., that the spread of nuclear weapons may become irreversible. Following the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests in the first decade of this century. Iran is assumed to be secretly developing nuclear weapons of its own.

There is an increasing risk of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons and related technologies. Even if nuclear weapons are eliminated, nuclear materials for peaceful purposes must be strictly controlled in order to ensure global security.

It is true that the agreement reached at the council is a general goal and specific measures for reducing the more than 20,000 nuclear weapons now existing in the world must be considered from this point forward.

In negotiating with North Korea or Iran, however, there seem to be no compelling cards to play.

Japan has made its presence felt at the Security Council. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stated in his speech that Japan has the firm will to refrain from possessing nuclear weapons in order to fulfill its responsibility as an A-bombed country, pledging to uphold its three non-nuclear principles. He demonstrated a sharp difference between his administration's stance and that of the Liberal Democratic Party, some of whose members support a nuclear-armed Japan.

But Mr. Hatoyama stopped short of referring to the U.S. nuclear umbrella. One of the big challenges for the new administration is how to reduce the nation’s dependency upon the nuclear umbrella. In the course of deliberations on security, it is vital to call on the U.S. to pledge the "no first use" of nuclear weapons and to conduct necessary studies on the concept of the denuclearization of Northeast Asia.

Prime Minister Hatoyama urged the leaders of the world to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By having world leaders clearly understand the brutality of nuclear weapons, a solid foundation from which to address nuclear issues would be built.

The Security Council resolution has turned the trend toward nuclear abolition into a groundswell. By its own example, Japan can show that there is no winner in a nuclear war. The state should play a leading role in actualizing the resolution and realizing a “world without nuclear weapons.”

(Originally published on September 26, 2009)

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UN Security Council adopts resolution calling for nuclear-free world (Sept. 25, 2009)
Hatoyama promises action on host of challenges in U.N. speech (Sept. 25, 2009)