Hiroshima Memo: Hatoyama administration must articulate A-bombed nation’s moral responsibility and take initiative for nuclear abolition

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

U.S. President Barack Obama declared in his Prague address that the United States, as the nation that dropped the atomic bombs, has a "moral responsibility" in regard to advancing nuclear abolition. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's new leader, also referred to the idea of "moral responsibility"--in this case Japan's "moral responsibility" as the A-bombed nation--in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

The remarks of these two leaders reminded me of comments made by Dr. Linus Carl Pauling (1901-1994), the renowned American physicist and chemist who was also a devoted peace activist. Amid the raging "Red Scare" of the late 1940s and 1950s, he spoke out to express his opposition to nuclear testing. One month before he passed away, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Pauling at his villa in Big Sur, California.

"Americans who dropped atomic bombs," he told me, "and Japanese who underwent their resulting misery, bear great roles and responsibility for nuclear weapons abolition and world peace. I hope, with this always in mind, both nations will play a leading role in this endeavor."

Many American and Japanese citizens, including the A-bomb survivors, have worked hard to advance the total abolition of nuclear weapons--and most of them, I presume, have pursued this "role and responsibility" while conscious of the fact that they are on one side of the equation in terms of the atomic bombings. However, this is the first time that the heads of the United States and Japan, respectively, have referred to their nations' "moral responsibility" and pledged to forge the lead in eliminating nuclear weapons from the earth.

As the recent special summit meetings of the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council session showed, the global community has now taken the first great step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. However, such things as the belief in nuclear deterrence, the thinking that promotes national interest above all, and mutual distrust among nations are stubborn barriers that still stand in the way of future progress.

To overcome these barriers, how should the Hatoyama administration proceed in serving the A-bombed nation?

First, it must convey the reality of the A-bomb devastation to nations possessing nuclear weapons and to the rest of the world, and raise the awareness that nuclear weapons are illegal in light of international law. Furthermore, Japan should call upon all nuclear powers to pledge that they will never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nations without such weapons. At the same time, the nuclear weapon states should abide by a policy of "no first use" of their nuclear arms. And these promises should not merely be verbal, they should be legally binding. The next Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, to be held in May 2010, is an opportunity to make effective moves toward these ends.

These efforts will contribute to reducing the role of nuclear weapons, as President Obama envisages, and lead to large-scale nuclear weapons reductions of the two nuclear giants, the United States and Russia, and reductions in the nuclear arsenals of other nations. Eventually, then, the process could culminate in a Convention on Nuclear Weapons to effect a total ban on their possession. The steps to be taken in parallel are promoting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, commencing negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, and strengthening international cooperation to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons and materials.

In addition, Japan must summon the courage to leave the U.S. nuclear umbrella. A good example can be found in the Belgian Assembly’s recent decision to remove U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from its soil. The idea is that the dependence non-nuclear states have on nuclear deterrence is itself an obstacle to nuclear disarmament. The A-bombed nation of Japan will never be able to make a persuasive case to others as long as it entrusts its security to a nuclear umbrella.

(Originally published on October 5, 2009)

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