Editorial: ICNND meeting in Hiroshima fails to take significant step forward

Considering the meeting was held in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, the outcome of the discussions on forging a path toward "a world without nuclear weapons" is disappointing. The final session of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) ended yesterday and the commission is set to release its report in January of next year.

The commission reportedly agreed that the world's nuclear weapons should be cut substantially by 2025 and that the nuclear weapon states should declare a policy of "no first use" of their nuclear weapons. But the ICNND members did not set a time frame for the complete elimination of these weapons.

Was taking this further step impossible? A significant gap exists between the results of their discussions and the thoughts of the atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha), who have been hoping to see nuclear weapons abolished at the earliest possible date.

The ICNND was established as a joint initiative of the governments of Japan and Australia in order to build momentum for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next May.

With its administrative offices in the Foreign Ministries of Japan and Australia, the ICNND is comprised of 15 committee members, such as politicians and former diplomats, from 15 nations, including seven nuclear weapon states. Since last October, the commission has held meetings in the United States, Russia and other locations. The commission members serve as private citizens and their proposals are not binding. But it is expected that their recommendations will be reflected in the policy of each nation.

The ICNND presumably held its last meeting in an A-bombed city so that the participants could reaffirm their belief in the gravity of their work as they held the final, detailed discussions. On October 17, the first day of the gathering, some members were moved by their visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and their interaction with an A-bomb survivor. As a result, they decided to specify the "brutality" and "inhumanity" of nuclear weapons in the report.

Hibakusha, however, were unable to attend the meeting. It seems that ICNND members were focused on discussions regarding a realistic approach toward nuclear weapons reduction that would have the highest chance of being deemed acceptable by all nations. Discussions on the actual abolition of these weapons apparently took a back seat.

The ICNND meeting in Hiroshima was held behind closed doors and it remains unclear what remarks were made by each of the members. Probably because of objections from some nuclear weapon states, one of the original goals that aimed to "reduce nuclear weapons below 1,000 by 2025" seems to have been revised. As of yesterday, even a target number for nuclear arms reduction was not announced.

The issue involving a "no first use" policy took a step backward as well. The previous draft of the ICNND report included a groundbreaking proposal that the U.S. president should be the first to declare the policy of "no first use" before the NPT Review Conference next year. This proposal, though, was transformed into the noncommittal notion that all nuclear weapon states observe such a policy by 2025.

Momentum for the nuclear issue began to build with U.S. President Barack Obama's speech in Prague this past April. In September, the U.N. Security Council unanimously displayed its resolve to pursue the abolition of nuclear arms. The United States declared that it would reduce its nuclear weapons by half to 5,000 by 2012. Things have been changing at a speed that was unimaginable when the ICNND was established.

Gareth Evans, a co-chair of the ICNND and former Australian foreign minister, explained that the report would include realistic proposals, not rosy hopes. But if the commission takes into account the growing appeal for nuclear abolition, it should help advance that cause for the future. The ICNND's anticipated report would seem to lack impact on international public opinion.

At the UN General Assembly, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to the world that Japan will take the lead in eliminating nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, too, has indicated his intention to call on the United States to adopt a "no first use" policy. The ICNND recommendations do not seem responsive to the stance of the new administration nor do they reflect its policies.

The contents of the discussions at the ICNND Hiroshima meeting will be reported to Prime Minister Hatoyama in the near future. The Japanese government should not simply accept the conclusions of the meeting as given. They should advance the aim of nuclear abolition by pressing ahead with action.

(Originally published on October 21, 2009)

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