Interview with Professor Oshima of Hiroshima Shudo University on President Obama’s speech in Tokyo

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Staff Writer

What did U.S. President Barack Obama communicate to the citizens of the A-bombed nation when he visited Japan? The Chugoku Shimbun posed this question to Hiroshi Oshima, 61, a professor in the Department of Law at Hiroshima Shudo University and former Kyodo News bureau chief in Washington, asking him to focus mainly on Mr. Obama's speech, given November 14, on U.S. policy toward Asia.

Below are Professor Oshima's comments:

In general, the lofty, powerful speech was typical of Mr. Obama. The address was considered a major speech on foreign affairs, following speeches in Prague and Cairo, with an eye on the audience of Asian nations this time. Therefore, the impression that its content was more ideological than concrete could not be avoided.

The difference between the Obama administration and the former Bush administration is clear in that the Obama administration is showing keen interest in Asia. Mr. Obama called the United States a "Pacific nation," and acknowledged that the future of his country depended on cooperation with Asian nations. Referring to China in particular, the president said that the United States would not compete against China but deepen its cooperation with this Asian nation. This statement will form the cornerstone of future U.S. policy toward China.

Mr. Obama also stressed his intention to strengthen Japan-U.S. relations. Due to the advent of new administrations both in Japan and the United States, the alliance between the two nations will change as well. The change will not be limited to security and military affairs. Such phrases as "mutual interests" and "mutual respect" were heard during his speech. If Japan and the United States find energy in the spirit of these phrases, the two nations can win the understanding of their people.

At the same time, did the speech provide any specific proposals for pressing issues, including the abolition of nuclear weapons and U.S. forces in Japan? Unfortunately, no.

President Obama said that "no nations on Earth know better what these [nuclear] weapons can do" and expressed his intention to pursue a nuclear-free world. But, as he stated in his Prague speech, he also clearly indicated that the United States will pledge to provide a strong and effective nuclear deterrent for its allies, including Japan and South Korea, so long as nuclear weapons exist.

What is important here is that the nuclear deterrent is provided on the premise that Japan requests it. It suggests that if Japan concludes that the nuclear umbrella is unnecessary and advocates reducing the role of nuclear weapons, such a move would help advance nuclear disarmament in the United States.

The wish of the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not granted during Mr. Obama's visit to Japan this time. President Obama intentionally gave no answer when a reporter asked about his perception of the atomic bombings at a news conference on November 13. He could not visit Hiroshima, either. There must have been things the U.S. president, as the U.S. military commander-in-chief, could do and say during his trip and things he could not do and say.

Behind this situation is the vocal public opinion of conservatives in the United States who claim that a visit to Hiroshima by the president would result in an apology for the atomic bombings as well as the pressing domestic affairs involving Afghanistan and reform of the U.S. health care system. In contrast, the nuclear issue is given a lower priority.

Still, it is true that Mr. Obama has expressed his willingness to visit the A-bombed cities. The problem now is when. Hiroshima should continue to create an environment that will encourage Mr. Obama to decide to visit Hiroshima. For that purpose, the people of Hiroshima should press on by making their voices heard.

(Originally published on November 15, 2009)