Editorial: Cooperation between Japan and Australia on nuclear abolition creates momentum for the NPT

Japan and Australia have announced in a joint statement that the two countries will further promote mutual cooperation in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. They should be given credit for their stances in support of realizing a world without nuclear weapons.

United States President Barack Obama voiced the idea of a world without nuclear weapons last spring. Following President Obama's statement, the two allies have called for drastic changes in U.S. nuclear policy. This is the main theme of the joint statement.

Japan, which has been protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, has shown a reserved attitude toward the United States. In this statement, however, Japan has taken a stronger stand.

Moreover, this year provides a once-in-five-year opportunity: the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference scheduled for May. The gathering will provide a rare chance to urge the five members of the original nuclear club, including nuclear superpowers the United States and Russia, to reduce their nuclear arsenals. The occasion will also offer time for thorough discussions on how to prevent non-nuclear states from going nuclear.

The joint statement asserts that the threats posed by nuclear weapons are the most serious problem facing humanity, and proposes two measures as first steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free world.

One measure involves banning the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. As long as a state does not possess nuclear weapons, it will not become the target of a nuclear attack. On the contrary, a state would run the risk of a nuclear attack by holding nuclear arms. This principle would work as a brake against countries that are weighing the possibility of possessing such weapons.

The second measure concerns restricting the role of nuclear weapons to the sole purpose of deterring others from staging a nuclear attack. The principle here would stipulate that nuclear weapons must not be used as a response against biological or chemical weapons, as they could be in the case of a nuclear strike. Thus the role of nuclear weapons would be reduced.

These two measures would be natural steps in progressing toward a world without nuclear weapons. Japan and Australia have indicated that they will discuss such issues further.

In October 2008, Tokyo and Canberra launched the International Commission for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), an entity for holding discussions on how to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. Its final meeting was held in Hiroshima in the autumn of 2009.

The positive aspects of ICNND's recommendations, including a reduction in the role of nuclear weapons, are reflected in the joint statement made by Japan and Australia.

The United States is now reviewing its nuclear policies for the first time in eight years. Both within the U.S. government, and among the American public, there remains a persistent counterargument against nuclear abolition.

The United States will release its report soon. What vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world will the report present? The two measures suggested by the joint statement will not be readily accepted considering the current situation surrounding President Obama, whose approval rating is gradually falling. The key point is whether the Obama administration has the resolve to further advance its policy.

Based on the report, the governments of Japan and Australia will make practical proposals in time for the NPT Review Conference. Japan, for its part, should weigh the idea of folding the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

As the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack, Japan should build the foundation for a treaty that will place a total ban on nuclear weapons. This course would help pave the way for their elimination.

The NPT Review Conference convenes in about two months. Japan should join hands with countries in Europe and other parts of the world, seizing every possible opportunity to make stronger appeals to the nuclear powers, including the United States.

(Originally published on February 24, 2010)

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