Nuclear abolition through the power of citizens

by Junichiro Hayashi, Staff Writer

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will open on May 3. Before the start of the conference, which is held every five years, public sessions to learn about the international climate with regard to nuclear issues drew the attention of Hiroshima citizens. In addition, books on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation have been published one after the other. How should we respond to the complex global developments now taking place and bring about a world free of nuclear weapons? While the review conference is a forum for discussion among governments that are signatories to the treaty, it is the momentum generated by citizens which will bolster the trend toward the elimination of these weapons.

Learning about the world and roles to play through lectures

The Hiroshima Peace Institute (HPI), a research unit of Hiroshima City University, held a series of four public lectures entitled "Perspectives on the 2010 NPT Review Conference" in April. The themes of the lectures offered by HPI, based in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, included "What is the NPT?" and "Has the United States changed?" These themes appealed to all ages, and the lecture hall with a seating capacity of 110 was nearly filled to capacity each time.

The title of the third lecture in the series was "Changes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime," with Osamu Yoshida, a Hiroshima University professor, providing a talk on the nuclear policies of India and Pakistan. Both have declared their possession of nuclear weapons yet remain non-signatories of the NPT. Along with the de facto nuclear weapon state of Israel and the suspected nuclear weapon states of Iran and North Korea, these players present a major hurdle to realizing a world without nuclear weapons.

"I don't think eliminating nuclear weapons will be easy," said Tadamitsu Ishizu, 66, a member of the audience. A resident of Higashi Ward, he added with an uneasy look, "It's absurd to say that possessing nuclear weapons makes a nation a winner. The Japanese government and the city of Hiroshima should continue appealing for their elimination."

Last April, a little over a year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama made a speech in Prague pledging to pursue a world without nuclear weapons. In April of this year, the United States and Russia signed a new nuclear arms control pact. Along with such growing momentum toward nuclear abolition, expectations have risen among the citizens of Hiroshima that the NPT Review Conference will produce further progress.

"We should not have excessive expectations, though," said Motofumi Asai, the president of HPI. "The review conference provides an opportunity, but it does not mean all the nuclear weapons will be abolished right away." He added, "I would like to help foster a groundswell of public opinion in which citizens see that they should take action to make a difference in the world, instead of simply depending on the efforts of others."

Professor Asai was the speaker for the last lecture in the series, entitled "Public Consciousness and Nuclear Weapons." Can Japan remain dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella while appealing for the elimination of nuclear weapons? How should Japan live up to its national policy of the three non-nuclear principles? These were among the questions he presented. "We cannot win the sympathetic understanding of the international community while being indifferent to the stance of our own government," he said. "With a little suspicion and imagination, we are able to discern a number of contradictions."

In one of the lectures, the audience was asked: "How can we live in security? Isn't it important for each one of us to express our resolve in this regard?"

Miki Sakurashita, 29, a social worker residing in Minami Ward, is of the same mind. She has been engaged in medical care for A-bomb survivors and will visit the United States for the review conference as a member of the delegation of the Hiroshima Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. "I'm not good at expressing my own ideas, but I want to do my best in line with my ability now," she said with determination.

Books analyze global conditions and provide ideas

Over the past six months, a number of books and periodicals on the themes of the nuclear abolition, nuclear disarmament, and non-proliferation have been published. These publications provide ideas after analyzing global conditions from different perspectives, such as international politics and law.

Kazumi Mizumoto, an HPI professor, published a book entitled Kaku wa haizetsu dekiru ka? ("Can nuclear weapons be eliminated?") in December of last year. The book traces global conditions, year by year, from 1998, when India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests, to January 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama took office. Professor Mizumoto defines these years as the "lost decade" when nuclear weapons proliferated amid disarray.

Professor Mizumoto said, as the title of his book suggests, "I would like to ponder with readers how to accelerate the favorable trends that have developed, such as changes in U.S. policies."

Kenji Urata, professor emeritus at Waseda University, and nine other law experts and peace proponents from in and out of Japan, published Kaku fukakusan kara kaku haizetsu e ("From nuclear non-proliferation to nuclear abolition") this past April. The book contends that nuclear weapons are unlawful and calls for sincere negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament and the realization of a treaty stipulating the total abolition of nuclear arms.

Shuichiro Iwata, professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan, published Kaku kakusan no ronri ("The logic of nuclear proliferation") in April, too. In his book, Professor Iwata identifies factors which prompt North Korea, Iran, and terrorists to seek to possess nuclear weapons.

The May issue of the magazine "Sekai" ("World") carried a special 76-page feature entitled "Kakunaki sekai e no chosen" ("The challenge of a world without nuclear weapons"). Twelve researchers and journalists consider Japan's role with regard to nuclear abolition efforts and U.S. nuclear policies, among other issues.

Interview with Maeko Nobumoto, secretary general of the "Yes! Campaign": Appealing for the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol

Hiroshima citizens have been exerting themselves for the NPT Review Conference. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Maeko Nobumoto, 61, secretary general of the citizens' group called the "Yes! Campaign,” which has served as a PR force for the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, a road map proposed by Mayors for Peace with the aim of eliminating nuclear weapons by 2020. The following are Ms. Nobumoto's comments.

Activities provide opportunities to consider peace

Our group was formed last summer. About 20 members, including A-bomb survivors, company employees, and housewives, from their 30s to their 70s, have been engaged in two activities.

One of these activities is producing an illustrated book which clearly explains the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol. We published 18,000 copies of the book. With proceeds from the sales, we visited municipalities all over Japan and collected signatures for a petition to support the protocol. Eventually, we collected about 1,100 signatures, which is more than half the number of all the municipalities of Japan. We have requested that the Japanese government propose the protocol at the NPT Review Conference.

For some of our members, it's their first experience taking part in peace activities. I myself am originally from Ehime Prefecture and I came to Hiroshima because of my father's work. When I was a university student, I was involved in a play about the atomic bombing as a member of an amateur theater group. Later, I became involved in international exchange programs, but I hesitated to take part in peace activities because I was unsure about how to approach them.

I had no knowledge of the protocol at first. One of my friends told me about it and I learned that the protocol aims to achieve the total abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2020. That encounter led to the formation of the group. My energy for our activities comes from my hope that the protocol can be included among the agenda at the NPT Review Conference.

For many people of the postwar generation, it is difficult to view the issues of nuclear weapons and war as our own problems. I would be pleased if our activities encourage people to start thinking about these issues.

Five members of our group, including A-bomb survivors, will visit the United States in conjunction with the review conference, and convey information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I will be supporting their activities from Hiroshima. Then, at the end of June, the group will be dissolved. Still, the members are eager for more to do so I believe we will pursue new activities in the future.


Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol
The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol was proposed by Mayors for Peace in April 2008. Mayors for Peace, for which Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba serves as president, has been urging that the protocol be adopted at the review conference. The following are stipulated in the protocol:
1. Immediate cessation of activities which could lead to new acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapon states, as well as activities which could lead to the use of the weapons by nuclear weapon states
2. Urging nuclear weapon states to initiate sincere negotiations toward an agreement for an international framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons
3. Legislating the prohibition of activities which could lead to the acquisition and the use of nuclear weapons by the year 2015
4. Implementing concrete programs which will achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons in 2020

Hiroshima Memo: Seeking a unanimous stance for nuclear abolition
by Noritaka Egusa, Editor/Senior Staff Writer

A special school, huge in scale, has as many as 190 classrooms of students. The school determines the destination for its school trip, and the contents for its boxed lunch, at a school-wide gathering of all the classes, held once every five years. Each class has one equal vote, but the decisions must be made unanimously, instead of by majority.

At the gathering held in the year 2000, some class representatives coordinated the discussion in a decisive manner, enabling all the students to venture to a nearby park on their school trip and eat rice balls for lunch. But at the last gathering held in 2005, the class representatives could reach no agreement. In the end, none of the students were able to go anywhere.

Although this metaphor may be a stretch, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference does indeed require unanimity among the participants. Opposition from even one nation can prevent the conference from arriving at any decisions. Still, this doesn't necessarily mean that all conclusions are the product of compromise.

The conference of 2000 adopted a groundbreaking final document which included an "unequivocal undertaking" toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. The credit for this must go to the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), comprised of such nations as Egypt and Mexico. The NAC played a key coordinating role in steadfastly urging reluctant nuclear weapon states to adopt the document.

As a reporter covering the process closely on site, I still recall the sense of elation of that time and, in an article I wrote, I said grandly: "Humanity has left behind the 20th century, the age which produced nuclear weapons." I wrote this, too, out of the desire to urge the nuclear powers not to retreat along the path toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Ten years have passed since then. Today, international momentum for nuclear abolition has grown stronger than ever before. At the same time, fears of a possible chain reaction of nuclear proliferation, including concerns over nuclear terrorism, are far greater. Reaffirming the "unequivocal undertaking" declared ten years ago and advancing it further must be the crux of the review conference this year. Conditions surrounding the conference, however, don't allow for much optimism.

Despite a situation of such magnitude, Japan's "class representative," Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is not attending the "school gathering." It is in part understandable that the prime minister would prioritize a visit to Okinawa, which has been roiled with regard to the issue of U.S. military bases. Still, I can't help but wonder if this decision, as the A-bombed nation, is indeed correct or not.

(Originally published on May 3, 2010)