Opinion: Hiroshima and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty

by Yumi Kanazaki, Editorial Writer

Hoping to bring the world’s policymakers to the A-bombed city and rekindle their determination to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons, the City of Hiroshima is seeking to host international conferences on nuclear disarmament. First in its sights is the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, slated for 2015.

The reaction from the international community, however, appears to be cool. “Logistically, I feel it may be difficult,” Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui has remarked. This month Mr. Matsue visited Austria in conjunction with the First Preparatory Committee meetings for the review conference and appealed for support for the city’s effort to host the NPT gathering in 2015.

Two years ago, I traveled to New York to cover the last review conference. The NPT review conference involves delegates from well over 100 nations assembling once every five years to proceed with negotiations, lasting as long as four weeks, on the implementation of the treaty. To host such a conference, the City of Hiroshima would need to provide the sort of exceptional facilities found in New York, including conference halls equivalent to those at United Nations Headquarters, which served as the previous venue, as well as suitable accommodations and security.

Considering the current reaction to Hiroshima’s bid, I cannot help but feel that the hurdles are high. These conditions are evidently what the mayor was referring to when he used the word “logistically.”

Nevertheless, Hiroshima has not abandoned its bid. City officials say that the city will continue to pursue this aim by establishing a good track record as a host for international events, such as the foreign ministerial conference of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), comprised of ten nations including Japan and Australia, which Hiroshima will hold in two years.

But it is true that the A-bombed city is at a turning point with respect to the NPT regime.

The NPT is currently the only multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation treaty. Maintaining and reinforcing the treaty is vital. This is why 2,000 people from Japan, including A-bomb survivors and members of peace groups, traveled to New York during the last review conference.

At the same time, a number of shortcomings have been noted since the treaty came into effect in 1970. Among them is the “unequal” nature of the pact, which permits only the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China to possess nuclear weapons.

To smooth over this disparity, the treaty has promoted the peaceful use of nuclear energy in tandem with nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. As long as member nations abide by NPT rules, they are guaranteed the right to maintain nuclear power plants.

Even today, in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, a disaster that undid the “safety myth” of nuclear energy, the situation remains the same.

At the preparatory committee held in Vienna this month, the first NPT function since the accident, the Japanese government made an astonishing declaration, saying: “In concert with the international community, Japan will make every effort to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” The difference between this declaration and the government’s stance in Japan, where it has proclaimed the nation will seek to end its reliance on nuclear power, is striking.

In a sense, the review conference serves as a venue for the international community to also reaffirm its support for nuclear energy. I wonder how the A-bombed city perceives this aspect of the conference as it pursues its bid to host the NPT gathering. The city’s stance toward nuclear energy could be called into question.

It seems that the A-bombed city must gear up for abolition efforts beyond the NPT.

In line with the growing awareness that the NPT is inadequate to achieve the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, some nations and anti-nuclear organizations are calling for the fulfillment of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

The City of Hiroshima shares this wish. As the president of Mayors for Peace, a body comprised of over 5,200 member cities, Mr. Matsui submitted to the chair of the preparatory committee a total of 470,000 signatures seeking the start of negotiations on an international convention to ban nuclear arms.

But Japan itself presents a major obstacle. The Japanese government is unwilling to support the idea of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, calling it “premature.” Japan also continues to abstain from voting for a resolution which calls for such a convention, submitted annually at the United Nations General Assembly. While proclaiming its desire for nuclear abolition, Japan nevertheless officially maintains that the nuclear deterrence provided by the United States is needed for the nation’s security. The government’s stance on nuclear weapons is contorted with contradiction.

The position taken by Hiroshima’s mayor feels halfhearted as well. At a press conference held last week, Mr. Matsui was asked about the issue of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. His response was evasive as he replied: “I have no comment with regard to what the city thinks.”

And yet the Japanese government is the nation’s policymaker and needs to show a new resolve to advance the abolition of nuclear arms. I believe pressing the government to do so is the work of the A-bombed city.

(Originally published on May 17, 2012)