Steven Leeper, chairperson of Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, shares thoughts on antinuclear conference in Norway

by Rie Nii, Staff Writer

The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Steven Leeper, the chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, on the significance of an international conference to be held in Oslo, Norway this March and the role of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.

What is the significance of the conference with respect to the abolition of nuclear weapons?

The conference will be an important venue for discussing the inhumanity of nuclear weapons at the level of nations, scientifically and concretely, though the people of Hiroshima have long been well aware of this fact. The crucial factor is whether the nations that don’t possess nuclear weapons will stand up to establish a trend, with the belief that nuclear weapons are too dangerous for human beings, the idea of nuclear deterrence is unnecessary, and these weapons must be eliminated.

Why is this discussion taking place now?

In anticipation of the 2015 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), 16 nations, including Switzerland, released a joint statement at the first preparatory meeting held in May 2012, calling for nuclear weapons to be made illegal under international law. A similar statement was submitted by 35 nations to the First Committee (Disarmament) of the United Nations’ General Assembly in October 2012. The general assembly then made the decision to launch a working group in December 2012 which is focused on a world without nuclear weapons, and to hold a conference on nuclear disarmament with senior officials (a nuclear disarmament summit) in September 2013.

As we are in the midst of this trend, if the participants at the Oslo conference in March discuss the ideas of starting negotiations for the abolition of nuclear weapons, or concluding a nuclear weapons convention, this will generate strong momentum for the issue. If a number of non-nuclear nations engage in discussion on eliminating nuclear weapons, pressure will mount on the nuclear weapon states.

The goal is for 150 to 170 nations to express support for a nuclear weapons convention at the next NPT review conference.

Japan did not join in either statement by the 16 nations or 35 nations. Do you think that Japan can demonstrate some clout at the Oslo conference?

I believe Japan can play a very influential role. If Japan, which has promoted the nuclear industry, takes a proactive stance for the abolition of nuclear weapons, this will give the issue a big boost. If, however, Japan shows a more cautious stance and says that negotiations should continue at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva—talks that have stalled—or argues that negotiations should proceed step by step, such as first reducing the number of nuclear warheads, then the conference will make little headway.

What do you see as the role of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima?

Despite the great efforts being made by the people of Hiroshima, if they don’t impact the national level, their actions will be ignored by others. Although Mayors for Peace has 5,500 member cities, the organization has not shown significant influence.

However, if the efforts of the people of Hiroshima can impact the national level, and this, in turn, sways other nations, Hiroshima’s spirit can link them together, resulting in a leadership role for Hiroshima and Nagasaki in this movement. If this were the case, the member cities of Mayors for Peace would then find it easier to urge their national governments to join in the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on January 21, 2013)