Steven Leeper, chair of Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, to step down at the end of March

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

Japan now at a crossroads when it comes to nuclear abolition

Steven Leeper, 65, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, an organization under the auspices of the City of Hiroshima, will step down at the end of March and return to the United States. Mr. Leeper has been an important part of the city’s peace efforts for the past six years, since assuming his post in 2007. The Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Mr. Leeper for his parting words to the city, including his thoughts on the prospect of nuclear abolition and the challenges facing Hiroshima in the future.

Where have you put your strongest efforts during your time as chair?
I tried to meet with as many people as possible, both at home and abroad, and convey the city’s positions to increase understanding. As the first non-Japanese chair, I felt this was something I should do. Because I’m from the United States, the nation which dropped the atomic bombs, many people were willing to hear me out.

You’ve worked with both former mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and current mayor Kazumi Matsui. What are your impressions of these two men?
Mr. Akiba generated momentum for nuclear disarmament, putting pressure on the Japanese government with the message that the city would advance the aim of nuclear abolition if the nation failed to act. Mr. Matsui has been seeking to exert influence in strategic ways while working in concert with the central government. Their approaches differ, but both are pursuing the same end.

You helped expand Mayors for Peace from a membership of 1608, when you took office, to 5551 today.
The important thing is calling on each city to take serious steps to advance a world without nuclear weapons. Toward that end, we have been working to strengthen the operations of the organization. If our hopes are fulfilled, Mayors for Peace will become the strongest non-governmental organization in the field of nuclear disarmament.

Mayors for Peace has been seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020. What goal should the City of Hiroshima promote?
Today, the non-nuclear weapon states are focused on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, and their efforts to outlaw nuclear arms are growing. I hope Hiroshima will demonstrate the stance of putting its support behind this trend.

Representatives from as many as 127 governments attended an international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons this month in Oslo, a gathering organized by the Norwegian government. A range of information was presented, describing the horrific consequences brought about by the use of a nuclear weapon. Comments were made, one after the other, on the necessity of banning nuclear weapons from the world. It was decided that Mexico will hold the next conference on this theme as early as this year.

To date, the conversation of nuclear disarmament has been controlled by the nuclear weapon states, which use the theory of nuclear deterrence as their excuse to maintain their nuclear arsenals. But things were different at this conference. The non-nuclear nations have taken a stand, and the nuclear powers are afraid of the momentum now building in these nations. Now is the time to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The Japanese government is showing great reluctance when it comes to this move to make nuclear weapons illegal.
Japan exhibits a contradictory stance. It argues for abolishing nuclear weapons while relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security. Japan has avoided adopting policies that would displease the United States.

But Japan has now come to a crossroads. Will it pursue nuclear abolition seriously or continue to support the idea of nuclear deterrence? The citizens of Japan, too, must think about which path they should choose. Choosing the latter path, however, would not be wise. If Japan follows that path, it would be unable to maintain good relations with the non-nuclear states. And following that path would undermine the effort to outlaw nuclear weapons. The effort to ban nuclear arms is in keeping with the appeals made by the A-bomb survivors. I hope the A-bombed city will press the Japanese government to back this campaign to outlaw nuclear weapons.


Steven Leeper
Steven Leeper was born in the U.S. state of Illinois in 1947. After working as an English teacher in Japan, among other types of work, he received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from West Georgia College in 1978. In 1986, he jointly founded a company in Hiroshima which offered translation and interpretation services. After returning to the United States in 2002, he was hired as a local staff member of Mayors for Peace. While residing there, he became an executive advisor to Mayors for Peace in 2003. In 2007, he assumed the post of chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. In September of this year, he will become a specially appointed professor at Hiroshima Jogakuin University.

(Originally published on March 14, 2013)