Editorial: Japan shouldn’t call itself the A-bombed nation

We couldn’t believe our ears. The Japanese government had refused to lend its support to the joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that was submitted at the Second Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Over 70 nations were backing the statement and yet Japan had become bogged down by this language: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”

We find it hard to comprehend how the Japanese government could reject such sound reasoning. 

Contradiction of the “nuclear umbrella”

Japan’s pursuit of non-nuclear diplomacy has been inadequate, but it continues this course out of a sense of mission so that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not repeated elsewhere in the world. But if the government’s actions do not jibe with its rhetoric for nuclear abolition, then all its efforts are for naught.

In Switzerland, where the preparatory committee has gathered, a demonstration to protest the Japanese government’s decision was promptly staged. A-bomb survivors were deeply disappointed, and criticism and dismay directed toward Japan from the international community will only grow.

Mari Amano, the Ambassador of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, reportedly explained to Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, and others, in Switzerland that “The statement is not consistent with the policy of the Japanese government, which is seeking measures to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons on a step-by-step basis.” Apparently, the government is not really motivated to abolish nuclear arms at one stroke.

The reason for this reluctance is Japan’s reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its national security. In the first place, however, appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons while continuing to rely on the nuclear umbrella is a contradiction.

According to such sources as the delegation from South Africa, which announced the statement, the original draft of the document had included wording which flatly declared that nuclear weapons are “illegal.” However, in hopes of gaining the A-bombed nation’s endorsement, this language was removed.

Will Japan seek its own nuclear arsenal?

Still, the Japanese government remained opposed to the additional wording “under any circumstances” and asked that this language be omitted, too. This is why the nations involved in negotiating the statement were unable to overcome their differences.

Despite this, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was defiant. In the past, it said, Japan would have categorically rejected the statement from the start. This time, the government worked hard to negotiate adjustments in the language until the very last moment. Japan’s stance, it went on, is different from prior cases and the possibility exists that Japan will join a similar statement in the future.

But to our mind, this is self-justification. To oppose the phrase “under any circumstances” means that the Japanese government is conceding that nuclear weapons can be used if the situation allows.

It is no exaggeration to say that the nation’s non-nuclear diplomacy has ended in failure. After this, apart from the United States, no other nation will give an ear to what the A-bombed nation says.

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose policies tilt toward the United States, the criticism coming from A-bomb survivors and the international community is apparently not as important as Mr. Abe’s attachment to the nuclear umbrella.

At the same time, we suspect the decision also hinted at Mr. Abe’s desire to keep open the option of arming the nation itself with nuclear weapons. Based on bellicose comments made by the prime minister and fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, such speculation is unavoidable.

Conditions in East Asia, it is true, have grown more tense as a result of China strengthening its navy and North Korea’s continuing nuclear development efforts. The timing of such moves has affected Japan’s national security climate.

Still, from another vantage point, it is plainly true that the musclebound nuclear might of the United States has pushed China and North Korea toward fortifying their own weaponry. And the nuclear umbrella has been unable to prevent these actions.

What the Abe administration must not do is spur relations of threats and counterthreats with our neighbors in the region. It is time for the administration to reflect again on the real meaning of the A-bomb experience, in order to ease these tensions.

“No others should endure the same suffering.” This is the warning made by the A-bombed city, which experienced such tragedy firsthand, for the sake of humanity’s future. As a result, world leaders have hesitated to use nuclear weapons since the first A-bomb attacks.

In this way, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have indeed served as a deterrent, turning nuclear weapons into arms which should never be used.

Japanese government betrays humanity

The joint statement includes the very natural sentiment: “The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.” If the Japanese government cannot recognize that their rebuff of the statement was tantamount to betraying the A-bomb survivors and humanity itself, this is truly regrettable.

How can peace in East Asia be created without continuing to rely on the nuclear umbrella? The actions taken by the Abe government make it difficult for Japan to engage in real non-nuclear diplomacy and a new start for its role in advancing nuclear abolition. Is Japan really the A-bombed nation? In our view, the government shouldn’t be using that label.

(Originally published on April 26, 2013)