Editorial: U.S. action on nuclear disarmament is needed

Was the declaration to pursue nuclear disarmament just talk?

For those who live in the city of Hiroshima, we have to wonder what the point of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin was. Didn’t he express his renewed willingness to cut back on his nation’s nuclear arsenal in that speech?

It is now known that the United States carried out another “new-type” nuclear test at a research facility in New Mexico between April and June of this year--about the same time that Mr. Obama delivered his speech in Berlin. This test, designed to study the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, is clearly an effort by that nation to keep its nuclear arms primed for use.

Although this type of experiment does not involve criticality, and an explosion, the United States has performed nine such tests since 2010. Did Mr. Obama really mean what he said in Berlin? At this point, we cannot help but doubt the sincerity of his declaration for nuclear disarmament.

Four years ago in Prague, Mr. Obama called for “a world without nuclear weapons.” Despite this vision, he has made no significant progress.

He was reelected last November and his second term began in January of this year. His time as president will wind down soon.

Why has Mr. Obama been unable to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal? In the first place, the Republicans in Congress are opposed to any reductions in nuclear arms. This is symbolized by the fact that the U.S. government has signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but Congress has refused to ratify it, despite calls from the international community for the United States to enter the CTBT.

Another reason is the strong opposition to nuclear disarmament among the American public. Meanwhile, a growing number of nations are calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, pointing to their inhumane nature.

If President Obama continues to conduct such nuclear tests, we can only wonder if he has given up on the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world.

The United States and Russia have agreed to reduce the number of their strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550. In his speech in Berlin, made in June, Mr. Obama expressed the hope of further reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons to a level of 1,000. Although this is not a very ambitious goal, confidence building between the United States and Russia is nevertheless crucial to realizing this new policy.

Mr. Obama, however, is putting one of his few positive efforts at risk by canceling a summit with President Vladimir Putin of Russia that was scheduled for September. One of the items on that meeting’s agenda would have been nuclear arms reduction. Canceling the summit is said to be a slap at Russia for granting temporary asylum to a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This former employee leaked information involving U.S. government efforts to gather personal data.

For the United States to disregard the issue of nuclear disarmament, which is a universal concern for the international community, and instead protest Russia’s handling of the former CIA staff member, makes little sense.

If the United States pays heed only to its domestic interests, whether these nuclear tests or U.S.-Russian relations, not only will it be unable to promote nuclear disarmament, it could even fuel further nuclear proliferation.

If things remain as they are, the global community’s demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear development program will not be persuasive. U.S. words must at least lead to some tangible results in nuclear arms reduction to put pressure on North Korea, a non-member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has repeatedly carried out nuclear tests.

John Roos has served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan for four years. Before leaving his post, Mr. Roos referred to the possibility of President Obama visiting the A-bombed cities. In order to keenly understand the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, President Obama should visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as soon as possible and gain a renewed sense of purpose for abolishing nuclear arms from the earth.

(Originally published on August 21, 2013)