Interview with Akira Kawasaki of Peace Boat on Japanese government’s decision to back statement on nuclear arms

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

As part of his efforts to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons, Akira Kawasaki traveled to New York to observe the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which deals with disarmament issues, when a joint statement on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons was announced. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Mr. Kawasaki, executive committee member of Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO, on the reasons behind the Japanese government’s decision to support the statement and on future challenges for the nuclear abolition movement.

The voices of people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and other places helped sway the Japanese government’s stiff attitude. Public opinion was symbolized by the peace declarations read out by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this summer, where both mayors strongly urged the national government to support future statements concerning the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

But we should not be blindly optimistic. Pause must be given to this part of the latest statement, which was added at Japan’s behest: “We firmly believe that awareness of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons must underpin all approaches and efforts toward nuclear disarmament.”

Japan has become dependent on U.S. nuclear deterrence and has adopted the policy of taking incremental steps toward nuclear abolition. At the same time, the leaders of the joint statement aspire to make nuclear weapons illegal. Japan, though acknowledging the inhumane nature of such weapons, has indicated that it will not support the concrete approach of outlawing these arms.

I also have concerns about another statement issued on the same day by Japan and Australia, which are allied with the United States, and other nations. This statement expressed the position that discussion on security is indispensable in the nuclear abolition effort. Their stance could put a damper on this golden opportunity to advance nuclear abolition.

The focus of attention is now on whether or not the international community will take the next step toward making nuclear weapons illegal. Japan must not put off dealing with this issue, saying that the elimination of nuclear arms is “a distant dream.” The latest joint statement showed that the voices of the people can move the Japanese government. This is where the real battle begins. We must continue our efforts so that deep discussion on the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons will lead to the conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention.

(Originally published on October 23, 2013)