Editorial: Statement against use of nuclear weapons

A nuclear weapons convention should be next

To Hiroshima and Nagasaki their warning that the calamities they experienced must never be repeated must seem all too obvious. But the fact that this warning has once again been acknowledged by the international community is highly significant.

A statement citing the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and declaring that they must not be used has been issued by the First Committee (disarmament and international security) of the United Nations General Assembly. The statement, the fourth of its kind, was signed by 125 nations, the most ever. The Japanese government changed its stance and lent its support for the first time.

This is an important milestone for the global movement in pursuit of a “world without nuclear weapons.” We would like to see this momentum boosted by taking the next step: making it clearly illegal to use nuclear weapons by establishing a treaty banning them. We would not like Japan to misread the global trend any further.

The last time around, the Japanese government declined to sign the statement, citing its objection to this language: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.” This wording was again included in the most recent statement, however.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan nevertheless agreed to sign the statement because it had been revised to make it consistent with the nation’s security policy.

This was apparently a reference to the statement’s mention of “all approaches and efforts toward disarmament.” The government seems to have fallen back on this, interpreting it as recognition of Japan’s stance whereby it calls for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation while relying on the “nuclear umbrella” of the United States.

We are reminded of the meeting of the preparatory committee for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in 2000. The committee’s Final Document called for an “unequivocal undertaking” to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Japanese government’s vague objections thus far, which simply stated that Japan would “seek the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons,” were completely controverted the moment it signed the statement.

Unfortunately, Japan has lagged one or two steps behind the global trend toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Had there not been strong criticism from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and others in Japan as well as from abroad, the government may not have taken action this time either.

The government surely knows that as long as it adopts an approach that calls for gradual disarmament, prospects for the elimination of nuclear weapons will be poor.

To make up for lost time, the government needs to take the next step based on a shift in its thinking. Revising the statement to make it consistent with Japan’s reliance on the nuclear umbrella is not what’s important. The statement declares: “The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.” The question is whether or not the government will bear this in mind and then take action.

Is ending the inconsistency whereby Japan relies on the nuclear umbrella really a pipe dream? We would like to point out that Norway and Denmark, both members of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), signed the agreement this time.

The U.S. has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the NATO nations, and they are under its nuclear umbrella. The signing of the statement by member nations can be regarded as a demonstration of their intent to apply pressure for the withdrawal of those nuclear weapons.

Looking at nations in Japan’s vicinity, China possesses nuclear weapons and North Korea shows no signs of ending its nuclear development program. But the threat of nuclear weapons will not be eliminated from East Asia just by saying that the nuclear umbrella is essential as a countermeasure.

Postwar history shows that rather than deterring other nations from developing or possessing their own nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons of the U.S., a military superpower, have had the opposite effect.

Difficult as the path may be, we would like the next goal to be a nuclear weapons convention that completely outlaws their development, possession, transfer and use. Building that momentum is the approach that Japan must take.

A strong grass-roots campaign and collaboration will be essential to achieving this goal. The ability of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to convey just how inhumane nuclear weapons really are will also be put to the test.

(Originally published on October 23, 2013)