Opinion: “Gradual” progress toward nuclear abolition

A resolution on a nuclear weapons convention must be next

by Noritaka Egusa, Chief Editorial Writer

On November 4 the First Committee (disarmament and international security) of the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a Japan-led resolution calling for united action by member nations toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

The Foreign Ministry seems to be patting itself on the back. But from the perspective of Hiroshima, I’d like to say, “Hold on a minute.”

This was the 20th straight year such a resolution has been adopted. On this milestone occasion, a record 102 nations, including the United States, co-sponsored the resolution, and the United Kingdom and France, both nuclear nations, supported it.

With this, the nations of the world, including Japan and the nuclear powers, have moved toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Or that’s what I would like to believe, but unfortunately it is too early to openly rejoice.

The resolution starts out by referring to “the need for all States to take further practical steps and effective measures towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The part about “practical steps and effective measures” weighs on my mind. It reminds me of something Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said just two weeks ago.

The Japanese government completely changed its stance, lending its support for the first time to a joint statement by the international community against the use of nuclear weapons. At a press conference, the foreign minister explained the reason for Japan’s shift saying that the government had determined that the resolution was consistent with Japan’s “realistic and gradual” approach to nuclear disarmament and its security policy.

I think it’s fair to say that this “realistic and gradual” approach means about the same thing as the resolution’s “practical steps and effective measures.” These terms speak volumes about the government’s basic stance.

Japan takes pride in its efforts as an A-bombed nation to tell the world of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and to lead the global effort to bring about nuclear disarmament. Japan had objected to previous statements, citing language opposing the use of nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.” But in the face of harsh criticism from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the government changed its stance. Nevertheless, looking at the reality in the international community, nuclear abolition is a long way off. So, the government is advocating gradual progress toward disarmament for the time being.

Seen another way, “gradual” is a refutation of the movement that seeks to bring about nuclear abolition as soon as possible and also signifies a refusal to go along with that effort. For example, there is no reference in the recent resolution or the joint statement to the nuclear weapons convention advocated by Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This stance also dovetails with the philosophy of President Barack Obama, whose nation provides the “nuclear umbrella” over Japan.

In a speech in Berlin in June, Mr. Obama expressed his determination to bring about nuclear abolition saying, “We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” At the same time, he did not forget to add that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, the U.S. will “maintain a strong and credible deterrent” to protect itself and its allies.

Even Mr. Obama, who has stressed the need for nuclear abolition and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, seems to want to point out that gradual nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation will remain practical challenges for the time being.

But as a citizen of Hiroshima I’d like to ask the governments of Japan and the U.S.: Do you foresee a world without nuclear weapons as the outcome of disarmament? Do you believe that all of the nuclear nations will reduce their arsenals of their own volition and ultimately give up all of their nuclear weapons?

I can’t help but think that the path toward abolition and disarmament would be clearer by considering the two issues separately. I suppose the Japanese government realizes that. Many news outlets, including this newspaper, customarily refer to the recent U.N. resolution as a “resolution on nuclear abolition,” but in light of its content it would be more appropriate to refer to it as a “resolution on nuclear disarmament.” As a matter of fact, the Foreign Ministry home page refers to it that way.

If that’s the case, how about introducing to the U.N. General Assembly next year a real “resolution on nuclear abolition” that includes a nuclear weapons convention? By pressuring all nuclear nations to support such a resolution, Japan can fulfill its responsibility.

The international community has established treaties banning anti-personnel land mines and cluster bombs as well as chemical and biological weapons. It’s not too soon to say, “Nuclear weapons are next.” In fact, that should be the next “gradual” step.

(Originally published on November 7, 2013)