Analysis: “Safe landing” with participation by U.S., U.K

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

VIENNA—This was the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which was initiated by nations that were frustrated by the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. Two of the world’s five nuclear powers, the United States and the United Kingdom, attended for the first time, an indication that the nuclear powers can no longer ignore the focus on the catastrophic destruction caused by nuclear weapons or the growing tide of international public opinion in favor of expediting their abolition. But by involving nuclear powers in the debate, a “safe landing” was imperative.

The nations leading the debate on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons are working to outlaw them, but during discussions on the first day of the conference the American envoy wasted no time in stating that the U.S. “does not support efforts to move to a nuclear weapons convention, a ban, or a fixed timetable for elimination of all nuclear weapons.” In its official statement, the U.K. also said it would “maintain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent for as long as it is necessary,” highlighting the gap between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations. The same scenarios that are repeated at every opportunity during “non-nuclear diplomacy” were played out at this conference as well.

Nevertheless some people appreciate the fact that nuclear nations participated in the conference. The review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which will be held next spring, is already expected to face serious challenges with the problems in the Middle East and other issues. During the discussions on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, which should unite the international community in favor of their abolition, the participating nations apparently hoped to avoid a split. This could also be seen in the chair’s summary, which referred to both “an agreed legal framework, including a nuclear weapons convention” and “a step-by-step approach” to nuclear disarmament.

But it was regrettable that remarks by Japan’s government representative, who should have led the debate on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, caused repercussions. In response to a comment that relief operations for the injured could not be carried out in the event of a nuclear explosion, Toshio Sano, the head of Japan’s delegation, simply said, “That’s a little pessimistic.” He then proposed conducting research into ways to enhance the ability to carry out relief operations. This could construed as minimizing the destruction caused by nuclear weapons, and the A-bomb survivors at the conference objected to his remarks.

Many participants said that next year, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings, was the year to move forward with nuclear disarmament. Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “It is high time to move from words to real action.” This statement applies to Japan as well.

(Originally published on December 11, 2014)