Opinion: Fumio Kishida is reappointed foreign minister of Japan, must renew his resolve to abolish nuclear arms

by Noritaka Egusa, Chief Editorial Writer

Along with most of the other Cabinet ministers, Fumio Kishida was reappointed foreign minister for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s third iteration of his administration in December. Mr. Kishida will continue to shoulder the heavy responsibility of leading Japan’s diplomatic efforts for peace at this important time, with 2015 marking the 70th year since the end of World War II.

2015 is also the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings. In this year, the people of the A-bombed cities hope that Japanese leaders will help steadily advance the world toward nuclear abolition. I call on Mr. Kishida, a leader elected by the people of his Hiroshima constituency, which includes the A-bomb’s hypocenter area, to renew his determination to stand at the forefront of the movement to abolish nuclear arms.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I can only hope that Mr. Kishida will be more proactive in his role because in the two years since he assumed this post, there has been little progress toward nuclear disarmament from the nuclear weapon states. Moreover, a Japanese diplomat representing the A-bombed nation made a comment which seemed to support the status quo of current conditions involving nuclear weapons.

At the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which took place in Vienna, Austria in early December, Toshio Sano, the Japanese ambassador for disarmament, refuted the idea that it would be impossible to establish the means to provide sufficient relief in the event of an explosion of a nuclear weapon. That idea “seems a little pessimistic,” Mr. Sano said.

It is true that, in the summer of 1945, under the A-bomb mushroom cloud, many doctors and nurses devoted themselves to relief efforts in spite of their own injuries.

At the same time, there were a large number of A-bomb survivors who had no choice but to flee the catastrophe, running away from voices that were calling for help, and left them living in guilt after the war. If their accounts are heard, even just once, it becomes clear that we should be discussing ways to prevent such a tragedy from occurring at all, rather than emphasizing measures to address the consequences of an explosion.

Moreover, our nation suffered a dreadful accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. This should have been another stark reminder of the fact that human beings are powerless in the face of the dangers posed by radiation.

And yet, at the conference in Vienna, which focused on the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons, Mr. Sano, the representative of the delegation dispatched by the Japanese government, made his ill-advised remark. I would like to know his real intention, since it seemed he dared making a comment which assumed the use of a nuclear weapon.

Akira Kawasaki, a member of the international steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who was at the venue, has analyzed this comment on his blog, remarking, “In which direction is the Japanese government looking? Don’t be hasty in saying that nuclear weapons must be outlawed because they are beyond human control. If this was the message of Ambassador Sano, he was speaking on behalf of the nuclear powers.”

Afterward, Mr. Kishida revealed that he reprimanded Mr. Sano in person and said that “a misunderstanding arose about the position of our country and this is regrettable.”

I may appear to be contesting Mr. Kishida’s comment, but there has been no misunderstanding over Japanese nuclear policy. Rather, disarmament experts worldwide have been accurate in their view of Japan’s basic stance on this issue, which involves appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons while relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for our nation’s security.

A-bomb survivors who share their A-bomb accounts overseas are often told, “If you want to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the international community, why don’t you first of all change the position of your government?” This confirms that Japan’s stance is well known.

Mr. Kishida is well aware of this. The Japanese government endorsed a joint statement at the United Nations in the fall of 2013, which stresses the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and the fact that they must not be used. This endorsement, the first for Japan, can be attributed to the foreign minister’s strength in setting in motion the bureaucrats of the foreign ministry.

In addition, Mr. Kishida has repeatedly stated that Japan should make use of this awareness of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons as a way to find common ground between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations.

At the same time, however, this seems to be the limit of the government’s actions. When Japan mentions the abolition of nuclear weapon, this is spoken within an unstated context: Although nuclear weapons are inhumane weapons, if the use of these weapons, even in extreme circumstances, is banned, this would weaken the effectiveness of the nuclear umbrella, impacting the nation’s security. Therefore, Japan maintains some distance from the international trend calling for a nuclear weapons convention.

It may be true that Japan must respond to the nuclear capability posed by North Korea and China. But other measures should be pursued beyond continuing to rely on the nuclear umbrella. The governments of both Japan and the United States have mentioned reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their road map toward nuclear disarmament. Why, then, doesn’t the A-bombed nation prompt the United States and China to conclude a joint statement which calls for a pledge of “no first use,” banning the use of nuclear arms unless first attacked with these weapons?

Japan and the United States both contend that they will advance nuclear disarmament step by step, ultimately bringing about the abolition of nuclear weapons. But this feels like a deception. I invite U.S. President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima to clarify this concern. Prior to that, I also hope to hear a speech by Mr. Kishida, made in Hiroshima, his constituency, which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing.

(Originally published on December 25, 2014)