Editorial: As A-bombed nation, Japan must play its role in negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons

“Deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons…” This is part of a resolution that was adopted at the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly. All nations should take these words to heart.

The resolution stipulates that negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons will begin in 2017. Supported by 123 countries and opposed by 38, with 16 abstentions, this resolution constitutes the first step toward outlawing such weapons and could mark a watershed moment in the nuclear age, which dawned in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The heavy door opens

But not one of the nuclear weapon states supported the resolution. It does not appear that they will take part in these negotiations, either. Even if a treaty is created, the hope that it will serve as an effective tool for disarmament may only amount to wishful thinking.

But we choose not to be pessimistic. The fact remains that the heavy door to nuclear abolition, which had been closed shut for so long, has now cracked open with this U.N resolution. As such examples as the Land Mine Ban Treaty demonstrate, it is possible to bring a treaty to fruition even when major nations that possess such weapons are not involved. When it came to land mines, nations and non-governmental organizations that shared the same aim led this movement by inspiring international public opinion and were able to have the treaty ratified by a growing number of countries. Therefore, the adoption of the latest resolution on nuclear arms should be viewed as a useful opportunity for fueling new momentum in the movement seeking abolition.

There are still some 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Part of the driving force for the adoption of the resolution is the international community’s anger and frustration over the fact that progress in nuclear disarmament, which the nuclear weapon states should be leading, has been terribly slow.

During the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2015, many nations argued for a treaty to outlaw nuclear arms. But the talks broke down because of opposition from the nuclear powers, including the United States. But this time, Austria, Mexico, and other nations have taken action both inside and outside the framework of the NPT, leading to the start of negotiations for such a treaty.

Behind this is the widespread view that nuclear weapons are inhumane, a feeling based on the appeal long made by the A-bomb survivors: The human race must not experience such tragedies again.

Japan’s opposition disappointing

Thus, the fact that Japan opposed this resolution, while referring to itself as the only nation to have suffered from nuclear attack, is extremely disappointing. The Japanese government has said that the divide between the nuclear and non-nuclear states must not grow wider. But it is apparent that the government bowed to U.S. pressure because of its sensitivity to that nation’s position. Frustrated by the movement in pursuit of a treaty to ban nuclear arms, the United States sent a letter to its allies that urged them to oppose the resolution and not take part in negotiations.

Japan could have, at least, chosen to abstain, even if it would not support the resolution. Its opposition only flies in the face of the desire for nuclear abolition that is felt by the people of this nation, and most keenly, by the A-bomb survivors.

Meanwhile, for the past 23 consecutive years, the Japanese government has been submitting draft resolutions on the elimination of nuclear arms to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, with U.S. backing. These resolutions do not refer to banning such weapons, but express deep concern for the inhumane consequences that the use of nuclear weapons could bring about. When it comes to nuclear arms, the attitudes of Japan and the United States are fundamentally inconsistent.

Nuclear deterrence is an illusion

This past May, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima for the first time and vowed that he would not give up on the goal of nuclear abolition. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined him in this vision, referring to the elimination of nuclear weapons. That historic moment, however, is undermined by the attitudes of the U.S. and Japanese governments. At bottom, the United States is seeking to maintain its nuclear capability, while Japan heedlessly depends on the illusion of nuclear deterrence.

It is true that we must take the global security environment into consideration in discussions concerning the elimination of nuclear weapons. In East Asia, China holds nuclear arms and North Korea persists in its nuclear testing and missile development. But the idea of using force against force remains a relic of the Cold War era. Considering what occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the actual use of a nuclear weapon must not be contemplated. Japan should eye this movement for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons as a chance to step out from under the shadow of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

In line with the decision made at the U.N. General Assembly, negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear arms will begin in New York next March. The details are not yet known, but the convention may focus on such fundamentals as the use of nuclear weapons.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has said that Japan will take part in these negotiations. We cannot help but feel some skepticism over the government’s intent, but at the very least, Japan must not serve as a spokesman for the United States and act as a brake on the upcoming talks. On this occasion, we hope that Japan will fulfill its role as the A-bombed nation by encouraging the nuclear powers to take part in these negotiations, too, so that the treaty can lead, as swiftly as possible, to the elimination of nuclear weapons from the earth.

(Originally published on October 29, 2016)