Editorial: Japan should do everything possible to advance the cause of nuclear abolition

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the Japan-led resolution on the abolition of nuclear weapons on December 5. Japan has submitted this resolution every year since 1994. Although backers of the resolution had continuously increased in the past, this time the number of supporting nations was 156, down 11, and that of co-sponsors fell by 32 from last year.

This is a sign that confidence in Japan’s leadership in the cause for nuclear abolition, as “the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack,” is weakening among the U.N. member states. The Japanese government must take to heart how other nations see its stance and address this situation seriously.

Japan not only failed to take part in the negotiations for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in July by the United Nations, but also avoided making reference to it in this year’s resolution. In addition, the resolution contained watered-down language about the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. These actions by the Japanese government are presumably the reason for the drop in the number of supporters.

Two international conferences on nuclear disarmament were recently held in Hiroshima: the first meeting of “The Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament,” which was sponsored by Japan’s foreign ministry and attended by diplomats and experts from various countries, and the U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues. During these meetings, Japan was the target of criticism and requests, one after another, over its lack of action in its role as the only A-bombed nation. This criticism was aimed, in particular, at the negative attitude of the Japanese government toward the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Japan’s stance reflects the recent nuclear tests and missile launches pursued by North Korea despite repeated warnings from the international community. The position of the United States is another factor that Japan is taking into account. However, with the wave of anti-nuclear support now rising in the international community, we wonder how much longer Japan can continue to turn its back on the world. It seems the government has focused solely on the United States and neglected to view the situation from a broader perspective.

Although the nuclear-armed nations agree on the goal of realizing a nuclear-free world, it is clear that they are opposed to, or concerned about, the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The divide between the nuclear haves and have-nots has widened.

The possibility that nuclear weapons could be used by accident, or that nuclear material might fall into the hands of terrorists, cannot be denied. It is only natural to say that the best way, and the only way, of preventing damage from the use of nuclear arms is to eliminate them entirely from the earth.

We urge the Japanese government to make its utmost efforts to persuade the nuclear powers to support the nuclear weapons ban treaty and work to advance, even another step, the realization of a world without nuclear weapons. This nation must not offer only empty rhetoric. If Japan continues to advocate a phased process as the only realistic way to achieve nuclear abolition, then a concrete plan should be worked out with the nuclear weapon states. That is the role it should play as a bridge between the nuclear-armed countries and the non-nuclear nations.

The establishment of the nuclear weapons ban treaty does not alter the significance of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), as this agreement obliges nations to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith and meet regularly to discuss their progress.

Under the NPT regime, obligations to engage in earnest negotiations for nuclear disarmament are stipulated, and regular discussions are held to check if these obligations are being fulfilled. These provisions should be taken full advantage of in order to create a path for nuclear abolition. For instance, we should make the most of policies involving the no-first-use of nuclear weapons, and negative security assurance, which means that nuclear weapon states cannot attack non-nuclear nations with nuclear weapons, in order to gain a legally-binding pledge by the nuclear weapon states. This framework could be used to initiate actions that the nuclear weapon states have not pursued seriously themselves.

Meanwhile, the denuclearization of North Korea remains a pressing issue that must be addressed. Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General and head of the Department of Political Affairs, arrived in Pyongyang yesterday. The use of force must be avoided, let alone the use of nuclear weapons. This is out of the question. Hopefully, Mr. Feltman can find a way to ease the growing tensions between the United States and North Korea and begin a dialogue with that nation.

“No others should be made to endure the same kind of suffering.” This is the pure desire, and the appeal, of the A-bomb survivors, who know the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons first-hand. Their message underlies the idea that the realization of a safe world for all human beings, not only for certain countries or people, is an essential task. And Japan should do everything it can to advance that cause.

(Originally published on December 6, 2017)