Editorial: One year has passed since the nuclear weapons ban treaty was born

One year has passed since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first-ever international law to outlaw nuclear weapons, was adopted at the United Nations in July 2017. Today, we, the citizens of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, renew our determination to overcome the hurdles that remain toward the goal of realizing a world that is free of nuclear weapons.

To date, while 59 countries and regions have signed the nuclear weapons ban treaty, only eleven of these have actually ratified the treaty through political procedures domestically. A minimum of 50 countries must ratify the treaty for the treaty to take effect, and it appears that this will take some time to achieve. Considering that as many as 122 countries and regions favored the adoption of the treaty one year ago, it cannot be said that progress toward its ratification is proceeding smoothly. Even Japan, the only nation in the world to have suffered an atomic attack, has not yet signed the treaty.

Behind this slow progress is the stubborn stance that the nuclear weapon states, including the United States, are taking to oppose the treaty. They have persistently voiced this opposition since discussions about the treaty first began. Moreover, the United States is reportedly putting strong pressure on the nations of Africa, Central America, and South America, many of which are in need of financial aid, not to ratify the treaty. If the United States continues to not only oppose the treaty, but also actively deter other countries from supporting it, this will create grave circumstances.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons seeks the elimination of all nuclear weapons and bans their use, development, production, and possession. The treaty goes even further by banning the threat to use nuclear weapons. The adoption of the treaty represents the fruits of the long-running efforts made by the atomic bomb survivors and the people of the A-bombed cities who have sought a nuclear-free world based on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.

Presently, there are still some 14,000 nuclear warheads on earth. Compared to the peak of more than 60,000 nuclear warheads during the Cold War, their number has been reduced dramatically. Even this lower number of nuclear weapons, however, is enough to annihilate the human race many times over. Furthermore, the possibility that nuclear weapons and materials could detonate as the result of accidental error or fall into the hands of a terrorist group cannot be ruled out. To completely eliminate the risk of such scenarios, there is no other option but to abolish all nuclear arms.

Although a wide gap still exists between the nuclear nations and the nations that have supported the establishment of the treaty, the fact that the United Nations is engaged in the issue of nuclear reduction is a very positive sign. It has, first of all, created a comprehensive document which includes the nuclear reduction challenges that the United Nations should address. And one of the three pillars of the U.N.’s greater goal is the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, that can affect the existence of human beings.

As a world without nuclear weapons is the desire of the majority of the world’s people, the United Nations has an important responsibility to push forward proactively with nuclear arms reduction. If Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, attends the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony as planned, he is expected to send a strong message that calls for nuclear disarmament.

In Hiroshima, seven A-bomb survivor groups have urged the Japanese government to sign and ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty. This sort of trend is now spreading widely across the nation. More than 300 local assemblies, or about 20 percent of all local governments, have adopted proposals calling on the central government to sign and ratify the treaty.

The Japanese government, however, still turns its back on the treaty. But shouldn’t it, rather, be the mission of the A-bombed nation to become the first country to sign and ratify the treaty and set an example to the nuclear weapon states and the countries that are sheltering under the nuclear umbrella? It must be said that the Japanese government has relinquished its duty to act. On the other hand, local governments seem to recognize that it is more important to abolish nuclear arms than to continue clinging to the nuclear umbrella for protection.

If the United States and the other nuclear powers don’t like the nuclear weapons ban treaty, they have a responsibility to show the world how they plan to reduce their nuclear arsenals without it. According to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the five nuclear powers, including the United States and Russia, are obliged to reduce their nuclear arsenals. They should take to heart the fact that, as a result of their negligence in this regard and the backlash it stirred from the international community, much of the world united to adopt the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

If the Japanese government would truly like to serve as a “bridge between the nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations,” it must make persistent efforts to persuade the United States to address the issue of nuclear disarmament.

(Originally published on July 16, 2018)