The August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings killed tens of thousands of people outright and drew a line in history between the prenuclear world and what came afterward.
Japan remains the only country subjected to a nuclear attack and the United States the only nation to ever use these weapons of mass destruction.
A decade into the 21st century, the world may now be trying to back away from atomic arms and proliferation — a movement initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision for “a world without nuclear weapons.”
A global nuclear disarmament movement should be the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan-led government to show true leadership in the international community, but so far they have done little to differentiate themselves from the days when the Liberal Democratic Party was long in power, critics says.
Mitsuru Kurosawa, a professor of international law at Osaka Jogakuin College, blames Japan’s continued reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for this inaction.
Like the previous LDP governments, “the DPJ also stands unchanged about depending on the U.S. for extended nuclear deterrence in the face of threats,” Kurosawa said. “The dependence on the nuclear umbrella may remain unchanged, but I think we can see that the DPJ is at least trying to reduce (this deterrent’s) role.”
Last summer, when the LDP was struggling to stay in power, it did not articulate any nuclear policy shift. The party’s 2009 campaign platform focused on strengthening ties with the U.S., including the missile defense program and protecting Japan from North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
The DPJ meanwhile distinguished itself by vowing to play a leading role in efforts to rid the world of atomic weapons and to “work toward a nuclear-free Northeast Asia.”
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has also expressed strong interest in nuclear disarmament, pushing for nations to adopt a no-first-use policy and not using such weapons against nonnuclear states.
“It’s true the DPJ has shown more enthusiasm (toward promoting nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament), but it has not yet produced results,” Kurosawa said.
Nonnuclear Japan has been relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence since the Cold War. Because of this, experts believe the country cast the impression that it could never fully engage in any movement to rid the world of atomic weapons.
“Japan’s aim for nuclear disarmament and its dependence on the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. fundamentally contradict each other,” Kurosawa said. “So what Japan needs to do is make concessions on both sides to maintain a certain balance.”
And the first step was the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, released by the Obama administration in early April. The NPR renounces the use of nuclear weapons on nonnuclear countries that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It also declares America will get rid of its Tomahawk nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles.
At the same time, however, the review also stipulates that the U.S. will maintain a nuclear arsenal as long as such weapons exist elsewhere.
“As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure and effective nuclear forces,” the NPR says. “These nuclear forces will continue to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world.”
But Motofumi Asai, president of Hiroshima Peace Institute, a research center at Hiroshima City University, points out that the NPR’s declaration of not using nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries is only natural.
“There is no way that in this world today where the international community is founded on interdependence that a country would be allowed to engage in a nuclear attack on a nonnuclear nation,” Asai said.
“Interdependence is not just about the economy. The Earth and human society (are) firmly bound together by interdependence . . . countries don’t realize that the use of nuclear (arms) means the annihilation of the world.”
Asai added that some countries pursue atomic weapons to confront what they perceive to be a U.S. threat, including North Korea.
After 1945, “nuclear weapons can’t be used anymore, and I think we need to graduate from the idea of nuclear deterrence,” Asai said. “And the country that should be saying this out of all the nations in the world is Japan, with its experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
The first half of 2010 has seen various key nuclear policy efforts, including the first Nuclear Security Summit, held in Washington, and the review conference of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which runs until month’s end at the United Nations.
Both Asai and Kurosawa regard the NPT review conference as extremely important.
“I think this is the biggest conference for the world to discuss nuclear weapons — there is no other like it,” Kurosawa said. “I think it will deeply influence the international trend on nuclear weapons.”
The NPT review conference is held every five years. The last time was in 2005, when George W. Bush was president. Critics denounced that conference for failing to yield tangible progress.
Kurosawa, who has attended past gatherings, including the 2005 conference, and is participating in the 2010 meeting, said this time the atmosphere is more positive.
“Nonnuclear countries have expressed criticism that nuclear (states) have not done enough for nuclear disarmament. But in 2005, Bush was slammed by other countries for dismissing nuclear disarmament and focusing only on nonproliferation,” Kurosawa said. “The biggest change is that the U.S. leadership is going in a positive direction — last time, Bush was headed toward ruining the conference.”
The DPJ specifically mentioned the talks in its 2009 Lower House campaign platform, vowing to take a leading role in this year’s NPT review conference. But already, experts and participants have voiced deep disappointment because neither Hatoyama nor Okada are attending.
Asai said no matter how many thousands of Japanese experts and nongovernmental group members attend, without the presence of Japan’s top leader, the nation’s nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation message will not reach the other countries.
Japan can and should be a leader in the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation effort, Asai said.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks were “so devastating that they divided history between pre- and post-1945. The human race must decide how to deal with nuclear (arms), and we Japanese need to embrace a sense of mission and tackle this issue.”