Pushing for nuclear disarmament

Japan on Oct. 21 joined 124 other countries in signing a United Nations statement that underlines the inhuman nature of nuclear weapons and calls for the nonuse of such weapons. This is the first time that Japan has supported such a joint statement despite its being the only nation to have suffered from nuclear attacks. Now that Japan has signed the statement, it should play a constructive role in global efforts to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons.

If Japan had not signed this time, the international community could have doubted its seriousness on the matter. Japan had stopped short of signing similar joint statements issued in May and October 2012 and last April because it held that the phrase against nuclear weapons being used “under any circumstances” was incompatible with its policy of relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The Japanese government faced strong criticism from survivors of the August 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and by the mayors of the two cities for its failure to support the three earlier statements.

The countries that possess or are suspected to possess nuclear weapons did not sign the past and latest statements. But this time, about two-thirds of the 193 U.N. member countries signed the statement, demonstrating that an opinion pushing for the nonuse of nuclear weapons and eventual abolition of such weapons is becoming strong in the international community.

The latest joint statement was presented to the U.N. General Assembly First Committee to discuss disarmament and national security. It partly said, “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.” It also said, “All efforts must be exerted to eliminate the threat of these weapons of mass destruction.”

The Japanese government explained that the latter sentence agrees with Japan’s approach of taking realistic and gradual steps toward nuclear disarmament.

Stressing the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons, the statement went on to say, “Past experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons has amply demonstrated the unacceptable humanitarian consequences caused by the immense, uncontrollable destructive capability and indiscriminate nature of these weapons” and “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed.”

Japan should pay attention to the fact that while it enjoys the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, U.S. President Barack Obama is working toward the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons and that Norway and Denmark, also under the U.S. nuclear umbrella as NATO countries, signed the statement.

Although Japan is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, it should help deepen discussion on the abolition of nuclear weapons both at home and abroad, and consider what concrete actions will help the international community realize this goal.

Japan’s seriousness on the matter will be tested at a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative — which will also be attended by Australia and 10 other non-nuclear weapons countries — in Hiroshima next spring .