NEW YORK — As Hideo Hiraoka pushes to persuade leaders at the United Nations to advocate a nuclear-free Northeast Asia, he still remembers his first encounter with nuclear devastation at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum decades ago.
“That was my original starting point,” the 55-year-old executive director of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Nuclear Disarmament Group said on the sidelines of a recent meeting to prepare for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.
As a 12-year-old he was “very shocked” by the images of death and destruction he saw.
Hiraoka, a DPJ member in the House of Representatives, recalled the horrific nightmares that followed once he returned home to nearby Yamaguchi Prefecture. The explosion left another imprint on his life when he learned about the secondary radiation exposure to his father, then a noncommissioned officer in the Imperial Japanese Army.
Hiraoka, considered a “second-generation A-bomb survivor,” said the experiences and his pledge to prevent history from repeating itself have shaped his career path.
“These are the weapons that must never be used. We, as human beings, whose civilizations have overcome countless crises, now have a responsibility to abolish this hell of our own invention,” he said in a recent speech in New York. “As a Japanese lawmaker, I deeply feel a special responsibility to work hard for this cause.”
Hiraoka is not only speaking out against the existence of nuclear weapons, but also lobbying other parliamentarians, U.N. diplomats, members of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations to prevent further proliferation.
While speaking as a panelist and attending conferences, the soft-spoken Hiraoka has rallied hard to promote a plan to make Northeast Asia nuclear-free.
The plan calls for North Korea, Japan and South Korea to conclude a treaty to establish nuclear weapons-free zones, which would ban the development and possession of nuclear weapons by the three nations. It also calls on the United States, China and Russia not to launch or threaten to launch nuclear attacks against the three Northeast Asian countries.
He unveiled details of a draft treaty at the international body last week.
Other nuclear-free zones exist to cover Antarctica, Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, Central Asia and Mongolia, the sea bed and outer space. The Japanese public first learned about the draft last August on the eve of the 63rd anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. But the ideas were new to many of the international participants attending the meeting, which ends Friday after two weeks of deliberations.
Called the “three plus three nations arrangement,” the plan reflects the DPJ’s desire to wean Japan away from its reliance on the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S.
During the interview, Hiraoka indicated that if his party manages to make inroads at the next general election to be held later this year, the arrangement could become the cornerstone of Tokyo’s foreign policy.
“We can make progress at the intergovernmental level,” he added.
In other public appearances, Hiraoka spoke of recent events, such as the April 5 rocket launch by North Korea. He said that while many believe that Pyongyang is at the root of tension in the area, there are more complex factors at play.
Coupled with Japan’s history of colonialism, a sense of distrust “has created thick filters” and “laid the groundwork for regional security problems,” Hiraoka explained.
“Given these multifaceted circumstances, with countries in the region perceiving a potential threat in one another, setting up a Northeast Asia nuclear weapon-free zone has critically important implications,” he said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.