NEW YORK – A Japanese resolution calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons passed in a United Nations committee on Friday, but with significantly less support than in years past.
Although the Japan-sponsored motion on the issue had over the years enjoyed wider support, signs of apparent backpedaling on nuclear disarmament in the new text prompted many cosponsors to reconsider their blessing.
Tokyo has penned and put forward a similar resolution for the past 24 years in a row, with the latest version endorsed by 144 countries, including the United States and Britain, which also cosponsored it. That’s 23 fewer than the number of states who backed it last year.
The U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee, which endorsed it, deals with disarmament and international security issues. The number of cosponsors plunged to around 70 from last year’s 109.
Votes against the resolution came from China, Russia, North Korea and Syria — all of whom opposed it last year. Additionally, there was a marked uptick in abstentions, which jumped to 27 from 17 last year.
Despite the decreased support, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tokyo feels “very encouraged” by the motion’s passage with “widespread support” from other countries.
“We will continue to make maximum efforts to advance step by step toward creating a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement.
The Japan-sponsored resolution will be put forward to the General Assembly in December.
The resolution makes no mention of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a landmark agreement adopted in July with the support of 122 countries. Nuclear-armed states as well as their allies, including Japan, who receive security guarantees, have not endorsed the treaty.
Mexico, which voted in favor of the resolution as it did last year, pointed to “substantive changes” in the “logic and balance” as compared with previous years.
Speaking before the vote was cast, the representative described how the text alluded to the various approaches to eliminating nuclear weapons and how that “undermined trust among the international community.”
Austria, which like Mexico has sponsored the nuclear ban treaty movement, abstained this time, signaling a shift from last year, when it backed Tokyo.
Austrian Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi from Geneva said this year’s draft “has been substantially changed on a number of important paragraphs and replaced established consensus language by new formulations.”
He added that it “undercut important tenets,” particularly as related to decisions made at the once-every-five-year review conferences on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow expressed anger at the lack of reference to the nuclear weapons ban treaty, calling it a betrayal of the A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha.
“There’s still distance between the draft and China’s principled position,” a Chinese representative said before casting a no vote. As it did last year, Beijing took issue with Japan for singling out the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and warned against presenting a biased presentation of history.
Without referencing the treaty directly, the final text of Japan’s current resolution notes that “there are various approaches towards the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Concerns were raised by the language in the Japan-sponsored draft, notably the wording related to expressions of deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of “nuclear weapons use,” rather than previous language that said “any use of nuclear weapons.”
Proponents of the nuclear weapons ban treaty were especially alarmed by the new nuance and suggested the earlier wording had been widely accepted by most member states, whereas the modified draft seemed to backtrack.
Further examples could be found in other parts of the document, such as a passage encouraging the United States and Russia to “take steps to create conditions that would allow for the commencement of negotiations” to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.
Earlier wording was more forceful in calling on the two nations, which hold the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons, to instead “commence” the negotiations.