The 57th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II passed quietly, in part because Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi skipped a visit to Yasukuni Shrine this month. His trip to the shrine last August stirred up controversy both here and abroad, particularly in China and South Korea. To avoid a similar flap this year, Mr. Koizumi visited the shrine during its spring festival in April.

The quiet atmosphere surrounding this year’s “war end” anniversary is also a reminder that the memories of Aug. 15, 1945, are fading among the Japanese people. That may be unavoidable given the passage of time. However, this date must be remembered by all Japanese as an occasion not only to pray for those who died in the Pacific War but also to reaffirm our endeavor for world peace and stability.

The world today appears to be entering a new age of confrontation and conflict. The much-heralded “new world order” following the end of the Cold War has proved a mirage. What we are seeing now in many parts of the world is more disintegration and confrontation, not more integration and stability.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States shattered our presumptions about domestic and international security. The U.S., the only remaining superpower, is devoting its energy to protecting itself from terrorist attacks or strikes by “rogue states.” President George W. Bush sees Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” just as former President Ronald Reagan branded the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” A pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iraq is a possibility. The Bush administration is even talking of developing small nuclear bombs.

In Europe, the political tide has been shifting in an alarming direction, as evidenced by the surge of far-right parties. Xenophobia is on the rise, shutting out foreigners and immigrants. A new nationalism appears to be raising its ugly head amid a sweeping wave of globalization.

The world is dotted by major flash points. Although Afghanistan is returning to normal, or so it seems, the cinders of tribal hatred and strife are smoldering. Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a seemingly endless cycle of deadly retaliation. Not least, India and Pakistan are trying to outdo each other in the nuclear arms race.

The overriding question for Japan is: As the world’s only and first nation to suffer atomic attacks, what should it do to promote international peace? Basically, the answer goes without saying. However, the Japanese public remains unsure about where the nation is going from here in the conduct of its security policy.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the government acted promptly in tandem with the U.S. government. Special antiterrorism legislation passed the Diet just two months after the incident, while the Self-Defense Forces began supplying fuel to U.S. warships in the Indian Ocean — the first time SDF vessels had been deployed close to an overseas combat area.

The Koizumi administration, expressing all-out support for the U.S., also moved swiftly toward passage of emergency military legislation. The defense package, however, stalled in the last Diet session that ended in July because it contained serious problems, such as the lack of provisions for civilian protection. Also, it was based on the unrealistic assumption of large-scale foreign aggression. It would be more realistic to assume sneak attacks, such as terrorist assaults. To secure broad public support the government needs to come up with a coherent long-term blueprint for dealing with domestic and regional security crises in the framework of the Constitution.

Beyond that, Japan needs to step up efforts toward nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The ultimate goal — total elimination of nuclear weapons — seems a long way off, but Japan can and should strive toward that goal step by step. As the world’s nonnuclear champion, Japan ought to demand further U.S. action for nuclear disarmament.

Adherence to our three nonnuclear principles is also of critical importance. Japan is the only nation that is explicitly opposed, as a matter of national policy, to producing, possessing or introducing any nuclear arms. In this regard, a recent statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda hinting at the possibility of Japan going nuclear did a regrettable disservice to the Japanese. Although he was allegedly raising a “theoretical possibility,” the remark only helped to create suspicion about Tokyo’s intentions.

The World War II surrender anniversary is also an occasion to remind ourselves of the Preamble to the Constitution, which says in part: “We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace.” This commitment to peace remains, and must forever remain, the linchpin of our national policy.

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