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The 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the first use of a nuclear weapon in history, comes amid circumstances not necessarily favorable for abolishing nuclear weapons. The Aug. 6, 1945, bombing of Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people; the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, some 70, 000. Many survivors still suffer radiation-caused illnesses, including cancer.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, has shut down its plutonium-producing reactor and other facilities at Yongbyon, and accepted International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. But it is unclear when it will complete its next-stage commitments under the Feb. 13 six-party deal to declare all its nuclear programs and disable all its nuclear facilities. Iran is refusing to stop its program to enrich uranium, thus retaining the potential to obtain weapons-grade material.

The United States and India have agreed on broad terms for U.S. resumption of sales of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India and virtual admission of India into the nuclear club. Although the deal provides for international supervision of India’s nuclear fuel cycle, it could undermine the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime, which India has refused to join. After 1974, when India exploded a nuclear device, the U.S. had stopped providing it with aid for nuclear power generation.

The NPT obliges nuclear powers to push nuclear disarmament. But no moves in that direction are discernible. Nonnuclear states joined the NPT and accepted unequal treatment only because the nuclear powers are, under the treaty, supposed to eventually carry out nuclear disarmament.

Although the U.S. has temporarily given up development of nuclear earth-penetrators or bunker-busters, which are intended to destroy enemies and structures deep underground, it remains eager to push development of “reliable replacement warheads.” The strongly built warheads with a simplified structure would last semi-permanently and replace existing warheads. To build RRWs, new manufacturing infrastructure and new human resources will be required. Once they are in operation, they could be used to manufacture other new nuclear weapons, including those for countering biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Many Japanese people who hope for eventual abolition of nuclear weapons lost an advocate on April 17, when Mr. Itcho Ito, then mayor of Nagasaki, was shot to death by a gangster. In 1995, Mr. Ito, together with Mr. Takashi Hiraoka, then mayor of Hiroshima, told the International Court of Justice in The Hague that nuclear weapons were a clear violation of international war. Every year on Aug. 9, Mr. Ito used to read an annual peace declaration addressed to the world.

On June 30, a most unfortunate comment came from then Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma. He said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. “could not be helped.” He said that although the U.S. knew Japan’s surrender was imminent, it dropped the atomic bombs to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the war against Japan: “Hokkaido could have been taken by the Soviet Union. . . . My conclusion is that (the Nagasaki bombing) ended the war.”

Kyuma’s remarks not only represented a misunderstanding of history — the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan was decided at the February 1945 Yalta conference — they also made light of the bomb victims’ sufferings and justified the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

At a time when the nuclear powers do not seem interested in nuclear disarmament and nuclear weapons appear to be proliferating, the Japanese can play a meaningful role. But the fact that some Asian people regard the atomic bombings as having ended Japan’s aggression against them should not be forgotten. The atomic bombings, in a sense, were the culmination of the war process that began with Japan’s aggression against China. To gain support in Asia and elsewhere for elimination of nuclear weapons, Japan should not try to dilute its responsibility for its wartime behavior.

One encouraging sign has come from former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn. In a Jan. 4 Wall Street Journal article, the four said “the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era.” They called for “intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise.” Beyond getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and programs, Japan, for its part, should seriously consider pushing reduction and eventual abolition of nuclear weapons in this region.

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