Sixty-three years have passed since an atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. The Aug. 6, 1945, bombing, the first use of a nuclear weapon in history, killed about 140,000 people. Another atomic bombing three days later over Nagasaki killed about 70,000 people. More than 240,000 atomic bombing survivors are still living, many of them suffering from radiation-caused illnesses.
To help ensure that these abhorrent, indiscriminate weapons are never used again, it is vital that we pass on the memories of these horrific events to future generations and strive to abolish all nuclear weapons. But unfortunately, efforts to abolish such arms are making little progress.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China as nuclear-weapons states. But outside the NPT framework, India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and Israel is believed to have them. In October 2006, North Korea detonated a nuclear device. Suspicions also hover over Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.
North Korea filed a declaration of its nuclear programs with China, the chair of the six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization, in June — almost six months after the promised date, which was the end of 2007. But the declaration is reported to be incomplete and the parties to the talks have not yet agreed on a method to verify the declaration. In a hasty concession to the North, the U.S. has started a procedure to remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Further progress in the efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear programs are not evident.
India, not a party to the NPT, is pushing ahead with the civilian nuclear cooperation accord with the U.S., signed in July 2007. Under the NPT, nuclear-weapons states are supposed to refrain from assisting non-NPT nations with nuclear power for civilian use. The accord enables the U.S. to do so and virtually recognizes India as a nuclear-weapons state. It carries the danger of undermining the NPT regime by inducing other non-NPT nations with nuclear programs to seek similar civil nuclear accords.
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency endorsed a safeguard agreement with India, pushing the U.S.-India accord one step closer to implementation. The IAEA justified its decision by saying the agreement would impose some control over India’s nuclear activities, which have been left unchecked to date. But the decision means that the IAEA has accepted India’s possession of nuclear weapons. Of India’s 22 nuclear reactors, eight are for military use and will not be subject to IAEA inspection.
For the U.S.-India civil nuclear accord to be in force, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group also must decide to exempt India from export restrictions and the U.S. Congress must accept the accord. The decision by the NSG must be unanimous. Japan, an NSG member, can veto the decision. If Japan supports exceptional treatment for India, it will lose the moral justification to demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions. It also must not be forgotten that India, as a non-NPT nation, has no legal obligation to push nuclear disarmament while the nuclear-weapons states under the NPT do.
In the current situation, it is all the more important for the five nuclear-weapons states — U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to clearly commit themselves to the obligation. The U.N. General Assembly in December adopted a resolution entitled “Renewed determination toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” sponsored by 16 countries including Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Finland. Similar resolutions had been adopted for 13 consecutive years. A record 170 nations out of the 192 U.N. member nations supported the resolution, while the U.S., India and North Korea opposed it and nine countries including France and China abstained.
It calls on “all States to take further practical steps and effective measures toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons, with a view to achieving a peaceful and safe world free of nuclear weapons.” Unless the nuclear-weapons states take such steps, it will be difficult to persuade North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear programs.
Yet it is not that there is no hope. U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, in May said he will “seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments.” During his visit to Hiroshima in June, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed establishing an international commission on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament to be co-chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. Japan should join and play a leading role. Close cooperation with other countries can only strengthen the momentum toward eliminating nuclear weapons.
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