HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Nuclear weapons continue to menace the survival of humankind 20 years after the end of the Cold War.

A Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a parley that is held once every five years and would affect the future of nuclear weapons, began at the New York headquarters of the United Nations on Monday.

Human wisdom, courage and action have never been needed more than now to create a nuclear-free world. Japan’s leadership will be also tested as the only country in the world to have experienced atomic bombings.

The NPT review conference held in 2000 produced a 13-item agreement, including “an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”

The hopes raised by the conference were dashed, however. The 2005 NPT review meeting produced no tangible results after then U.S. President George W. Bush, who advocated unilateral diplomacy, started the “war on terrorism” following terror attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Five years later, the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has advocated multilateral diplomacy with priority on the United Nations and pledged to aim for a nuclear-free world, has definitely created a new tide toward disarmament and nonproliferation.

At a landmark summit in September last year, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution toward the creation of a nuclear-free world.

In April this year, Washington and Moscow signed a new nuclear disarmament treaty. Later in the month, leaders from 47 nations endorsed a plan to lock down all loose nuclear materials worldwide within four years under Obama’s initiative.

The conclusion of these international accords looks propitious for the outcome of this year’s NPT review conference.

But there has been no change among the nuclear powers in their policy of depending on “nuclear deterrence.” Neither do they seem to have a sense of urgency toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Progress has been too slow for the aging survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons as soon as possible while suffering from various illnesses stemming from the aftereffects of radiation.

The power of the bombs dropped on the two Japanese cities is equivalent to that of a small tactical nuclear weapon today. The Japanese know better than anyone else in the world that the blast triggered by one such weapon can cause destruction beyond anyone’s imagination and the disaster continues even now.

There are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world that can annihilate humankind many times. Thousands of nuclear warheads, including those loaded on missiles, are at the ready to be launched within 30 minutes.

The possibility of nuclear weapons being used either intentionally or accidentally has increased, with the number of countries with nuclear weapons rising to nine. The danger of nuclear terrorism is a well-known fact.

At the upcoming NPT review meeting, it is important to confirm accords reached 10 years ago — like the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the immediate start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

But these are not enough.

More important than anything else is to establish an ethical norm that the use of nuclear arms is a crime against humanity. This will lead to a treaty banning nuclear weapons sought by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, former government leaders, a vast majority of nonnuclear nations and nongovernmental organizations.

The Japanese government, while calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons in the international arena including the U.N., has relied on the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the U.S. for national defense, as symbolized by the existence of secret nuclear pacts between the two countries.

Criticism of Japan’s “double standards” cannot be avoided.

Japan should get out from under the nuclear umbrella with courage and take a strong initiative so that a treaty banning nuclear arms can be created just as chemical and biological weapons have been banned.

Akira Tashiro is a senior staff writer of The Chugoku Shimbun and executive director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center created by the newspaper.

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