The Hiroshima Declaration issued by the Group of Seven foreign ministers this week comes amid a global lack of momentum for getting rid of nuclear weapons. Given the dismal situation surrounding such efforts, it will be all the more important for both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons state to push harder for nuclear disarmament and abolition of such weapons by taking a cue from the declaration. The leaders of the United States and Japan should realize that their countries bear an especially heavy responsibility in these efforts — as the first country to use nuclear weapons and the first nation to experience nuclear attacks.
The declaration won’t bring about immediate results but it does have a symbolic importance of being issued by the G-7 foreign ministers in Hiroshima, which suffered the calamity of the first nuclear attack in human history in 1945. The occasion marked the first visit to Hiroshima by the foreign ministers of nuclear weapons powers.
The G-7 foreign ministers reaffirmed their commitment “to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability” and called on world leaders to visit Hiroshima. They also urged all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty without delay and the Conference on Disarmament to begin talks on a treaty banning production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons — two steps that are believed to play important roles in global efforts to reduce and eventually abolish nuclear weapons. It is meaningful that the U.S., which has yet to ratify the CTBT, joined the call for the treaty’s early ratification. The U.S. must take the call seriously and ratify the treaty as soon as possible, which would serve as a powerful vehicle for putting the treaty into force.
The ministers visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome and experienced “the reality of the atomic bomb,” according to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. They also laid wreaths at the cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It is hoped that the experience will help the foreign ministers share the resolve that nuclear weapons must never be used again and that this resolve will serve as a guiding principle in their countries’ efforts to eventually eliminate nuclear arms.
Kishida, elected to the Lower House from a constituency in Hiroshima, should be given the credit for organizing the meeting in the city. Now he must work on achieving the next immediate goal — having U.S. President Barack Obama visit Hiroshima when he visits Japan for the G-7 leaders’ summit in May. For Obama, who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for the vision he put forward of creating a nuclear weapons-free world in his speech in April that year in Prague, a visit to the city will give him yet another chance to issue a strong message about this goal.
A visit to Hiroshima by Obama would indeed have a major impact — given that global efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons have nearly come to a halt. Ties between the U.S. and Russia, which together possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, deteriorated after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although Obama proposed in 2013 that the two countries cut the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads by one-third to around 1,000 on each side, no concrete progress has been made on nuclear disarmament. Both countries are instead pushing modernization of their nuclear arsenals. China’s nuclear force has meanwhile gradually increased. Russian President Vladimir Putin even disclosed in 2015 that Moscow had been ready to deploy nuclear weapons during the Crimea crisis. The United Nations conference to improve compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last year failed to adopt a final document.
Irritation over the impasse has led non-nuclear states such as Austria and Mexico to seek a total elimination of nuclear weapons and their prohibition on grounds of “humanitarian consequences” should they be used. But the move has caused a schism between nuclear weapons powers, which reject steep cuts to their arsenals, and non-nuclear weapons states that build their calls for elimination of nuclear arms on the inhumane consequences of their use. While Tokyo’s basic position is to emphasize the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear attack, it also defers to the interests of the U.S., whose “nuclear umbrella” covers Japan.
This dilemma for Japan manifested itself in the Hiroshima Declaration. Opposition from nuclear weapons powers to a reference to the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear attack led the declaration to say instead: “The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced immense devastation and human suffering as a consequence of atomic bombings.”
In pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, it is indispensable that all nations share the notion that a nuclear bomb is not merely a “big bomb” that causes extensive physical destruction but a highly inhumane weapon whose radiation can damage DNA, causing hereditary effects even among future generations. In this sense, the Hiroshima Declaration is weakened by failing to mention the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear attack. But it should still be treated by the major powers as a meaningful step toward working out concrete measures that will eventually rid our world of nuclear weapons.
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