NAGASAKI – When the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, my mother was pregnant with me. She lived one or two mountains away from Urakami, the hypocenter area. Three days after the bombing, she went to her parents’ home in Urakami and was exposed to radiation. I lost my grandmother, two of my aunts, my aunt’s husband and, 13 years later, one of my cousins. The body of one of my aunts was not even found. I still remember clearly how my cousin was skin and bones when he died. I became a priest and trained future priests at the Major Seminary of Fukuoka for 30 years. As a person of faith in an atomic-bombed country with a pacifist Constitution, I have a strong desire to abolish nuclear weapons.
Japan is now faced with two serious realities concerning nuclear weapons. One is that Japan regrettably did not join the U.N. negotiations for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and will not be able to join the treaty so long as it is under the nuclear umbrella of the United States. The other is that North Korea is charging ahead in pursuit of becoming a nuclear power and the military tension in Northeast Asia is running extremely high.
This situation entails Japan renewing its fundamental thinking on what nuclear weapons are all about.
We hear accusations that North Korea’s activities violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. However, they tend to be superficial because such resolutions do not question all nuclear weapons, including those possessed by Security Council members, and because North Korea justifies its nuclear armament as necessary to defend against nuclear threats from other states. North Korea likewise has survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs.
Hibakusha have not only spoken about their suffering but have also called for “No More Hibakusha,” believing that nobody should ever experience the same suffering. I want the Japanese government to consider why nuclear proliferation is progressing in Northeast Asia despite the memories of the atomic bombings and how this is connected with Japan’s dependence on nuclear deterrence. North Korea also needs to understand what kind of weapons nuclear weapons are.
While the government admits nuclear weapons are inhumane, it continues to rely on the nuclear umbrella, which justifies using nuclear weapons for the purpose of retaliation. Any exchange of nuclear weapons would undoubtedly cause catastrophic consequences in North Korea and Japan, even more horrible than what Nagasaki and Hiroshima experienced. Despite this contradiction, the government continues this policy. We understand that Japan is in a serious security environment. But the government has failed for decades to exert itself and improve the environment so that it can end its reliance on the nuclear umbrella. This inaction must now be strictly scrutinized.
Recently, representatives of 124 people of faith in Japan, including myself, submitted to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida a statement entitled “People of Faith in Japan Call for Japan to Stop Relying on the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella and to Move toward the Establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone.”
The establishment of such a zone (NEA-NWFZ) would offer a breakthrough to the current difficult circumstances. As the statement says, “the policy to establish a NEA-NWFZ enables Japan to leave the ‘nuclear umbrella’ while ensuring its national security.” Many scholars and researchers have already been making the same argument. In Nagasaki where I live, the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA), proposed a NWFZ with a three-plus-three arrangement, in which three countries — North Korea, South Korea and Japan — form a geographic NWFZ, while the other three countries — the U.S., Russia and China — respect the zone and provide legally binding negative security assurances to the former three. Japan would no longer need the nuclear umbrella to defend itself against nuclear threats from China or North Korea, while North Korea, released from nuclear threats from the U.S., would no longer have to stick to its nuclear program. In an encouraging move, Ramesh Thakur of Australian National University gave a similar discussion in his June 28 opinion piece in The Japan Times. RECNA thinks this arrangement is still feasible today, at a time when North Korea has already conducted five nuclear tests.
Even if Japan actually proposed the establishment of a NEA-NWFZ, it would not be realized immediately. The histories of the five existing NWFZs show that it took at least 10 years to conclude such a treaty after one of the concerned states initially proposed it. Still, by proposing a NEA-NWFZ, Japan can demonstrate its will to shift its security policy from nuclear-dependent policies to nuclear-free ones. Such a shift would enable Japan to join and promote the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, just concluded in New York on July 7.
From the viewpoint of a person of faith, this policy shift is a minimum requirement for Japan, the only country that has experienced wartime atomic bombings and has heard ever-lasting hibakusha’s voices calling for “No More Hibakusha” after surviving a hellish catastrophe. The following passage in our statement expresses the origin of our religious spirit on nuclear weapon issues: “Any use of nuclear weapons brings about catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and is against our religious values, moral principles. … Therefore, we believe nuclear weapons abolition is a spiritual imperative.”
Mitsuaki Takami is the Catholic archbishop of Nagasaki.