As Tokyo — and towns and cities across Japan — look at the year ahead, they are dusting off long-neglected civil defense infrastructure and nuclear attack procedures. Schoolchildren are practicing the kinds of nuclear safety drills that I endured during my childhood, at the height of the Cold War. Police and emergency first responders are brushing up on measures that had fallen into disuse since the 1990s. Hospitals are undergoing stress tests of their readiness. Fallout shelters are being inspected and restored. And the potential of new innovations and resources to reinforce civilians' security is being explored.

Much of this preparation — spurred by North Korea's increasing belligerence, including launches of missiles over Japan — is occurring on the local level. And, beyond Japan, plenty of other Asian cities are pursuing similar initiatives to strengthen their civil defense. But cities can do more than lead the way in emergency response preparedness; we can — and therefore must — play a central role in helping to avoid conflict and defuse tensions.

Like Tokyo's governors during the Cold War, I do not believe that we will actually face the horrors of a nuclear attack. But when it comes to the safety and well-being of Tokyo's citizens, my government and the agencies that it directs can never be too careful — or too ready. Anything less than our best efforts at preparedness would not only be reckless; it would also be an insult to the memory of those who died in the nuclear firestorms that followed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.