Seventy-three years after the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took more than 200,000 lives by the end of that year, we are no closer to a world without nuclear weapons. Pledges to achieve that goal, which Japan has advocated for decades, were repeated in ceremonies held over the past week to mark the anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombings of the two cities in the closing days of World War II. But more than seven decades later, we can hardly say that a path has been laid out to eliminate nuclear arms.
Last year, a landmark treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons was adopted at the United Nations. But without the participation of nuclear weapons powers as well as countries that rely on the “nuclear umbrella” of their allies, including Japan, there is little prospect that the treaty would effectively pave the way for disarmament. Today, more than 14,000 nuclear warheads exist in the world.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama, whose call for a “world free of nuclear weapons” in his Prague speech earned him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, became two years ago the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. The U.S. strategy for nuclear weapons, however, did not undergo substantial changes during the Obama presidency. And his successor, Donald Trump, released a Nuclear Posture Review in February that promoted the use of smaller nuclear weapons that would be easier to use, and did not rule out pre-emptive nuclear attacks in order to protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Tokyo said it “highly appreciates” the new U.S. strategy in that it clarifies Washington’s commitment to providing extended deterrence to its allies.
In a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June, Trump signed a joint statement calling for the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. But as subsequent progress in U.S.-North Korea relations remains slow, any optimism that the summit would result in the near-term end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program — a serious threat to regional security — has quickly dissipated.
While campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons as the sole country in history to suffer a nuclear attack during warfare, Japan has continued to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its own security — and opposed the U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons on the grounds that such an accord without the involvement of nuclear weapons states would have little effect on nuclear disarmament. Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki called this week on the government to endorse the nuclear ban treaty. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attending the ceremonies in both cities, reiterated that Japan will seek to contribute to the goal by serving as a bridge between nuclear weapons powers and non-nuclear weapons states — although concrete results from such efforts do not appear to be on the horizon.
This stalemate in the effort to eliminate nuclear arms must not lead us to give up, in view of the threat from such weapons that continues to grip the world to this day.
The number of surviving hibakusha as of the end of March was 154,859, a decline of 9,762 from a year earlier. In recent years, nearly 10,000 hibakusha have been passing away annually. Their average age has surpassed 82. This nation’s firsthand experience of the atomic bombings will fade with time. That is all the more reason for us to keep pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
In his address during this year’s anniversary ceremony marking the Hiroshima atomic bombing, Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki summed up the danger of believing in the balance of power ensured by nuclear deterrence by asking how would you explain it to your children.
“You see, we don’t get along well with our next-door neighbor. So we have set a bomb that can blow up their house with all the family inside, just in case. We can press the button to set off this bomb any time. Our neighbor, on the other hand, has also set a bomb to blow up our house. Of course, neither family wants both families to end up dead, so I feel assured that they will never press the button. We will never do so, either. In short, we will never go into battle against each other. And the bombs will probably not malfunction. And we won’t press the button by mistake, either, I hope. So you don’t have to worry,” the governor said, adding, “How many of you could seriously offer such an explanation to your children?”
How can we continue with a policy that we cannot explain to our next generation?