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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012

Aim for nuclear disarmament

Special to The Japan Times

Every year, the member states of the United Nations gather in New York to debate disarmament, both conventional and nuclear. While the military and technical aspects of nuclear disarmament have been discussed at length, little attention has been paid to the humanitarian aspects — what happens to real people when nuclear weapons are used. On Oct. 22, a group of 34 nations led by Switzerland issued a joint statement that called for a renewed focus on this question.

The statement, submitted to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, referred to the "immense humanitarian consequences" of the use of nuclear weapons, as was seen in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and declared that the only way to guarantee that such suffering is not repeated is "the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons." The group of 34 states calls on all governments to "intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons."

It is deeply disappointing that the Japanese government decided not to be part of this effort, declining to sign the statement when asked. Concerned by the attitude of the Japanese government toward this emerging initiative, Komeito, to which I belong, made an urgent appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Oct. 18 in which we called on the government to reconsider its decision and lend its voice to the statement. We also raised this matter in the House of Councillors (Upper House) the following day.

Questioned about the decision, Naoki Kazama, parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, replied that parts of the statement were not in line with Japan's national security policy. His reply seemed to directly reflect Japan's National Defense Program Guidelines, which state: "as long as nuclear weapons exist, the extended deterrence provided by the United States, with nuclear deterrent as a vital element, will be indispensable." Kazama also noted that Japan is the only nation which has experienced the wartime use of atomic weapons, and has endeavored to make the consequences of actual use of nuclear weapons known internationally.

Japan's relationship to nuclear weapons has always been deeply ambiguous, if not contradictory. On the one hand, there is a widespread sense that we, as a nation, have a special responsibility to work to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again. No one, of course, feels this more intensely than the hibakusha (sufferers of the atomic bombings) themselves. Their efforts to spread awareness of the inhumane nature of these weapons have been motivated by the determination that the suffering they and their families have endured should never be visited on anyone else, anywhere in the world.

At the same time, Japan has relied on the "extended deterrence" — the nuclear umbrella — of the United States as a cornerstone of its security policy. As more and more voices are raised globally calling for a world without nuclear weapons, the contradictions of Japan's position are coming to a head.

Does the call to "intensify efforts" toward a nuclear-free world in fact conflict with Japan's present and future security interests?

In recent years, fears of nuclear proliferation and terrorism have prompted a number of former senior officials within the nuclear-weapon states to call for their elimination. In his famous April 2009 Prague speech, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that his government's policy was to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

In this context, signing this statement — carefully worded to accommodate the interests of America's North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies Norway and Denmark — would be a step to the realization of a policy that Japan has repeatedly called for and which our closest ally has publicly embraced.

Mayor Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki made these points in an interview after a meeting with the Foreign Ministry on Oct. 19, where he also urged Japan's participation in the statement.

If Japan cannot take such a small but practical step, what is the purpose of the disarmament education the Japanese government has been promoting per Kazama's response to parliamentary questioning?

Recent research has made clear that even a "limited" exchange of nuclear hostilities would have a devastating impact on the planet's climate, producing crop failures and famine thousands of kilometers from the war zone. The inhumane nature of nuclear weapons — the indiscriminate impact on civilian populations, the long-term destruction of the natural and human environment — must serve as a rallying call for those who seek their elimination.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated in August, "The elimination of such weapons is not just a visionary goal, but the most reliable way to prevent their future use."

Japan, as the only nation to have experienced the use of nuclear weapons in war, has a special responsibility to embrace this vision and to take practical steps for its realization.

Masayoshi Hamada is a Komeito member of the House of Councillors and former parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs.

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