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Friday, July 30, 1999

Asian instability may force Japan's nuclear hand


Staff writer

KYOTO -- The Fourth United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues in Kyoto concluded Friday with delegates warning that the Asian region is growing more unstable and that Japan may be forced to introduce nuclear weapons if tensions escalate.

They also called on all members to redouble their efforts to make next year's conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty a success. But they expressed concern that time is running out for any substantial agreements to be reached.

One of the major issues of debate was speculation on the path Japan might take over the next few years if it feels more threatened by other states that have, or are suspected to have, nuclear weapons.

"Unilateral suspension cannot be considered in the current Northeast Asian security environment. The India-Pakistan nuclear tests left the Japanese people faced with the need to re-examine Japan's traditional nonnuclear principles and reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella," said Canadian delegate Peggy Mason in summing up the discussion in one plenary session.

One solution to preventing a Northeast Asian arms race, said Thai delegate Kusuma Snitwongse, is to make every effort to strengthen the nonproliferation treaty.

"In order to prevent a Northeast Asia arms race, the NPT, which will be formally reviewed next year, needs to create strict safeguards and an effective compliance mechanism to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are followed by the member states," he said.

Some of these concerns were addressed by the Tokyo Forum report, which was formally released Sunday and made available to an international audience during the Kyoto conference.

The Tokyo Forum, a group of 21 Japanese and international arms experts, met in Tokyo late last week and is headed by former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi.

Many of the Kyoto conference delegates criticized the report for being pessimistic about the overall security situation in the region, hostile toward China and unrealistic in its recommendation that India and Pakistan sign treaties as nonnuclear states.

Others, however, applauded the report for identifying the root cause of negotiation deadlocks, which they said is the need for consensus by all members on any agreement.

Virtually all delegates expressed agreement with the report's recommendation that more attention, and authority, be given to regional security matters.

Despite calls for further studies and more consultations, however, a Japanese government spokesman said that the United Nations would be asked to distribute the report as an official document.

Although he did not say when, other delegates, including Mya Than from Myanmar, said it could be as early as mid-September, when the U.N. General Assembly convenes in New York.

The Kyoto forum is an unofficial event, with 60 members from 24 countries invited on a personal basis.

The conference will issue no formal report to the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. officials said.

However, they added that conference recommendations will be incorporated into other U.N.-related disarmament talks.



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