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What is behind Japan's move on (abolition of) nuclear weapons?

October 12, 2013



EDITORIAL: Time for Japan to end reliance on U.S. nuclear deterrence




Japan for the first time has decided to sign a United Nations statement calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Saying nuclear arms are inhumane and should never be used, the government announced on Oct. 11 its intention to sign the joint statement that will soon be proposed at the U.N. General Assembly First Committee. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the government decided it “can support" the document.

The international movement to highlight the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and ban them altogether has been gathering momentum since a meeting three years ago of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Since last year, a joint international statement for promoting the cause has been issued three times. In April, 80 countries endorsed a statement adopted in Geneva at a session of the Review Conference.

But Tokyo has so far refused to sign these statements, saying their content is inconsistent with Japan's defense policy, which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for security.

Japan became the first country to suffer nuclear devastation 68 years ago, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked with atomic bombs. What reason could there be for Japan not to support such a statement?

This summer, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, in the Nagasaki Peace Declaration 2013, bitterly criticized the government's stance, saying it “contradicts the resolution that Japan would never allow anyone else to become victims of a nuclear bombing."

Although it is a grossly belated move, we welcome the policy change by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a step forward. But there are reasons to be skeptical.

Explaining the policy reversal, Kishida said the text of the statement has been “revised appropriately."

The text is now being worked out by New Zealand, Switzerland and other countries. But details have not been revealed.

However, the Abe administration appears to believe the text will not put any pressure on Japan to change its defense strategy dependent on extended nuclear deterrence provided by the United States.

Japan's move to sign the statement will be less meaningful if it does so only because the document poses no threat to its traditional defense policy.

The policy shift should be a first step in Japan's long-term quest to carve out a secure future that is not dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The nuclear deterrence theory, which calls for using the threat of nuclear weapons to maintain peace, is based on Cold War-era thinking.

Despite a quarter century having passed since the end of the Cold War, Japan is putting increasing importance on the U.S. nuclear deterrence.

China is expanding its military presence in the region, while North Korea is developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Japan's defense policy is based on the assumption that only the U.S. nuclear arsenal can guarantee the nation's security in the face of these threats.

In the United States, however, the perception that the nuclear deterrence theory is outdated is spreading among policymakers and experts. The administration of President Barack Obama is keen to reduce the role of nuclear arms in the U.S. defense strategy. There is even the view that Japan's policy stance is an impediment to U.S. efforts to slash its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Behind the growing trend toward stressing the inhumane nature of nuclear arms is the view that human beings, not nations, would be the true victims of nuclear attacks, and that they should be protected.

A nuclear attack kills countless citizens and leaves many survivors suffering from the horrible aftereffects of exposure to radiation. Japan knows the brutality of nuclear attacks more than any other country.

As the only nation that has ever experienced the devastation of atomic bombings, Japan has a duty to commit itself to international efforts to promote the trend toward banning nuclear arms for a nuclear-free world.

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