Experts warn of atomic bomb survivors’ hopes for a world without nuclear weapons

As the 76th anniversary of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches, survivors of the disaster are basing their hopes on Japan’s accession to a United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons that entered into force in January, seeing it as a key step in achieving their dream of a nuclear-free world.

But some experts say the target is unrealistic for Japan as nuclear threats continue to exist in the region as an existing non-proliferation treaty fails to function properly amid mounting tensions in inter-state relations. -United and the Russian and Chinese nuclear superpowers.

The Dongfeng 41, a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile, is on display during a military parade in Beijing on October 1, 2019, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist People’s Republic of China. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

Terumi Tanaka, 87, co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Victims’ Organizations, insists that Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, should endorse the treaty signed by 86 countries, criticizing the government for making a “foolish choice” not to join it.

Protected by the US nuclear umbrella against security threats, particularly from North Korea and China, Japan, as well as nuclear-weapon states, has stayed away from the Treaty of Nations United on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or TPNW, which prohibits the development, testing, possession and use of nuclear arsenals.

Although the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which more than 190 countries adhere, serves as a broader platform, the new treaty and the NPT would be “mutually complementary,” said Tanaka, who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, while aiming to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies and to achieve nuclear disarmament, allows the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, all nuclear powers, to possess nuclear arsenals.

Terumi Tanaka, co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A and H-Bomb Victims’ Organizations, speaks at the opening of the A-Bomb Exhibition at the United Nations Headquarters in 2015 in New York, where a conference was held place to examine the nuclear Treats of non-PROLIFERATION. (Photo courtesy of Nihon Hidankyo) (Kyodo)

Tanaka said Japan should withdraw from its defense alliance with the United States and its nuclear umbrella in order to “be neutral”.

Akira Kawasaki, an activist with the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for his efforts leading to the adoption of the nuclear ban treaty, said Japan should at least join as an observer.

“A movement towards nuclear disarmament is gaining momentum after the entry into force of the nuclear ban treaty,” Kawasaki told a press conference in early July.

But their calls come as nuclear disarmament talks remain moribund with the United States, China and Russia expanding their nuclear capabilities in a “new cold war.” The next NPT review conference, meanwhile, has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A security expert who supports nuclear disarmament and another who takes the opposite position of maintaining nuclear deterrence both say there is no advantage for Japan to join the new treaty. They also call on Japan to continue to rely on the US nuclear umbrella and to strengthen its defense capabilities.

The photo shows Nobumasa Akiyama, professor of international politics at Hitotsubashi University. (Photo courtesy of Nobumasa Akiyama) (Kyodo)

Nobumasa Akiyama, professor of international politics at Hitotsubashi University and advocate for nuclear disarmament, highlighted the possibility that some countries will leave the NPT believing that the new treaty would be more effective in leading to disarmament.

Moreover, Japan being “a stakeholder in the security dynamic in East Asia”, if it joined the TPNW, it would lose its diplomatic influence and leave its security “in the hands of China” while the Asian giant is becoming increasingly assertive militarily, especially in the East and South China Seas, Akiyama said.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be the TPNW to reduce nuclear weapons,” Akiyama said, although he felt that the postponement of the NPT review conference could save time for further reflection on how to reconcile the two treaties.

Sugio Takahashi, head of the defense policy division at the National Institute for Defense Studies, said the new treaty is likely to widen the gap between what he called an “ideal nuclear disarmament group” and a “realistic nuclear risk reduction group”.

“By creating the TPNW, it made things more complicated because the NPT is not functioning properly now,” said Takahashi, who supports nuclear deterrence.

Explaining why Japan did not join the new treaty, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told parliament in January: “It is not supported not only by nuclear-weapon states, but also by many. Non-nuclear weapon states.

Instead, he said, Japan should strive to build bridges between countries with different positions by submitting resolutions calling for nuclear disarmament to the United Nations and striving to make the reality clear. of the suffering caused by the atomic bombings.

But Japan’s assertion in its call for nuclear disarmament has been limited as it and other like-minded countries are wary of China’s rapid expansion and modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Photo shows Sugio Takahashi, head of the defense policy division at the National Institute for Defense Studies, in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo on July 17, 2021. (Kyodo)

Rather than joining the TPNW, the US administration of President Joe Biden seeks to promote efforts to reduce nuclear weapons stocks with Russia and China, but Beijing has resisted, said Robert Wood, the US ambassador to the disarmament, at a UN conference in May.

Takahashi, however, warned that a “spiral of the arms race” could occur between the United States, Russia and China if they collaborate “in a triangular fashion or strike a rough parity treaty,” as each of the three might later worry about the formation of the other two. an alliance against it and seek parity with their combined arsenals.

“We would never be able to abolish nuclear weapons if that happened,” he said. “There is a need to release tensions while maintaining strategic stability.”

At a time when talks between nuclear and non-nuclear states are running out of steam, Akiyama said Japan should create a forum to bring together international experts on the nuclear strategy of nuclear powers as well as countries calling for the abolition of weapons. nuclear.

“In the dialogue, they should discuss strategic elements, including new methods of arms control, with the reduction of nuclear weapons and their role as one of the main objectives,” he said.

A launch test of a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, is carried out at a US base in California in May 2017. (Photo courtesy of the US Air Force) (Kyodo)


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