Japan’s anti-nuke diplomacy needs hibakusha’s viewpoint

The Asahi Shimbun | Editorial | December 22, 2014

For nearly seven decades since the end of World War II, survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been calling for a world without nuclear weapons. But their voices are still ignored, not by the international community but by the Japanese government.

After so many years, the government’s policy still doesn’t clearly reflect their viewpoint.

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on Dec. 8-9 brought to the fore many related challenges.

The conference, the third on this theme, highlighted the problem of significant differences in positions and views concerning key issues between atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, and the Japanese government.

There is rapidly growing international support for the view that nuclear weapons are inhumane and should be eliminated. But the Japanese government’s stance toward the issue remains equivocal. It sometimes even shows signs of trying to buck the international trend.

It is assumed that the Japanese government has been pursuing the goal of the elimination of nuclear arms in its disarmament diplomacy in recent years. It should incorporate more of the voices of hibakusha into its diplomatic efforts for the cause.

At the Vienna conference, the rift between hibakusha and the Japanese government was reflected in the reactions of the audience to the remarks made by both sides.

Two atomic bomb survivors and Yasuyoshi Komizo, secretary-general of Mayors for Peace, who traveled from Hiroshima to Vienna to attend the conference, resolutely called for progress toward a global ban on nuclear arms. They received enthusiastic applause.

But Toshio Sano, head of the Permanent Delegation of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament, made remarks that stood in sharp contrast with the passionate calls for the elimination of nuclear arms.

On the first day of the conference, Sano stunned many attendants when he, referring to a panelist’s view that humankind could not deal with the disastrous consequences of a nuclear blast, said such a belief was “a little pessimistic.”

Sano later told reporters that what he meant by his remark was that nations or international organizations should consider enhancing relief measures for victims included in past United Nations resolutions.

But the purpose of the conference was to promote the international perception that the consequences of nuclear explosions are far more devastating than previously thought and actually impossible to deal with. This is the view that Japan also confirmed in the past two conferences on the issue.

In its official statement issued on the second day of the conference, Japan didn’t reiterate the point made by Sano in his controversial remark. But Japan’s statement only repeated its traditional position that the world should move ahead gradually in its efforts to reduce nuclear arms under existing frameworks like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Tokyo’s position is in line with the stance of the United States.

The number of countries attending the international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has been increasing steadily.

A total of 158 countries took part in the Vienna conference, including the United States and Britain, which attended for the first time.

It is really regrettable that at this venue the representative of the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks acted in a way that can put a damper on international momentum toward a future without nuclear arms.

It is quite natural that hibakusha criticized Sano’s remark, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida admonished him.

How should Japan adjust its security policy, which has been based on the protection provided by the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” so that it can contribute more to international efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons?

It is time for the government to start thinking seriously about this question and taking actions accordingly.

This will, of course, be no easy challenge.

Only by tackling this challenge head-on, however, will Japan be able to serve as a bridge between nuclear powers obsessed with the theory of nuclear deterrent and non-nuclear countries seeking to achieve the abolition of nuclear arms as a vital humanitarian imperative.

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