Editorial: Reviewing Abe administration’s lack of response to A-bombed cities’ appeals for nuclear-free world

Outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, responding to a question during a press conference held the day before yesterday, said, “The elimination of nuclear weapons is my conviction and Japan’s unwavering policy.” There were surely some who could not believe their ears.

During the seven years and eight months of the second Abe administration, the prime minister’s attitude showed no signs that he was taking the initiative on the issue of nuclear abolition with what he termed his conviction or unwavering policy.

Mr. Abe accompanied former U.S. President Barack Obama, who advocated a world without nuclear weapons, when Mr. Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016. The first visit by a president of the country that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was of historical significance.

At that time, Mr. Abe said, “A world without nuclear weapons will definitely be realized. However long and difficult the road might be, it is our responsibility to continue to make ceaseless efforts.”

Eight months later, when the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was inaugurated, however, Mr. Abe seemed to have forgotten what he said.

President Trump reviewed U.S. nuclear strategic guidelines, relaxed restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons, and included the development of low-yield nuclear warheads dubbed “usable nuclear weapons.”

If the Japanese government truly had unwavering faith in the elimination of nuclear weapons, it should have raised objections to the new U.S. policy. But Taro Kono, then minister of foreign affairs, gave the policy “high marks.” That is the total opposite of the message Hiroshima and Nagasaki have worked to convey.

The Trump administration has been harming international harmony with its “America first policy,” through such moves as unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Despite such actions, Mr. Abe has always followed in the United States’ wake, saying the two countries’ policies are in perfect alignment. He went so far as to nominate President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Moving in lockstep with the United States has led to distortions in the role Japan should play as the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks. One example is the draft resolution on nuclear disarmament the Japanese national government submits every year to the U.N. General Assembly.

Japan’s draft resolution began to include weaker language in terms of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons starting in 2017, after President Trump took office. For example, the expression “deep concern” for the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons was deleted from the resolution.

Japan, as the only country to have experienced atomic bombings, appears to have abdicated its role of taking the lead in realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. Only natural is it then for people to doubt that Japan has no sense regarding what role it should play.

A perfect case in point is the government’s attitude vis-à-vis the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Although it was adopted at the United Nations three years ago, Japan’s draft resolution does not refer to the treaty. In this way, could Japan be trying to please America, which opposes the treaty? The Japanese national government also has adopted a negative stance toward the treaty, simply stating that “it is too early.”

The treaty is in accord with the wishes of the two A-bombed cities. Why does the Japanese government refuse to sign and ratify it? Instead, Japan should make patient efforts to urge the United States and other nuclear-weapons powers, which have expressed reluctance to join, to become parties to the treaty. Such an action would be consistent with what Mr. Abe calls Japan’s “role as bridge” between nuclear- and non-nuclear weapons states.

Mr. Abe also said he would give thoughtful attention to atomic bomb survivors, but that was also an empty promise. In a lawsuit concerning radioactive “black rain” that fell after the atomic bombing, the national government led local governments in appealing a ruling that had recognized the plaintiffs as victims. It is unforgivable to trample on the judicial ruling that provided relief to everyone.

Those who were exposed to black rain in the areas designated by the national government have been issued a Certificate of Health Examination, and if they develop diseases designated by the government related to radiation such as cancer and heart disease, they are issued an A-bomb Survivor’s Certificate. But those exposed to black rain outside the designated areas are not provided such support. That situation is clearly unfair.

World War II caused the Japanese people a great deal of suffering, and with that experience, we began to hope for a world without nuclear weapons or war. But there is a great divergence between the people’s wishes and the Prime Minister’s words and deeds. In particular, clearly, Mr. Abe has not taken seriously the messages from the A-bombed cities. The next administration should start by making amends for the previous administration’s attitude.

(Originally published on August 30, 2020)