Editorial: Japanese government submits anti-nuclear resolution to UN General Assembly—Japan must recognize its role as A-bombed nation

The Japanese national government has submitted to the United Nations General Assembly a resolution seeking elimination of nuclear weapons. This year again, the resolution does not refer to the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which renders illegal not only nuclear weapons’ use and threats of their use but also their possession.

Japan’s new administration, led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, has revealed a lack of support for the TPNW, a stance carried over from the previous administration, out of consideration of the United States, a nation that protects Japan under its nuclear umbrella.

This year marks the fourth year since the TPNW was adopted to serve as an international norm, and the treaty has already been ratified by 47 nations and regions. Ratification by three more nations or regions would reach the necessary number of 50 for the treaty to go into effect. Pro-treaty nations such as Austria have submitted a resolution calling on other nations to ratify the TPNW.

The ban treaty is driven by the wishes of the A-bombed cities, which experienced actual devastation wrought by nuclear weapons. At the same time, the treaty can be said to now reflect the majority opinion of the international community. It therefore would not be acceptable for the A-bombed nation that is Japan to turn its back on the treaty now that it is on the verge of effectuation.

Without any reference to the nuclear ban treaty, the anti-nuclear resolution submitted by the Japanese government indicates that various approaches exist toward the realization of a world without nuclear weapons, that confidence-building among all member states is essential to this end, and that further practical steps and effective measures towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons should be taken. The resolution is not legally binding. However, the resolution submitted by the A-bombed nation will likely have a major impact on the international community.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when he spoke at a press conference announcing his resignation, said, “Elimination of nuclear weapons is my belief as well as Japan’s unshakable policy.” In a video presentation delivered at the UN General Assembly in late September, Prime Minister Suga also mentioned that Japan would spare no effort in realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. If that is the case, why does he not stand up and take the lead on the international framework that is the ban treaty, and invest effort into building confidence among member nations?

Every year since 1994, Japan has submitted a resolution to the United Nations, all of which have been adopted. In 2017, the year Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States, Japan’s resolution did not cite the TPNW, which was adopted that same year, in what was a disappointment to the international community. Until 2018, Japan’s resolutions had included wording that expressed “deep concern” at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. Starting last year, however, the words “deep concern” were weakened and replaced with the phrase “recognition” regarding the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons, wording also adopted in this year’s resolution.

“Deep concern” is a basic philosophy of the ban treaty, which rejects the theory of nuclear deterrence. Japan is said to have rephrased the resolution’s expression in the country’s consciousness of the nuclear nations aligned against the treaty. Such alteration does not seem to be an act worthy of the A-bombed nation.

Japan’s resolutions to the United Nations have not included mention of any concrete measures to reduce nuclear arms, such as efforts to promote implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the United States and Russia. This is also likely the case due to Japan’s consideration of the United States. Japan often casts itself as a bridge between nations with different positions. However, can Japan truly serve as a bridge without speaking truth to the nuclear powers?

Based on the experiences of the A-bombed cities, humanity clearly cannot coexist with nuclear weapons. Fear of possible use of nuclear weapons will persist as long as they exist. In unforeseen circumstances, the chance for a leader of a nuclear nation to be tempted to push the nuclear button will never be zero. There is also a risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Many hibakusha (those exposed to radiation) have been created in the process of the development and manufacture of nuclear weapons. The only option remaining is to abolish all nuclear weapons to avoid the creation of additional suffering.

The Japanese government should act on behalf of the A-bomb victims who died sorrowfully 75 years ago and the A-bomb survivors who continue to suffer today. If Japan declares itself to be “the only country to have been a victim of atomic bombs during wartime,” it must impress upon the rest of the world the inhumanity brought about by nuclear weapons, as well as take the lead on discussions to seek a security framework not reliant on nuclear deterrence. Japan must recognize the role it needs to play in urging the United States and other nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

(Originally published on October 17, 2020)