Editorial: Kishida’s speech on nuclear disarmament

Clear inconsistency with abolition

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida gave a speech in Nagasaki two days ago on the topic of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. We were troubled by his recommendation that nuclear nations “declare their intention to limit their use to extreme circumstances.”

Considering the fact that Japan’s basic stance is to rely on the nuclear weapons of the United States for its security, that may have been a perfectly natural thing to say. But from the standpoint of Hiroshima, it seems strange.

It sounds as if the foreign minister approves of keeping nuclear weapons as long as they are only to be used in a worst-case situation. That way of thinking is incompatible with the call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

When introducing himself at the start of his remarks, Mr. Kishida, a native of Hiroshima, said bringing about a world without nuclear weapons is his “life’s work.” But the audience must not have gotten that feeling.

In his speech, Mr. Kishida espoused “three preventions” in nuclear non-proliferation and “three reductions” in nuclear disarmament. One of those is “reducing the role of nuclear weapons.”

Specifically, he called on nuclear nations to refrain from using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations that adhere to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) or threatening them with such use. He then said, “At the very least, they should declare that any such action will be limited to extreme circumstances based on the right of individual and collective self-defense.”

As a matter of fact, the U.S. used the same language in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) it put out in 2010, which articulated new guidelines for the nation’s nuclear strategy. The NPR states that the United States “would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances” and that it “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

In other words, Mr. Kishida’s speech faithfully adhered to the philosophy of the U.S., which is not only the strongest nuclear power in the world but also Japan’s ally. The speech was probably drafted by bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry.

The notion of reducing the role of nuclear weapons represents a big step forward from the nuclear arms race of the Cold War era. But today, when one nuclear weapon has tremendous power, limiting their use will not free humankind from the terror of nuclear weapons.

Of course, there is no denying that the situation in East Asia, where North Korea refuses to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, has spotlighted the role of U.S. nuclear weapons.

In the white paper on defense it issued last year, China eliminated any reference to “no first use” of nuclear weapons against another country. In his speech, Mr. Kishida called for nuclear nations to engage in multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament and to ensure transparency. This statement was clearly made with China in mind.

But it sounds like he’s using the instability in the region as an excuse for the lack of progress on nuclear abolition. Especially as he delivered the speech in Nagasaki, we would have liked him to have eloquently spelled out his vision for a non-nuclear world.

The nuclear umbrella of the U.S. is an impediment to nuclear abolition. But, despite being under that nuclear umbrella, Japan should still be able to speak frankly to its ally. For example, Japan could call on the U.S. to issue a clear declaration of no first use.

In his speech, the foreign minister referred to the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and said that this should serve as a catalyst to unite the international community in the effort toward abolition. Nevertheless, it was strange that he made no reference to the global trend to call for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

A meeting of the foreign ministers of the 12 non-nuclear nations that are party to the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative will be held in Hiroshima in April. If the Japanese government’s passive stance toward nuclear abolition as outlined in Mr. Kishida’s speech forms the basis for discussion at the meeting, not much can be expected. We hope the foreign minister will rise to the occasion.

(Originally published on January 22, 2014)