Editorial: Conference on humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons

Solid global trend developing

The two-day Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, sponsored by the government of Mexico, has concluded with the chair’s summary.

Delegates from the governments of 146 countries, representatives of international organizations, and researchers gathered to carry out in-depth discussions on the inhumane destruction brought about by the use of nuclear weapons.

We can’t help but hold out hope that there will be another rising tide of sentiment in favor of the abolition of nuclear weapons.

In recent years debate focusing on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons has attracted a great deal of attention globally and is becoming a solid trend – one that nuclear nations cannot continue to ignore. We would like to see Hiroshima speak out more strongly and lead the debate on abolition.

On this occasion we must take note of the resolve of the international community, which the chair referred to in his summary. After outlining the dangers of nuclear weapons, he said, “The broad-based and comprehensive discussions on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should lead to the commitment of States and civil society to reach new international standards and norms, through a legally binding instrument.”

He further stated, “The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks is the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal” and said the conference marked “a point of no return.”

Five years have passed since U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his speech in Prague in which he vowed to seek a world without nuclear weapons. It is highly significant that the chair of the conference in Mexico delivered a strong message that attempted to give further momentum to the movement for abolition and set a deadline for doing so.

At the First Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which was held last March in Oslo, Norway, the majority of the delegates from more than 120 nations deemed nuclear weapons to be inhumane. But, unfortunately, there was little discussion on how to link that to future efforts toward abolition. At this conference, however, substantial progress seems to have been made on that front.

No progress is being made on nuclear disarmament, and there are persistent concerns about nuclear proliferation in the international community. Meanwhile the people of the world are growing impatient.

Looking at the support for statements on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons as well, only 16 nations backed such a statement at the preparatory conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the spring of 2012. This figure grew to 34 nations at a United Nations General Assembly meeting in the fall of that same year and to 80 nations at the NPT preparatory conference last spring. At a U.N. General Assembly meeting last fall, 125 nations, including the government of Japan, supported such a statement.

A rising tide of international opinion focused on their inhumanity and indiscrimination, led to the drafting of treaties banning the use of chemical weapons, land mines and cluster bombs. This indicates widespread awareness, not just among the public but also among non-nuclear nations, that nuclear weapons are next.

Of course, there are many challenges in advancing the steps to abolition. Even nuclear disarmament is heavily influenced by the will of nuclear nations. And, in the belief that nuclear weapons are advantageous for security reasons, they remain determined to take a step-by-step approach.

There is no doubt that it will be very difficult to get the nuclear nations to sit down at the negotiating table and work out a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

That is precisely why the stance of Japan, the victim of atomic bombings and an ally of the U.S., is important. But, because the Japanese government relies on the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. for the nation’s security, it makes no mention of outlawing nuclear weapons.

Remarks made by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida when addressing the Lower House Budget Committee two days ago were an extension of this. He suggested that Japan may allow the United States to bring nuclear weapons into Japanese territory in an emergency.

The inconsistency between the government’s stance and the call for nuclear abolition was apparent yet again. The people of Hiroshima were angered by this betrayal.

In April the foreign ministerial meeting of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative will be held here. Building on the discussions in Mexico, we would like to see the meeting be an occasion for taking action on nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on February 16, 2014)