Opinion: The Japan-U.S. summit and “active nuclear abolition”

by Noritaka Egusa, Chief Editorial Writer

U.S. President Barack Obama is now visiting Japan. He will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today to discuss strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and other matters. Although Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long been hoping for a visit by Mr. Obama, he will not come to the A-bombed cities on this occasion, either.

If he won’t visit the two cities, can we at least ask that the two leaders clearly declare their determination to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons in the joint statement they will issue after their meeting?

Nearly 70 years have passed since the bombings took place. If the nation that used the atomic bombs and the nation that experienced the attacks are to work together to advance peace in the world, they must not avoid discussing possible approaches to abolishing nuclear arms.

Lately, Mr. Abe is often heard using the expression “active pacifism.” Let me tweak his phrase and ask the two leaders to say in their joint statement: “We recognize our responsibility to work together for ‘active nuclear abolition’ and commit ourselves to that goal.”

They should not continue to disappoint the A-bomb survivors. Burned by the atomic bombs, and exposed to the radiation that these weapons released, they have struggled to go on living while trying to overcome their anger and bitterness.


Five years ago, President Obama stated clearly, in a speech he made in Prague, that the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons and that, as the only nuclear power to have used these weapons, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We remember these words distinctly, along with our surprise and excitement when we heard his address.

I also recall Prime Minister Abe’s address at last year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima. He said, “We bear a responsibility to bring about a world without nuclear weapons without fail. We have a duty to continue to convey to the next generation, and indeed to the world, the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.”

The fact that both politicians mention “responsibility” and “duty” is significant, and yet it doesn’t appear that they are willing to put their words into action.

Has Mr. Obama given up on seeking the U.S. Senate’s approval to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)? It is said that he is continuing subcritical and new-type nuclear tests in order to assure Republican opponents that the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be ready for use even after the CTBT is ratified. If so, does he have the right to denounce North Korea’s nuclear tests?

And what about Mr. Abe? He is working to export nuclear power plant technology to states that are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If India were to reprocess spent fuel, it could extract plutonium and use it to make nuclear weapons.


Japan has also amassed 44 tons of plutonium, which could make about 5,000 nuclear warheads. The issue of nuclear waste, produced when spent fuel is reprocessed, is far from being resolved. Yet the Abe administration is moving toward restarting the nation’s nuclear power plants.

Mr. Abe’s position of prioritizing economic growth is clear from the way he scrapped the Three Principles on Arms Export and set new rules with the intention of promoting the export of Japanese arms.

What’s more, the prime minister is advocating the right of collective defense. If the interpretation of the Constitution is changed, and the right of collective defense is approved, Japan’s Self Defense Forces will be able to take joint military action with the United States in times of emergency.

Meeting might with might to maintain “peace” for our nation and for our allies; this is probably what Mr. Abe means when he says “active pacifism.” It seems not so different from the logic of nuclear deterrence, which aims for a balance of power with nuclear weapons.

Considering the reality that Japan was the defeated nation, and now depends on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security, this situation may seem to be a matter of course. But if so, how can we create a world without nuclear weapons?

The U.S. and Japanese governments say that by taking a step-by-step approach to promoting nuclear disarmament, the world will eventually reach the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. Behind this contention, though, is the desire to hold onto nuclear weapons for some time to come, along with their role as a deterrent.

In January in Nagasaki, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that the use of nuclear weapons should be limited to extreme circumstances. His intention, he noted, was to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. In that case, he should have at least appealed to all nuclear powers to make a pledge of “no first use,” which bans using nuclear arms unless first attacked with these weapons.

Of course, the A-bombed cities stand at a different starting point from the national leaders and are calling for nuclear weapons to be abolished immediately. In the eyes of these cities, nuclear arms are inhumane weapons and an absolute evil.

I would like to ask Prime Minister Abe a question. When he mentions “active pacifism,” he always adds “based on international cooperation.” Why, then, does he continue to ignore the global trend, with its call for outlawing nuclear weapons?

The subject of a nuclear weapons convention must be included in the agenda of the summit meeting. Also desired is an active discussion on the possibility of realizing a Japan-U.S. alliance without the presence of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on April 24, 2014)