Editorial: Written statement to “prohibit” nuclear arms can pave the way for progress at NPT review conference

The 9th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), scheduled to open in New York in late April, is now less than two months away. This meeting, which takes place every five years, is coincidentally being held in the 70th anniversary year of the atomic bombings. The efforts of the international community to draw a robust roadmap at this conference for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the fervent wish of Hiroshima and Nagasaki citizens, will be tested.

A key focus of the review conference will be whether a deeper agreement can be reached regarding a nuclear weapons convention, which was referred to at the same meeting five years ago. To strengthen momentum toward this end, Austria, a nuclear-free nation, has taken on a significant task by distributing a written statement which declares that nuclear weapons should be prohibited to all U.N. member states and seeking their consensus on this document.

The documents calls for legislation that will prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, with the clear position that “it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.” The fact that the document stresses the “harm” of nuclear weapons is a persuasive point. The aim of the Austrian government, in submitting this statement to the upcoming U.N. review conference, is to have this document become a “strawman proposal” for a nuclear weapons convention.

The Austrian government has been playing a central role in the international trend in which the inhumanity of nuclear arms is condemned with the aim of realizing the abolition of these weapons. Last December, Austria hosted the International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna. At this conference, Austria succeeded in finally convincing the United States and the United Kingdom, two nuclear-armed nations, to sit at the same table.

Unfortunately, the strong opposition expressed by these two countries at that gathering, regarding a nuclear weapons convention, underscored the truth that abolition is still in the distance. Since the start of the year, Austria has begun soliciting other U.N. member nations to support the statement, but this may indicate their concern that little progress will be made at the review conference in April if current conditions persist.

Clearly, the global state of affairs involving nuclear weapons is very grave. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a U.S. magazine, has advanced the Doomsday Clock, which suggests the time remaining until the end of the world, at “three minutes to midnight.” This is the closest the clock has come to midnight since the Cold War era involving the nuclear arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The United States and Russia, the two nuclear superpowers which possess more than 90% of earth’s nuclear weapons, are apparently turning their backs to world opinion. The Obama administration is spending enormous sums of money modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. And in Russia, due to conflict over issues involving Ukraine, President Putin not only delayed negotiations with the United States to discuss nuclear disarmament, he has also announced the deployment of 50 or more Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).

Turning to Asia, China is seeking to strengthen its nuclear capability, both in quality and quantity; North Korea threatens to continue its nuclear testing program; and India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed nations, are reportedly building up their military might. There is also concern over the thought of ISIS, Middle Eastern extremists who seek to create an “Islamic State,” coming into possession of nuclear weapons.

In this light, the upcoming NPT review conference holds far more significance than ever before. The participants at this gathering must discuss, as their top priority, the idea of outlawing nuclear weapons and achieve a breakthrough.

In particular, the Japanese government must step up and play a leadership role at the conference. The government is mired in a contradictory stance by relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and giving the U.S. position too much weight, while presenting resolutions for the abolition of nuclear weapons at the U.N. General Assembly. Some point out that the government is seeking to remain aligned with U.S. nuclear policy rather than throw its support behind a nuclear weapons convention. We must not accept the status quo.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed his policies last week, he noted the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings and said, “As the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack, we will lead the world in nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.” Why, though, does he still continue to avoid making any mention of “nuclear abolition”? We demand that he immediately convey the nation’s backing of the statement made by Austria and have Japan carry out its duty, as the only A-bombed country, to widen the circle of support to other nations, too, including the nuclear weapon states.

(Originally published on February 16, 2015)