Editorial: Japan must make determined efforts to urge nuclear powers to join negotiations for treaty to ban nuclear weapons

Negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons have begun at United Nations headquarters in New York. This is a tremendous opportunity for the world to take the first step toward a world without nuclear weapons. A path must be made to materialize the long-cherished wish of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bomb survivors.

Representatives from the participating nations will continue their negotiations until March 31, and another session will take place in June and July. This meeting has been realized precisely because the prevailing view now held by the international community is that nuclear weapons can result in terribly inhumane consequences.

So that no one else will experience the same suffering, A-bomb survivors have been speaking out for decades, stressing the physical and emotional pains brought on by the atomic bombings. Their persistent efforts have gradually changed the direction of public opinion, and these efforts deserve our praise.

The goal of the negotiations is to outlaw nuclear weapons. If the possession of these inhumane weapons, let alone their use, is made illegal, no nation would be permitted to have them and this would open up the possibility of eliminating them entirely.

But it is clear that many hurdles must still be overcome. The biggest challenge involves softening the hardened attitudes of the nuclear powers. No states that have nuclear weapons are expected to take part in this first round of negotiations. And even if a treaty is created, its effectiveness will not be ensured, given that the nuclear powers will likely dismiss it.

Especially worrisome is the attitude of the new administration in Washington led by President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for enhancing that nation’s nuclear capability. Even though this is a long-term aim, the country’s efforts toward nuclear disarmament will move backward when compared to the attitude conveyed by Barack Obama, the previous president who advocated a world without nuclear weapons.

More citizens in the United States, too, have begun to support this vision of a nuclear-free world. Former high government officials, both Republicans and Democrats, have stressed the danger of terrorists obtaining nuclear materials including nuclear weapons. They have argued that the security of their own nation will not be preserved as long as nuclear weapons continue to exist.

Mr. Trump’s ideas run counter to the tide of these times. If he should pursue the build-up he is suggesting, the result could be another nuclear arms race, raising tensions and placing the world in even greater danger.

It is clear that the goal of nuclear abolition can only be achieved through patient persuasion of the nuclear powers. At the same time, the particular path we choose is also important.

One idea supported by many proponents of such a treaty, including countries and NGOs, is a “standalone ban treaty,” which would immediately prohibit both the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Even without the participation of the nuclear powers, they hope to have such a treaty come into effect. But a treaty of this nature could deepen the rift between the nuclear and non-nuclear states.

Another idea is a “framework agreement,” which would involve all nations including the nuclear powers. In this scenario, the nuclear weapon states would be required, from the start, to make a legal commitment to eliminate their nuclear weapons at a later time, which would make it easier for them to participate in the process.

Many countries have come to believe that no one should possess nuclear weapons. Exhaustive discussions must be pursued as to how they can persuade the nuclear powers, which disregard the nuclear-free wish of the rest of humanity.

The biggest concern, though, is the halfhearted attitude of the Japanese government. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly said that Japan will serve as a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations. For the Japanese government to duck this issue by having its ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament deliver a speech on the first day of the conference would not be acceptable.

If the nuclear weapon states do not take part in the negotiations, Japan must urge them to join this dialogue. It is vital that the Japanese government be aware of its responsibility as the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack and convey a strong desire to eliminate nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on March 27, 2017)