Perspective: Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is key milestone for abolition 

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

On August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I have fortified my belief that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a key milestone in the quest to realize a world without nuclear arms.

On a sizzling summer afternoon, A-bomb survivors were on the streets of downtown Hiroshima. They were explaining the significance of the treaty to passersby and asking them to add their name to a global signature drive, pursued by the survivors with the aim of urging all nations of the world to join the treaty. Responding to their appeal, young people and others signed their names and said such things as “I’m grateful for this chance to help make a contribution” and “I didn’t know about the treaty, but I want nuclear weapons to be abolished.”

The treaty is the first international agreement to completely prohibit all acts involving nuclear weapons, including their development, possession, and use, as well as the threat of their use. Originating from the appeals made by A-bomb survivors and other proponents, the treaty is the historic result of the leadership demonstrated by the non-nuclear nations, such as Austria and Mexico, which feel a sense of urgency over the inhumane consequences of nuclear weapons. On September 20, nations can begin signing the treaty and the agreement will go into effect when it has been ratified by 50 countries. As the nations of the world ratify this treaty, one by one, we will move ever closer to the elimination of these weapons. The goal is now clear.

However, when the talks took place to establish the treaty, which includes the word “hibakusha” in its preamble, the government of Japan, the A-bombed nation, chose not to participate because the nuclear powers rebuffed the negotiations. On the anniversary of the atomic bombing, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for five consecutive years, didn’t make any mention of the treaty in his speech. Furthermore, at his press conference after the ceremony, he stated clearly that the government would not sign or ratify the treaty.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, wrote in a message for the ceremony that the treaty was the result of a global campaign focused on the unacceptability of the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and he welcomed its adoption. Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki referred to current conditions in which the nuclear powers are voicing strong opposition to the treaty. This year’s anniversary of the atomic bombing, the first since the nuclear weapons ban treaty was adopted, revealed how the Japanese government is acting in ways to suit the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has expressed his desire to strengthen his nation’s nuclear arsenal.

In his Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui appealed to the government by saying, “I call especially on the Japanese government to manifest the pacifism in our constitution by doing everything in its power to bridge the gap between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, thereby facilitating the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” There is weakness in such statements, though, because the government is not being explicitly asked to ratify the treaty. Mr. Matsui said that the phrase “by doing everything in its power” conveys the A-bomb survivors’ frustrations and his wish for the government to ratify the agreement. He also explained that he had preferred to put more emphasis on making a clear request about actions that the government should take in the future.

Seventy-two years have passed since Hiroshima was attacked with the atomic bomb. The average age of the A-bomb survivors is now over 81. Since the treaty, the fruit of the survivors’ tireless efforts, was adopted, the Chugoku Shimbun has been reporting on activities that young people are engaged in to help hand down the messages of the survivors to the next generation. The power of these young people is demonstrated in various ways: a guide who offers tours at the Peace Memorial Park; a high school student who makes a painting of an A-bomb survivor’s experience; and a university student who delivers a speech in English with quotations from A-bomb poems. Such activities by young people can be a new driving force as we seek to gain further endorsements for the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

(Originally published on August 7, 2017)