Editorial: The role of the A-bombed nation for the nuclear weapons ban treaty

On September 20, the member states of the United Nations began adding their signatures to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at U.N. headquarters in New York. The treaty marks the first time international law has been established to outlaw nuclear weapons. While there is still a long road ahead until a world without these weapons is realized, this is an enormous step forward.

On the first day of signatures, 50 nations signed the treaty. Among them, Thailand and two other countries have already completed their ratification process as well. The treaty will likely become law since 50 nations, the number needed for the treaty to go into effect, are expected to ratify the agreement by the end of next year.

Japan, however, is not on this list of signatories. The country turned its back on the international community and the call for abolishing nuclear weapons, as if it had abandoned its role as the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack. The Japanese government’s actions are wholly unacceptable.

The most pressing issue concerning nuclear weapons involves North Korea, which has defied the will of the international community and persists in carrying out nuclear tests and missile launches.

The day before the treaty opened for signatures, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea in an address he made at U.N. headquarters. He even went so far as to say that if the United States is provoked, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Assuming he was speaking with nuclear weapons in mind, this would be considered a threat to use nuclear arms, an act prohibited by the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

In the advisory opinion it made in 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said that, in general, “the threat or use of nuclear weapons should be considered contrary to the rules of international law.” However, it also stated that it could not definitively conclude whether or not the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a nation is at stake. This ruling left open a loophole.

The new treaty goes further: not only are the possession and use of nuclear weapons deemed illegal, the threat of using nuclear arms is considered unlawful as well. This represents the fruits of the efforts long made by the atomic bomb survivors and the people of the A-bombed cities, who have sought to highlight the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

Moving forward, we must find a way to get the nuclear powers and countries under the nuclear umbrella, like Japan, involved in the treaty. These nations have expressed opposition to the treaty, and amid the growing threat from North Korea, some voices have called for nuclear deterrence in Japan and South Korea, too, arguing that nuclear weapons are needed to counter North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. But such a move is out of the question. The international community is seeking to outlaw these weapons, and if Japan moved toward possessing nuclear arms, this could destroy the international coalition now striving to have North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons.

In the United States, people often say that guns are needed to counter others who have guns. Can it be said that a society like this is truly safe? The way to create a more peaceful world, without the idea of nuclear deterrence, involves denuclearizing Northeast Asia, preventing North Korea from behaving rashly in cooperation with the international community, and doggedly persuading that nation to give up its nuclear development program. As long as countries cling to the idea of nuclear deterrence, a peaceful world will never be achieved.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones have been established in many parts of the world. The fact that most of the southern hemisphere is covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones shows that denuclearizing the world is not a pipe dream.

Even the nuclear weapon states have agreed, in U.N. resolutions and in the final documents adopted at the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), that the ultimate goal is nuclear abolition. If they criticize the nuclear weapons ban treaty, saying that this move is being made too hastily to be realistic, they should show their own step-by-step process for completely eliminating these weapons.

First of all, the NPT stipulates that the nuclear powers must make efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals. They should bear in mind that the non-nuclear weapon states have grown impatient with the fact that the nuclear weapon states have not lived up to their responsibilities for many years, and thus are now pursuing their own course of action in the form of the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Japan, as the A-bombed nation, is the epitome of a country that should sign the treaty. And after that, the Japanese government should serve as a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations, making an all-out effort to persuade nations like the United States to join the treaty, too.

(Originally published on September 23, 2017)