Editorial: Japan-led resolution at U.N. for nuclear abolition is empty rhetoric

The global community is viewing Japan with a critical eye: Was it not just empty rhetoric when the Japanese government called for the abolition of nuclear weapons at the U.N. General Assembly, referring to the country as the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime? It is urgent that the Japanese government effect a genuine change in its attitude toward nuclear arms.

Every year since 1994, Japan has submitted a resolution on the abolition of nuclear weapons to the U.N. General Assembly. Again this year, the First Committee, which addresses issues involving disarmament and international security, adopted the draft resolution. Though the number of nations that supported these resolutions in the past had been gradually rising, that number declined by 23 from last year, resulting in this year’s total of 144. The reason for this is because some nations find many aspects of the resolution questionable.

The most important criticism is that this year’s resolution makes no direct mention of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted at the United Nations this past July. This nuclear weapons ban treaty is the fruit of international discussions that went on for several years. Japan should have taken an active role in creating the treaty, but the government’s attitude toward it was persistently negative. Is Japan simply deferring to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has expressed a backward-looking view of nuclear disarmament? If so, how can Japan fulfill its role as the A-bombed nation?

Proponents of the treaty, including Brazil, New Zealand, and Costa Rica, began abstaining on the votes on the Japan-led resolutions last year. At the same time, nuclear powers such as the United Kingdom and France endorsed the resolution this year rather than abstaining.

The Japanese government says that the resolution is designed to serve as a bridge between the nuclear-armed states and proponents of the treaty, as the divide between them over the treaty has widened. Judging from the results, however, it is clear that the resolution was more desirable to the nuclear weapon states than to the countries that are actually seeking nuclear abolition. It is only natural that this would call into question Japan’s seriousness about eliminating nuclear arms. The Japanese government must give more sober consideration to the results of this vote.

There is the indelible impression that this year’s resolution contains watered-down language about the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons compared to the language of last year’s draft. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue hit the mark when he commented that the contents of this year’s resolution seem as if they were submitted by the nuclear weapon states.

In response to this, people have been voicing anger and disappointment. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, said, “This is a betrayal of the A-bomb survivors. This is more than disappointing, it is infuriating.” Ms. Thurlow lives in Canada and has long been relating the horrors of the atomic bombing in English both inside and outside that country. It is only natural that the survivors would condemn the Japanese government’s attitude.

In December, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which helped fuel negotiations for the treaty. This reflects the fact that the treaty is highly evaluated internationally. Should Japan continue to take the side of the nuclear weapon states, or promote the treaty? It is clear which path Japan should pursue.

Ms. Thurlow will attend the award ceremony and become the first A-bomb survivor to deliver a speech in that setting. We hope she will convey the lesson that was learned from the charred ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where so many lives were destroyed: The human race cannot coexist with nuclear weapons.

Of course, it also very important that we address the situation with North Korea, as this country currently presents the most serious challenge with regard to nuclear weapons. North Korea has been performing nuclear tests and firing missiles while defying calls for restraint from the international community. An outbreak of violence must be prevented through dialogue, and the world must come together for a solution that will persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The Japanese government must speak out on behalf of the victims who died beneath the flash of the atomic bombs, as well as the survivors who have suffered from their experience of the attacks for more than 70 years. The government should reflect on its actions and give greater thought to how it can more effectively address this problem.

(Originally published on October 30, 2017)