Interview with Kazumi Mizumoto, vice president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, on U.S. withdrawal from nuclear treaty with Russia

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the United States form the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and has communicated this intention to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In connection to this move, there is concern that bilateral relations between the United States and Russia could grow worse and that a nuclear arms race may escalate. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Kazumi Mizumoto, 61, the vice president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University and an expert on nuclear disarmament issues, for his perspective on the future of the INF treaty.

How do you view the U.S. announcement that it will withdraw from the INF treaty?
Since the United States has already notified Russia of its intention to withdraw from the treaty, the U.S. government is apparently very serious about scrapping it. However, because midterm elections are being held in the United States in November, Mr. Trump’s stronger stand against Russia is also considered to be an appeal to American conservatives as he has struggled with his handling of Russian interference of the previous election. However, Mr. Trump often reverses course so it can be hard to predict how he will eventually act.

What do you think will become of the treaty?
To date, Russia continues to deny that it has violated the treaty. It would be fine if the United States presented certain evidence and asked Russia to comply with the agreement. But if the United States simply presses Russia to scrap the treaty, relations between the two nations could grow even worse, and this could set back efforts to advance nuclear disarmament.

What is the significance of the INF treaty, which was signed in 1987?
It was an epoch-making treaty created by the United States and Russia which, for the first time, specified certain types of nuclear arms to be abolished. After the fierce nuclear arms race through the Cold War era, the use of nuclear weapons at last became forbidden. So they agreed that the nuclear arms race must stop and based the treaty on this idea, in line with the lessons they had learned from the past. Withdrawing from the treaty means that those lessons will be cast aside.

In your opinion, what would be the best direction for the treaty to take in the future?
The United States is a nuclear superpower. So it has a duty to reduce the risks that nuclear weapons pose. If the United States is concerned about growing nuclear development efforts being made by China, perhaps the treaty could include more nuclear nations, like China, and add these nations to the treaty, thus making the treaty multinational. If such negotiations don’t take place, I believe the only solution is to completely prohibit nuclear arms under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Do you think that the Japanese government should call on the United States not to withdraw from the treaty?
Though our government has said that it will closely monitor the moves for the United States and Russia, Japan’s role, as the A-bombed nation, must involve intervening in talks between the two nations and helping elicit their concessions. If Japan quietly overlooks the fact that the United States is turning its back on nuclear disarmament efforts in this way, the international community will once again question Japan’s continuing reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The people of the A-bombed city should not simply accept the government’s hesitant attitude toward nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on October 25, 2018)