Editorial: Path to nuclear abolition needs wave of action from Hiroshima

An Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, states in his recent worldwide bestseller HOMO DEUS: “In the last few decades, we have successfully managed to constrain the famines, plagues and wars which have plagued the human race for thousands of years. These things will continue to cause hundreds of thousands of casualties in the decades to come, but they are now issues that the human race has the ability to deal with.”

It is true that advances in science and technology have helped reduce the number of famines and plagues. But, what of war? The author of the book says that war between superpowers that possess nuclear weapons would be nothing less than mass suicide, and, because of this, the human race has no option but to pursue peaceful methods for resolving conflicts.

Risk of annihilation of entire human race

If nuclear war should occur, it would result in the complete annihilation of the human race. This fear, which is particularly prevalent among the people of the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has now spread to people all over the world. As evidence of this, we can point to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted at the United Nations in 2017. The treaty was the fruit of many years of exhaustive efforts made by the A-bomb survivors and their supporters.

So far, 19 countries and regions have ratified the treaty. Although the number of ratifications is still far less than the 50 that are required for the treaty to take effect, as many as 69 countries and regions have already signed it. If these 69 countries and regions ratify the treaty, the conditions for entering the treaty into force will be met. It is a matter of time.

It is said that Spain may sign the treaty. The Spanish opposition parties and the government have reportedly agreed on signing the treaty in exchange for approving a budget bill. If Spain signs the treaty, it will become the first member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This would surely lead to a big boost in the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.

Our concern lies with the recent activities undertaken by the United States and other global powers. It is believed that they are putting pressure on other countries behind the scenes to deter those countries from signing and ratifying the treaty. These actions by the nuclear powers can be seen as a sign of how worried they are about the treaty, in how effective the treaty is becoming in potentially eradicating nuclear arms.

Time and time again, the U.S. Trump administration is putting into practice hazardous policies. In the first year of his presidency, he resumed subcritical nuclear experiments for the first time in five years. In February 2018, his administration announced the nation’s new Nuclear Posture Review, its guidelines for nuclear strategy, which includes relaxing the conditions for the use of nuclear arms as well as pursuing the development of smaller nuclear weapons. In autumn, Mr. Trump issued an ultimatum that unless Russia fulfills its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States will withdraw from the treaty in February 2019.

In contrast, the summit meeting between the United States and North Korea has been viewed very favorably. However, a path that leads toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has yet to be seen. It is not only the United States that lacks seriousness when it comes to the issue of arms reduction. These days Russia and China are very actively building up their military forces.

Japan voted against U.N. resolution

Amid these circumstances, the Japanese government has continued to demonstrate its unfathomable stance of standing alongside the United States, despite the fact that Japan is the only country to have suffered the devastation of atomic bombings and therefore has an important role to play in urging the nuclear weapon states to reduce their arms. Last December, Japan, together with the United States, voted against the resolution adopted at the U.N. General Assembly that urges the member states to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On one hand, the Japanese government continually says that it wants to serve as a bridge between the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear nations that are advocating the nuclear weapons ban treaty. But on the other hand, it continues to infuriate all peace-seeking people by voting against the resolution rather than abstaining from it.

The A-bomb survivors have been promoting an international signature drive called the “Hibakusha Appeal,” in which they are calling on the Japanese government to conclude the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. So far, more than 1,100 local government (city, town, and village) leaders and 20 prefectural governors have signed the petition to express their support for the treaty. This result shows how strongly many Japanese people desire a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons. The Japanese government should start listening carefully to the voices of these people.

“The path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons has just begun. To this end, each individual must take action to put pressure on the Japanese government,” said Setsuko Thurlow , an A-bomb survivor living in Canada who delivered a speech at the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. When she visited Hiroshima last November, she called on the public to act to change the government’s mindset.

If Japan were to ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty for its early entry into force, this would advance us along the path toward a world without nuclear weapons. The people of Hiroshima should create a strong wave of action to accomplish this aim.

Expectations for the Pope’s visit

In November or December, Pope Francis is expected to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Pope’s visit to the A-bombed cities will be the second papal visit following the visit made by John Paul II in February 1981. Since becoming Pope in 2013, Pope Francis is said to have made continuous appeals for the need to abolish nuclear weapons. As the Pope sincerely desires a world without nuclear weapons, the message he shares from Hiroshima and Nagasaki will potentially spread throughout the world, influencing the minds of millions of people.

Like the Pope, the people of Hiroshima are seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. To press the governments of the nuclear-armed states to change their minds from their stubborn refusal to pursue nuclear disarmament, we should do our utmost to expand the network of cooperation among those who are determined to protect the future of the human race.

(Originally published on January 4, 2019)