U.S. announcement of withdrawal from nuclear treaty sparks anger and concern among A-bomb survivors

by Junji Akechi and Yusuke Egawa, Staff Writers

On February 1, following the Trump administration’s notification that it intends to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima responded with outrage, arguing that the U.S. decision runs counter to the current global momentum for eliminating nuclear weapons. With the treaty that brought an end to the Cold War now in danger of crumbling, there is concern that this development will fuel a nuclear arms race.

Sunao Tsuboi, 93, the chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo), said that the termination of the INF Treaty would drive the world in a very different direction than the path toward nuclear abolition, which the survivors have long desired, causing great disappointment and anger. He then posed the question, “Why can’t the United States understand the dangers of nuclear weapons after seeing the catastrophic destruction that resulted from the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We must do our utmost to ensure that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is ratified.”

Kunihiko Sakuma, 74, the chair of the other Hiroshima Hidankyo, criticized the announcement by saying that the United States is acting unilaterally and is evidently seeking some sort of advantage for itself. Mr. Sakuma stressed the importance of involving the nuclear weapon states and forging a clear direction for the entire world to move toward realizing the abolition of nuclear weapons. He also urged the Japanese government, which wishes to serve as a bridge between the nuclear-armed nations and the non-nuclear countries, to take a leadership role in this quest for a nuclear-weapon-free world.

The United States is aggressively pushing ahead with the aims of developing low-yield nuclear warheads and enhancing its nuclear capability. “The United States is continually creating new tensions in the world,” said Haruko Moritaki, 80, the co-chair of the citizens’ group known as the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA). She added, “The withdrawal from the INF treaty is very likely to result in the collapse of nuclear disarmament efforts, and expose the entire world to the risk of nuclear war. We would like to work together with peace activists in the United States who are against the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty.”

Behind the U.S. announcement to withdraw from the INF treaty is reportedly Russia’s alleged violations of this treaty as well as China’s proactive nuclear development efforts. Shinsuke Tomotsugu, an associate professor of the history of international relations at Hiroshima University’s Center for Peace, said, “The United States and Russia hold suspicions and doubts about one another. The point is if the United States can get China to engage in new nuclear negotiations and create a gateway to a dialogue for strengthening the treaty’s transparency by using the announcement as a bargaining chip.”

Mr. Tomotsugu continued, “But if the United States leaves the treaty and resumes its nuclear development activities, this would severely undermine the legitimacy of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which commits the nuclear weapon states to disarm, as well as other existing antinuclear frameworks. The United States, as a nuclear superpower, has a responsibility to continue engaging in dialogue.”

In a comment made by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, who sent letters of petition jointly signed by himself and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue to the U.S. and Russian presidents urging them to assume leadership for the cause of nuclear abolition, the mayor said that the U.S. intention to withdraw from the treaty contradicts the desire of the people of Hiroshima and is thus utterly unacceptable. Mr. Matsui called for rational dialogue and effort to ensure that tragedies like what occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never happen again.

(Originally published on February 2, 2019)