Editorial: We cannot condone another nuclear arms race

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has notified Russia that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has played a historic role in preventing the escalation of a nuclear arms race.

This was the first treaty that includes the abolition of a specific type of nuclear weapon. The treaty, which was concluded between the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1987, has great significance in that it helped end the Cold War and open the door to nuclear disarmament.

It is unlikely that the two countries will make mutual concessions before the treaty expires in six months. We must, by all means, avoid a situation in which these nuclear superpowers plunge into an escalating arms race.

President Trump has insisted that Russia’s new cruise missiles violate the treaty, and demanded that Russia get rid of these missiles. But Russia has not accepted this request, instead insisting that the deployment of the U.S. Aegis Ashore system in Europe was the real breach of the treaty’s provisions. The two nations remain mired in this rift.

But the confrontation with Russia does not seem to have been the only thing on Mr. Trump’s mind when he decided to announce that the United States intends to withdraw from the treaty. He is also apparently concerned about other countries that are not bound by the treaty, especially China, which has been expanding its military capacity.

In his statement, President Trump mentioned that the United States is developing its own “military response options.” Does this mean that he will speed up the production of that nation’s new, low-yield warhead, which reports say has recently entered production? If this happens, it would only lead to the nightmare of a three-way arms race among the United States, Russia, and China. It would also have an adverse effect on the negotiations between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the North Korean regime.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, is steadily being ratified by the world’s nations. With this in mind, it is only natural that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are raising their voices in protest, saying that Mr. Trump’s move goes against the tide of international momentum for nuclear abolition. This would also take the teeth out of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which stipulates that the nuclear weapon states are obliged to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

It seems Mr. Trump told reporters that it would be better to have a new treaty. This remark may be an extension of his interest in discussing disarmament issues with the United States, Russia, and China. But can he be trusted, after withdrawing from or scrapping a series of existing international agreements?

At the same time, intermediate-range missiles are said to be crucial to China’s military strategy. Forging a new framework among these three countries would be very difficult to realize.

The United States and Russia still maintain the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (the New START), which involves longer-range missiles among other things. The treaty is set to expire in two years, and its future is uncertain. John Bolton, the U.S. National Security Adviser, who pushed for the repeal of the INF Treaty, is said to oppose an extension of the New START.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many lives were lost in the atomic bombings. We cannot overlook the possibility of another nuclear arms race. If the United States expands its nuclear missile capability, Japan could become one of the candidate locations for the deployment of missiles against China. Amid these circumstances, what is needed most is the principle of international cooperation.

On the issue of the United States withdrawing from the INF Treaty, the Japanese government has only said that this would be undesirable from the world’s perspective. It also said that Japan would encourage the international community to establish a multilateral disarmament framework to avoid an arms race.

Then why not utilize the framework of the valuable Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? The only country that experienced nuclear attacks in wartime must lead the world to a secure future that no longer relies on nuclear arms.

(Originally published on February 3, 2019)