Representatives from 89 nations and EU attend Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, voice different views on nuclear weapons

(by Miho Kuwajima, Aya Kano, and Ayane Yamakawa, Staff Writers)

On August 6, the Peace Memorial Ceremony took place at the Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward, Hiroshima attended by representatives from 89 nations and the European Union (EU). Prior to this, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the bilateral treaty concluded between the United States and Russia which helped end the Cold War and paved the way for nuclear disarmament initiatives, expired on August 2. Against the backdrop of global conditions that have become increasingly destabilized, the comments made by the ambassadors of each nation clearly reveal the divide in their perceptions of nuclear weapons.

From the nuclear-armed nations were delegates from the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Pakistan. A representative from Israel, a de facto nuclear weapon state, was present, too. After the ceremony ended, Dmitry Birichevskiy, the Charge d'Affaires ad interim from Russia, responded to questions from the Chugoku Shimbun and said that the international community must come together to work for nuclear disarmament. Mr. Birichevskiy added that Russia would ultimately like to eliminate nuclear weapons. He also stressed that Russia had wanted to maintain the INF Treaty but the United States had acted first to withdraw from it.

Joseph M. Young, the Charge d'Affaires ad interim from the United States, declined to speak to the media.

Rui Orlando Xavier, the ambassador from Angola, expressed concern that it will become more difficult to control the possession of nuclear weapons in the world as a consequence of having let expire the INT Treaty between the two nuclear superpowers. Mr. Xavier said that this development may accelerate the proliferation of nuclear arms.

The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations in July 2017. In order to enter into force, the treaty must be ratified by at least 50 nations, but the number of ratifying nations has yet to reach this figure.

Lulama Smuts Ngonyama, the ambassador from South Africa, which ratified the treaty in February of this year, said, “There is a need for all nations of the world, including Japan, to ratify the treaty. And we hope that they will see the need to do this. It’s a pity that it’s not progressing. The majority of the nations of the world want to pursue the process of disarmament. The treaty needs to be ratified. We do hope that it will make definite progress in the future because this is what the majority of the world’s nations want. It is therefore important that the countries of the world, including Japan, be sensitive when it comes to this issue.” Mr. Ngonyama added, “As time goes by, we hope that Japan will rethink its stance toward the treaty. As a sovereign state, Japan is entitled to make its own decision and we can’t condemn it for a different conclusion. We know that Japan should adopt its own position based on its own perspective and experience. We cannot force Japan’s hand. Japan is a strongly democratic nation that can make its own decision. South Africa and many other nations have chosen to ratify the treaty.”

However, Paul Madden, the British Ambassador to Japan, said, “We didn't support the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and we won't be joining it. We don't think it's the right approach as we don’t believe it takes into account the need to move multilaterally. And so we won’t be supporting it.” Mr. Madden also indicated that he is focused more on the discussions that will take place next year at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, saying, “We think the best approach to nuclear disarmament is one that is multilateral, takes a step by step approach, and is conducted through existing institutions, such as the NPT, which takes into account the prevailing security conditions in the world. Our approach to nuclear disarmament is largely governed by the NPT which, as you know, comes up for review in 2020. We’ve already submitted our draft position on this for comment and we look forward to submitting our final paper in time for 2020. It will be an important moment to take stock of the treaty, which we think has played a very important role and will continue to play a very important role.”

Some of the delegates spoke about their hopes for the people of Hiroshima in terms of the influence they have in sending out messages for peace. Seiko Ishikawa, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Japan and a second-generation Japanese-Venezuelan, said firmly that the message from the A-bomb survivors, who have overcome such suffering, has great power. He added that it is important to continue grassroots efforts to create sustainable peace.

(Originally published on August 7, 2019)