U.N. expected to postpone NPT review conference until next year amid novel coronavirus outbreak

It was learned on March 12 from several diplomatic sources close to the issue of arms reduction that the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was moving closer to a one-year postponement. The conference was originally scheduled to take place between April 27 and May 22 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, but the U.N. is expected to soon finalize the decision to postpone due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. One possibility was briefly postponing the conference until August this year. But it is more likely that the conference will be postponed until April next year, in consideration of other arms-reduction conference schedules.

Commentary: Long wait for elderly survivors

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

It seems certain that the NPT review conference, held every five years, will be postponed for one year due to effects from the spread of the novel coronavirus. The prospects for the conference, which was to be an opportunity for survivors to directly call on leaders from around the world to reduce nuclear arms, have thus receded. This comes amid what can be called a new nuclear arms race in the world today. One year is a long wait for the aging A-bomb survivors.

Their average age was 82.65 years as of the end of March 2019. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) had its sights set on the conference, since it was believed to be the last chance for the group to send such a large delegation. In reality, there is not much time left for survivors to visit and give accounts of their experiences in the only country that has ever used atomic weapons on a civilian population.

Many of the survivors in the delegation experienced the atomic bombing when they were very young. Still, they are now around 80. It is only natural that, in one year’s time, some will be unable to fly the 13 hours to the United States.

Since things were not shaping up well for this year’s review conference, some have pointed out that the one-year delay should be put to good use. The thinking is that positive efforts by nuclear weapons states toward nuclear disarmament could be continued within that timeframe, including extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia.

The A-bomb survivors, however, had hoped to convey their message in person to ensure that the coming year would not see nations competing for power or playing diplomatic games. The survivors wanted to emphasize that the suffering they were forced to endure should never be repeated.

The Japanese national government holds up the idea that Japan is “the only A-bombed nation in the world.” Now that the survivors stand to lose the chance to convey their message, the government should bear greater responsibility to understand and speak for them through diplomacy.

(Originally published on March 14, 2020)