Editorial: 50th anniversary of NPT’s start Japan’s role as A-bombed nation must not be forgotten

Today marks the 50th anniversary of entry into effect of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The international treaty obligates five nations, including the United States, Russia, and China, to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states and to pursue good-faith negotiations toward nuclear disarmament, while it allows those same nations to possess the weapons.

Nevertheless, the framework of this treaty, to which more than 190 countries are signatories, is on the verge of collapse. The Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT is held once every five years. The final document of the 2000 review conference referred to an “unequivocal undertaking” for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Since that time, however, the world has pursued a buildup of nuclear arms, inviting proliferation of the weapons.

The United States and Russia, both nuclear superpowers in which nationalistic tendencies prevail, are developing low-yield nuclear weapons. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the two countries lapsed last year. The countries show no signs of starting negotiations for extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is set to expire in February next year. The U.S. Trump administration unilaterally abandoned the Iran nuclear deal. Concerns now exist about Iran’s possible withdrawal from the NPT.

In northeast Asia, North Korea has been developing missiles with improved precision, while denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States remain deadlocked. At the same time, China continues its military buildup, including nuclear weapons capabilities.

Symbolizing this dire situation is the “Doomsday Clock,” which is announced by a U.S. publication to indicate metaphorically the time remaining until the end of the world. In January this year, the clock stood at 100 seconds to midnight, which is closer than it was in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in heated competition to develop hydrogen bombs amid the Cold War.

This coming summer, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will observe the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of each city by the United States. People who survived the hell caused by the atomic weapons still suffer physical and mental wounds, even after such a long time has passed. Some might wonder why nuclear weapons need to be eliminated. But, now is the perfect time to return to the beginning.

We need to make this year’s NPT Review Conference a success. The conference, to be held at the United Nations headquarters in New York City starting in late April, will be the first such conference since the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The meeting represents a good opportunity to solidify the NPT regime, which is in a state of near collapse.

However, the Japanese government’s attitude could very well squander that chance. The government has expressed reluctance to support an A-bomb exhibit at the U.N. headquarters in New York, while the review conference is being held there. The exhibit, organized by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), is scheduled to include two panels related to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. The Japanese government appears to view the panel information as problematic because “the NPT approves the peaceful use of nuclear power.”

According to Nihon Hidankyo, the panels related to the nuclear power plant accidents were displayed in similar A-bomb exhibits held at past review conferences, with the Japan Foreign Ministry supporting those exhibits.

Why has the government changed its attitude this time? What is wrong with A-bomb survivors conveying information about the ongoing suffering caused by nuclear power from a humanitarian perspective? The government must provide a convincing explanation.

The Japanese government opposes the nuclear prohibition treaty and seems too eager to avoid displeasing the United States concerning issues surrounding nuclear disarmament.

The government has consistently emphasized that Japan is “the only nation that has experienced nuclear attack during wartime” and that it will play the role of bridge between nuclear- and non-nuclear weapon states.

If the government really means that, it has a responsibility to understand the wishes and support the efforts of A-bomb survivors, who experienced the horrors of nuclear weapons firsthand and have been calling for the elimination of weapons that still threaten the lives of many around the world. The Japanese government must demand that the United States and other nuclear-weapon states draw a clear roadmap leading to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The government must never forget Japan’s role as A-bombed nation.

(Originally published on March 5, 2020)