Tomorrow marks 3rd anniversary of nuclear ban treaty: Role of A-bombed cities increases in importance as 12 more countries needed for long-desired enactment

by Yumi Kanazaki and Kyoko Niiyama, Staff Writers

Three years ago, on July 7, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations. The treaty’s provisions stipulate that it will enter into force after ratification by 50 countries. However, the number of member nations to the treaty remains stuck at 38. Along with nuclear powers, Japan—which needs the U.S. nuclear umbrella despite being the only country in the world to have suffered atomic bombings—continues to turn its back on the treaty. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, another push inspired by international public opinion and voices from citizens of the A-bombed cities is expected to boost the ratification effort.

In late June, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO), sent a letter composed by Setsuko Thurlow, 88, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Canada, to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. “Prime Minister, it would go down in history as the greatest achievement if Japan were to declare that it will change its policy and start working on signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in this year marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings.” She insisted that Japan’s consistent official insistence that protection by nuclear weapons is necessary for the nation’s security would destroy all efforts made to this point to achieve abolition of nuclear weapons.

Ms. Thurlow drafted different versions of letters that were sent to the leaders of 197 countries and regions eligible to participate in the nuclear ban treaty. In a letter addressed to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she pointed out the historical fact that Canada had taken part in the U.S. project designed to develop atomic weapons and urged him to express his sorrow and regret over the damage caused by the atomic bombings.

The treaty, which calls for the total ban of possession and development of nuclear weapons, was adopted with the support of 122 nations and regions, marking a crucial step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. At the moment, 81 countries have signed the treaty, and 38 countries have ratified it and become member nations to the treaty, an increase of 15 countries from the previous year. The figure of 38 includes the Cook Islands, which went through a process corresponding to ratification without signing the treaty.

However, some countries have signed the treaty but have not yet begun domestic procedures toward its ratification. Criticism of the treaty has arisen because the United States and other nuclear powers are putting pressure on some countries to not join the treaty. Ms. Thurlow proclaimed, “I’d like to encourage such countries to expedite the procedures because so many A-bomb survivors and global citizens support ratification.”

The current global environment surrounding nuclear weapons is said to be the worst in history, with nine nuclear powers possessing more than 13,000 nuclear warheads. The United States and Russia have repeatedly engaged in dangerous confrontations with each other, and China’s nuclear capability has steadily increased. Moreover, no progress can be seen with respect to North Korea’s nuclear issue. “Even if the nuclear ban treaty has not yet come into force, its existence alone can justify our criticism of nuclear weapons as ‘evil’ based on common principles. The importance of the treaty has grown,” emphasized Akira Kawasaki, a member of ICAN’s international steering group.

Seven Hiroshima A-bomb survivors’ groups have decided to demand that the Japanese government sign and ratify the treaty in “a meeting with representatives of A-bomb survivors,” to be held on August 6. Based on the assumption that Prime Minister Abe will be present at the meeting, the groups positioned this issue as being of utmost importance.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 78, vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), stressed, “Our appeal in this milestone year is of particular importance.” Kunihiko Sakuma, 75, chair of the other Hiroshima Hidankyo, said, “In the same way that the entire world is fighting hard to eradicate the coronavirus, the world should also fight hard to eradicate nuclear weapons.”

According to ICAN’s Mr. Kawasaki, the possibility exists that one or more countries will ratify the nuclear ban treaty on July 7. Ratification by 12 more countries is necessary for the nuclear ban treaty to enter into force, a situation all A-bomb survivors have long awaited. But even after the treaty comes into effect, Hiroshima’s challenge to change the national Japanese government’s stance will continue.

(Originally published on July 6, 2020)