My perspectives regarding TPNW, Part 5—Noriyuki Kawano, 54, director of The Center for Peace, Hiroshima University

by Hajime Niiyama, Staff Writer

Japan questioned about its dependence on nuclear umbrella—A-bomb survivors caught in dilemma

Taking shape with effectuation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was the will of the international community, mainly composed of non-nuclear states, expressed in the sentiment “Nuclear weapons are not necessary for any reason.” At the same time, it again became apparent that a gap exists between the ideal, a world free from nuclear weapons, and the reality, in which some countries continue to depend on nuclear deterrence.

As for Japan’s situation, the United States provides a nuclear deterrent that Japan depends on in the form of a “nuclear umbrella.” North Korea remains a threat to the country. How will Japan, which acknowledges itself to be the only nation to have experienced a nuclear attack during wartime, promote nuclear disarmament? The country’s position is being called into question by the international community.

National survey conducted by Japan Association for Public Opinion Research last year indicated 72 percent of those surveyed think “Japan should join the TPNW”
According to a survey of A-bomb survivors carried out by a national newspaper, more than 90 percent of the people surveyed wanted nuclear weapons to be abolished, but at the same time, 40 percent said that the Japanese government’s dependence on a nuclear umbrella for security “cannot be helped.” A-bomb survivors are clearly also facing a dilemma.

The results of a questionnaire of students at Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University were similar: 80 percent of the students surveyed answered that nuclear weapons should be “reduced” or “eliminated,” while 40 percent responded that possession of the weapons works as a deterrent.

Japanese government has clarified position that it will not sign TPNW, indicating it “shares the same goal of nuclear abolition” but its “approach to that goal differs from that outlined in the treaty”
Why can’t the government align itself with the many citizens and A-bomb survivors who support the treaty? This question ultimately leads to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the nuclear umbrella. Some question how Japan would deal with an outside attack with the country’s current self-defense capacity. We are now at a critical juncture for discussing and overcoming the issues that have been swept under the rug between our ideal and reality.

We must be prepared to discuss this issue with the awareness that public opinion might not agree with ratification of the TPNW, a result Hiroshima and Nagasaki do not desire.

Peace movements in Hiroshima and Nagasaki created the fundamental theory that “nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist.” Even so, the possibility exists that after broad discussions, public opinion putting national interest before TPNW ratification and not joining the treaty will come to the fore.

Were nuclear weapons to be used, many lives would be lost in an instant. Not only that, but their use would cause much suffering for any survivors, including aftereffects from exposure to radiation, for a long time. A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and other parts of Japan and the world are aging. Considering the dwindling number of survivors who can directly share their experience, it is time once again to seriously consider the damage wrought by the atomic bombings.

When participation in such an international treaty detailing the abolition of nuclear weapons finally becomes a reality, it will be necessary to continue talking about the profound and serious experiences of the atomic bombings, to ensure that Japan itself does not let the door close on that opportunity.

Noriyuki Kawano
Born in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1966, earned a Ph.D. from Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Biomedical & Health Sciences. After serving in various posts including assistant professor at the university’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, became a professor at the Institute for Peace Science (now the Center for Peace) at Hiroshima University in 2013. Since 2017, concurrently has served as director and professor at The Center for Peace. Specializes in the study of the atomic bombings, exposure to radiation, and peace studies.

(Originally published on January 23, 2021)