Editorial: TPNW and Japan—Nation should play a leading role, not simply as mediator, to realize world free from nuclear weapons 

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force yesterday. The mindset to consider nuclear weapons illegal is gaining momentum in international society. It took more than 75 long years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to finally see a ray of hope for a world free from nuclear weapons.

The preamble of the treaty indicates: “Mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (hibakusha), as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons.” The treaty is indeed revolutionary in that it refers to the suffering caused not only by the atomic bombings but also by nuclear weapons development following World War II.

There are sure to be some who raise questions about the treaty’s effectiveness with respect to nuclear disarmament, because nuclear weapons states and the A-bombed nation of Japan have yet to participate.

Among the countries and regions that have thus far ratified the treaty are countries in the Pacific whose existence has been threatened by repeated nuclear tests conducted by the United States and France. The anger toward the world powers’ egotism, which has forced on the rest of the world their nuclear development and blocked any progress in nuclear disarmament, led to the establishment of the TPNW. It has sharply driven a wedge in the international postwar framework.

The TPNW is a historic step toward the survival of all humankind, but it is not the ultimate goal.

Within one year after effectuation of the treaty, the first meeting of States Parties will be convened to establish concrete measures to verify actual steps taken to dismantle nuclear weapons. True, however, is the idea that sufficient discussion cannot be achieved without the participation of nuclear weapons states. Setsuko Thurlow, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Canada, has braced herself. “More ratifying countries are needed to enhance the effectiveness of the treaty. The hardest part is yet to come.”

We have urged the Japanese government to alter its reactionary stance. Even on such a historic day, a reply yesterday by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the Diet was curt: “We have no intention of signing the treaty.” At that, we feel resentment.

The government has even adopted a cautious stance to a demand from within the ruling parties that Japan attend the meeting of States Parties meetings as an observer.

The prime minister has also said, “It is appropriate to pursue a realistic process to promote nuclear disarmament.” What is a realistic process, we ask? There is no reason to muddy things with such phrasings as “role of mediator.” To realize a world without nuclear weapons, Japan should play a leading role.

To begin, Japan should participate in the States Parties meeting as an observer, show its determination to stand on the side of non-nuclear weapons states, and propose to hold future meetings in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

The treaty requires the provision of medical care, psychological support, and social and economic assistance to those affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, as well as measures needed for environmental remediation of contaminated areas as a result of nuclear experiments and other nuclear-related activities. The scientific knowledge and expertise that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have accumulated over time could be put to good use.

Japan’s foreign policy is based on faith in the nuclear umbrella (or nuclear deterrence), of which we are not convinced. Former Foreign Minister Taro Kono responded in the Diet that, “The rationale of U.S. nuclear deterrence would be damaged if Japan were to join the treaty.” If international society is to move toward a world free from nuclear weapons, the “rationale” of the nuclear umbrella will ultimately be put to the test.

Newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden has publicly stated that he would continue with the philosophy of a “world free from nuclear weapons,” espoused by former U.S. President Barack Obama. We can surmise from his statement that he will adopt a positive stance toward nuclear disarmament. We therefore cannot assert that there can be no security without dependence on nuclear deterrence.

We should not be optimistic about the current situation. Nuclear weapons have proliferated across the world. Even so, let’s pin our hopes on this treaty. We must create a next era in which Japan and Hiroshima will not be demanded to provide an explanation about what we were doing when we had the chance to support the treaty.

(Originally published on January 23, 2021)