Editorial: Although unlikely to attend TPNW states parties meeting, Japan must exhibit its determination to eliminate nuclear weapons

Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that Japan will send a government delegation to the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW22Vienna), a gathering scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria, on June 20. At the same time, Mr. Kishida indicated Japan would not participate as an observer in the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which begins the following day at the same venue as that of the HINW22Vienna conference.

A-bomb survivors, Komeito (one party of the ruling government coalition), and public opinion urging the government to agree to the TPNW have demanded that the government attend the meeting as an observer. That is because Japan, a nation that knows through experience the horror of atomic weapons, must make the argument that the elimination of nuclear weapons is necessary for the survival of humankind. If the delegation from the A-bombed nation of Japan comes away from Vienna only taking part in the HINW22Vienna conference, the result could be feelings of disappointment among non-nuclear and other nations.

In 2013, the first HINW conference was held in Norway based on the initiative of nations that could no longer tolerate stagnation in progress toward nuclear disarmament. By 2014, the conference had been held three times, initiating momentum toward establishment of the TPNW.

Japan has sent delegations, including A-bomb survivors, to such conferences. Survivor testimonies about how the atomic bombings were in violation of humanitarian principles based on their own experiences formed the very foundation of debate at the meetings. Put another way, Japan’s attendance at HINW conferences is now considered indispensable. At a budget meeting in Japan’s House of Councilors (upper house of the Diet) held the other day, Mr. Kishida took great pride in Japan’s role. “As the only nation to have experienced nuclear attacks during wartime, we have promoted understanding of the reality of the atomic bombings among the international community,” said the prime minister.

Meanwhile, when requested to attend the TPNW meeting at an upper house budget committee session held at the end of May, Mr. Kishida failed to come up with a clear response. To this point in time, he has stated that participation is not an option “at present,” based on the fact that no nuclear nation has yet joined the TPNW. For that reason, Japan is not expected to attend the upcoming meeting.

As North Korea accelerates its nuclear and missile development and China continues to build its nuclear arsenal with an eye to Taiwan, Japan has increased its reliance on the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States. Although Japan has kept its distance from the TPNW, a treaty opposed by its U.S. ally, Mr. Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden pledged at the recent U.S.-Japan summit meeting to pursue a world free from nuclear weapons. Regarding a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that country’s threats to use nuclear weapons, Mr. Kishida emphasized the importance of the framework of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations.

For the prime minister, Japan’s attendance at the HINW22Vienna conference appears to be a last shot at the pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons while emphasizing the importance of security at the same time.

Nevertheless, member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), consisting of nations such as Japan that rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence, have determined to attend the TPNW meeting as observers, including the influential Germany and Norway, a country that has long emphasized the inhumanity of nuclear weapons. Such nations have advocated their stance that NATO membership and attendance at the TPNW first states parties meeting are not a contradiction.

Finland and Sweden, nations that applied for NATO membership in May, announced their attendance at the TPNW meeting and with that, the gathering is expected to generate more active discussion on the issue of nuclear disarmament. It would seem unnatural for there to be no Japanese delegation taking its place at the meeting table.

Mr. Kishida previously expressed his recognition of TPNW as “a very important treaty that can serve as an ‘off ramp’ leading to a world without nuclear weapons,” emphasizing his idea of Japan’s role being to lead nuclear nations ever closer to the treaty.

If that is the case, Japan should be mindful of cooperation with countries that have ratified the TPNW. At the very least, the government should be able to have dialogue with such nations toward realizing the common goal of nuclear abolition. More discussion should take place about how the gap should be filled between the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which nuclear powers have joined, and the TPNW.

The HINW22Vienna conference schedule has been set up in accordance with the TPNW first states parties meeting, with consideration paid to nations in a difficult position similar to that of Japan. At the upper house budget committee held the other day, Mr. Kishida mentioned the importance of taking part in the conference discussions. He is called on make the decision for Japan to also participate in the TPNW meeting as an observer.

(Originally published on June 5, 2022)