Editorial: Prime Minister Kishida speaks at NPT Review Conference, needs to take leadership role in creating world without nuclear weapons

To what extent did his intent as prime minister of the A-bombed nation of Japan resonate with people across the world?

Fumio Kishida became the first ever Japanese prime minister to address the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference as it got underway, for the first time in seven years, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

As a path for connecting the ideal of ‘a world without nuclear weapons’ and the reality of a ‘harsh security environment,’ Mr. Kishida proposed a roadmap of five themes. At the last NPT conference, he spoke in his role as Japan’s minister of foreign affairs. As someone elected to office as a representative of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, he must have profound emotions with respect to the conference.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other factors, the NPT framework faces its own trials. Following the last conference, which failed to reach agreement on a final document due to conflicting views about denuclearization of the Middle East region, a breakdown in the conference surrounding the issue of a final document this time, again, might well lead to dissolution. In addition to his address, the prime minister is expected to exercise firm leadership toward putting together a final document.

In his roadmap, with the aim of early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Mr. Kishida proposed that Japan convene a meeting of friends of the CTBT at the leaders’ level for the first time in September. He also indicated that Japan’s government would set up a fund through the UN to invite young people from overseas to Japan to provide them with the opportunity to learn firsthand about the reality of nuclear weapons’ use. Steady progress in such efforts is necessary.

We cannot help but feel intense déjà vu about Mr. Kishida’s roadmap. When he spoke at the last NPT conference as foreign minister, he touched on such ideas as securing transparency of nuclear weapons states’ nuclear arsenals, pursuing reduction in numbers of nuclear stockpiles, and encouraging visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by international leaders. His determination to realize a world without nuclear weapons can be seen in that speech, but the similar message this time leads one to believe that almost no progress was made on nuclear disarmament during the interim.

Nuclear weapons states are to blame for that. Simply repeating the same language will not compel nuclear powers to action, however. Mr. Kishida should not forget the protestations from A-bomb survivors who have said that words alone are of no interest to them.

The NPT obligates the five nuclear nations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia to make earnest efforts toward nuclear disarmament in exchange for being allowed to possess nuclear weapons. Prior to the conference, in January this year, the five nations released a joint statement affirming that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

However, Russia has not halted its invasion of Ukraine and has threatened the use of nuclear weapons. China has not revealed any information whatsoever regarding the number of nuclear warheads in its possession. The five nations should take time to reflect on their behavior and recognize the fact that their own actions in violation of the joint statement have led to stagnation in nuclear disarmament efforts and generated mistrust among non-nuclear nations.

That result of that lack of trust was the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which came into force last year.

Nevertheless, Japan did not attend the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, even as an observer, despite the fact that non-nuclear nations were anticipating that Japan would play the role of A-bombed nation at the meeting.

The fact that Mr. Kishida failed to even touch on the TPNW in his speech leaves us bitterly disappointed. Such an approach will never allow Japan to bridge the divide between nuclear nations and non-nuclear nations.

The prime minister has positioned the NPT as the starting point for realizing a world without nuclear weapons. If that is truly the case, Japan must first urge nations in possession of nuclear weapons to use restraint with regard to their use.

Given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other situations, high hurdles remain for a certain level of agreement to be reached at the review conference. Condemnation of Russia is clearly necessary, but a proper environment must also be created for each nation to be able to exercise the appropriate wisdom to prevent the NPT framework from being debilitated.

Our hope is that the prime minister will take concrete action to encourage dialogue between the United States and Russia and between the United States and China to reduce nuclear arms. He must act to open a path toward a world without nuclear weapons that can connect to the G7 summit meeting (attended by the Group of Seven industrialized nations) to be held in Hiroshima next year.

(Originally published on August 3, 2022)