Editorial: Prime Minister Kishida and August 6—Demand that leader achieve goal of nuclear weapons abolition

Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s determination to achieve a “world free of nuclear weapons” was made clear. Yesterday, Mr. Kishida attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony as Japan’s prime minister and expressed anew his intent to firmly uphold Japan’s three non-nuclear principles.

The ceremony, marking the 77th year since the atomic bombing by the United States and with a limited number of participants to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, was held under heavy security in the aftermath of the recent shooting death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Prime Minister Kishida’s speech, delivered amid such circumstances, gave the impression of a determined leader elected from the A-bombed city. However, also clearly evident was the gap between the path Mr. Kishida is intending to travel and the perceptions of the A-bombed city’s people.

With its invasion of Ukraine, Russia persists in threats related to nuclear weapons. Amid the mounting risk of nuclear weapons’ use, Hiroshima’s voice is now more important than ever. Touching on the tragedy of the atomic bombing in his address, Mr. Kishida vowed to continue efforts to connect the reality of a harsh security environment with the ideal of a world without nuclear weapons. At a press conference following the ceremony, he expressed a sense of crisis regarding the setback of international momentum toward a world without nuclear weapons. “I will continue on the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons by turning things around and regaining momentum,” said Mr. Kishida, who clearly renewed his resolve at the first ceremony he has attended as prime minister.

In addition to Russia’s suggestion that it might use nuclear weapons, tensions between the United States and China has increased over the issue of Taiwan, and North Korea is preparing for the resumption of its nuclear testing. One could interpret as fate the fact that Mr. Kishida serves as Japan’s prime minister at such a time.

The historical dates of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coincided with the timing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, Mr. Kishida took the lead by deciding to convene the summit meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven industrialized nations) in Hiroshima next year.

In his address, Mr. Kishida said that, together with other leaders participating in the upcoming G7 summit, he would “demonstrate to the world our pledge that humankind will never repeat the tragedy of nuclear weapons’ use.” Nevertheless, he did not touch on the appropriateness of the possession of nuclear weapons, which could have been the result of his consideration of the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States.

Mr. Kishida also failed to refer to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which is the manifestation of A-bomb survivors’ hopes. On the other hand, in his Peace Declaration, Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged Japan’s national government to promptly sign and ratify the TPNW.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who was attending the ceremony for the first time, stressed that the TPNW represents “signs of hope.” Said Mr. Guterres, “There is only one solution to the nuclear threat: not to possess nuclear weapons at all.”

After the ceremony, Mr. Guterres met personally with Mr. Kishida and revealed his expectations for Japan’s role toward the goal of attaining a world without nuclear weapons. From that, the United Nations seems to be pushing Japan to involve itself in the TPNW.

Japan’s national government did not participate in the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW in June as an observer on the grounds that no nuclear weapons states, including the United States, have joined the treaty. However, Mr. Kishida regards the treaty itself as a kind of “off-ramp” toward the attainment of a nuclear-free world and the only way to change the attitudes of nuclear weapons states toward that end. That is what Mr. Kishida is calling his brand of serving as a “bridge” between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states.

The NPT framework, the foundation for that purpose, would collapse if members are unable to adopt a final document at the review conference. If that were to be the result, Japan’s presence would immediately be put to the test.

With that in mind, we want to ask Mr. Kishida to at least participate in the next meeting of States Parties to the TPNW as an observer and serve as a bridge between the nuclear haves and have-nots. That is the desire of both the people of the A-bombed city and the United Nations, and that is the responsibility of the leader of the only nation in the world to have experienced a nuclear bombing during wartime.

(Originally published on August 7, 2022)