Message to Hiroshima Summit: Yohei Kono, former speaker of Japan’s House of Representatives—Nuclear abolition only path forward

by Junya Kuchimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Yohei Kono, 86, former speaker of Japan’s House of Representatives (the lower house of that country’s parliament, called the Diet), served as chair of the 2008 G8 Summit of Lower House Speakers, a gathering held in Hiroshima. That summit’s participants represented eight nations, the current Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations plus Russia. Having first-hand experience in World War II, Mr. Kono has been a tireless supporter of the abolition of nuclear weapons. He is now calling on G7 leaders, who will gather for the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, to come up with concrete results in terms of realizing a “world without nuclear weapons” after first listening to messages from A-bomb survivors.


There is one thing I will never forget about the Summit of Lower House Speakers. When Mr. Akihiro Takahashi, former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (who died in 2011 at the age of 80), told of his experience in the atomic bombing to the attendees, all of them were shocked into speechlessness. The attitudes of those with minimal knowledge of the atomic bombings had changed completely. Even the lower house speaker of Russia (itself a nuclear superpower) insisted that nuclear weapons should not exist.

Again, at the upcoming Hiroshima Summit, it will be important for the leaders of those countries to learn of the horror and inhumanity of the atomic bombings. I would like for them to witness the reality of the bombings and listen to the stories of A-bomb survivors before engaging in discussions.

In 1994, when serving as minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Kono proposed a resolution on nuclear weapons abolition to the United Nations in what was a first for Japan. He has declared his support of “a world without nuclear weapons,” a goal he calls his lifework. In the past, he took the film “Hiroshima: A Record of the Atomic Bombing” to the former Soviet Union and the United States, showing it to members of the public, scientists, and others.
We need to not only propose resolutions each year but also examine the results of such resolutions before moving on to any next step. The same is true of this year’s Hiroshima Summit. I hope that group can make progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is not enough to simply propose resolutions and issue declarations. There was a time when nuclear disarmament talks between the U.S. and Russia made real progress. This time, the G7 leaders must produce tangible results (such as a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads).

During his first press conference of the new year, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced his intention to make nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation one of the themes of the Hiroshima Summit. Conversely, however, Japan continues to rely on the nuclear umbrella of its ally the United States and remains noncommittal about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which comprehensively bans the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons, among other restrictions.
I believe that the decision to hold the summit in Hiroshima was the result of Mr. Kishida’s adherence to his own principles. In the present situation, in which Russia hints at the possible use of nuclear weapons, an emphasis on the idea of a “world without nuclear weapons” is crucial.

Japan is not merely a nation without nuclear weapons; it is the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks in wartime. The atomic bombings caused a huge number of victims. Mr. Kishida, who prides himself on acting as a bridge between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states, likely is hoping to serve as a mediator between the two sides without taking a clear stand. The prime minister is in a position to manifest his ideals. He must move forward to achieve the ideal of nuclear abolition.

The prime minister revised three national security documents at the end of last year, changing the nation’s course toward the direction of a significant increase in defense spending. He has repeatedly stressed the necessity of raising taxes to secure financial resources for the increase.
Before the entire world, Japan can take great pride in its constitution. Reflecting on its defeat in World War II, Japan renounced war, believing the previous system based on militarism to be futile. Japan has won the respect of many countries around the world even without a powerful military, and boasting one of the world’s most powerful military forces would not attract more support. The most important work to be carried out by politicians is to avoid war.

Yohei Kono
Born in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1937, Mr. Kono graduated from the Waseda University faculty of political science and economics. First elected to the Japan House of Representatives in 1967 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he later formed the New Liberal Club party, becoming its president in 1976. After returning to the LDP after dissolution of the New Liberal Club in 1986, he served in a variety of positions including chief cabinet secretary, president of the LDP, deputy prime minister, and minister of foreign affairs. He also served as speaker of the House of Representatives from 2003 through 2009 and as chairman of the Japanese Parliamentarian Association for the Promotion of International Disarmament, a nonpartisan group.

(Originally published on February 3, 2023)