Editorial: Second TPNW states parties’ meeting ends, but Japan also should join efforts to support nuclear victims

The second meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) held in New York has come to a close. The meeting participants adopted a political declaration, which said, “We, the States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, have gathered for the second Meeting of States Parties in steadfast determination to address the existential threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons and to uphold our commitment to their prohibition and complete elimination,” and reaffirmed their final goal by stating nuclear weapon elimination is the only solution to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used.

It proves the meeting is a forum where a certain path can be provided toward the realization of nuclear disarmament and subsequent nuclear abolition.

The framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which must serve as foundation for nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation initiatives, has reached a plateau. No sign of advancement of nuclear disarmament negotiation among nuclear nations has been seen at all, although the NPT has obliged them to pursue such negotiation. On the contrary, triggered by Russia’s invasion into Ukraine and China’s enhancement of its nuclear forces, the nuclear-armed nations and other nations relying on the “nuclear umbrella” of their allies have come to bolster nuclear deterrence theory.

Given the risk of nuclear weapon use is mounting, it is significant the TPNW states parties’ meeting has determined a concrete action through dialogue. It will help boost other nations to join the treaty and have the nuclear powers sit at the table of discussion.

What we need to focus on regarding the meeting outcome is an act seeking the establishment of an international trust fund for providing support to victims affected by the use of nuclear weapons or nuclear tests, and restoring the environment in areas contaminated by radiation.

The Vienna Declaration and Action plan, which was agreed to at the first TPNW states parties’ meeting last year, upheld a provision of assistance to nuclear victims. During the meeting this time, the source of the fund and its allocation were intensively discussed by a working group. At that time, a decision was made to compile a recommendation for realizing establishment of the trust fund by the third meeting scheduled in March 2025.

TPNW’s Article 6 and Article 7 oblige each state party to help nuclear victims and to take appropriate measures toward environmental remediation of areas contaminated. The background of the provisions included in the treaty stem from the increase in the number of pro-treaty nations due to testimonies from people who were exposed to radiation through nuclear tests and mining of uranium, an element used as material of nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation, leading to establishment of the treaty.

Discussion on establishment of the trust fund was led by Kazakhstan, which has an old nuclear test site operated by the former Soviet Union. Also, nuclear victims from the nations not joining the TPNW, including the U.S. and Australia, insisted efforts were not enough to identify the reality of damages and provide compensation. Another opinion was also raised that it was possible for them to work together with those from nations not participating in the treaty in order to tackle the issue. It implies a high expectation for the plan.

Furthermore, the meeting decided upon a policy in which experts would discuss if nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence theory were truly effective for international security, and then release its result as report in the third states parties’ meeting. In that respect, a key factor would be the inhumane consequences of nuclear disaster. If the realties of the testimonies given by nuclear victims are deeply considered, we can argue deeply toward seeking an exit from the nuclear deterrence theory.

Now, the need has increased even more for the Japanese government to participate in the treaty and join these arguments as a nation that has experienced atomic bombing by war. Japan can make use of its experience and knowledge on assisting nuclear victims and environmental remediation. Other nations have higher expectations for us to that end, too. Germany, which attended the meeting as observer, expressed the will to provide support in these areas while keeping its stance to advocate for nuclear deterrence as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its approach is a very good lesson to learn.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government will hold the third meeting of the Group of Eminent Persons, which was launched by a proposal from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on December 8 and 9 in Nagasaki. Debate on nuclear disarmament is important, but what is requested now is an action to be taken by each national government as promptly as possible.

A-bomb survivors, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and young people from Japan made an appeal for solidarity among nuclear victims. As division between nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations has deepened now, they demonstrate a path the Japanese government should follow.

(Originally published on December 4, 2023)