Editorial: Nuclear deterrence policy and August 6 — Hopes of Hiroshima’s people should be taken to heart

None of the previous commemorations of the August 6 atomic bombing likely focused on the policy of nuclear deterrence more than did this year’s event. At the Peace Memorial Ceremony, put on by the Hiroshima City government, Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Hiroshima Prefectural Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, in turn, pointed out the risk inherent in the current security policy, which pits nuclear weapons against nuclear weapons, and urged world leaders to break free of the regime.

Serving as a backdrop to those statements is the Hiroshima Vision, a nuclear disarmament document that was formulated at the summit meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven industrialized nations) held in Hiroshima in May. The vision document was criticized because, while it established “a world without nuclear weapons” as an ultimate goal, it also contained language that affirmed support for nuclear deterrence.

The main focus of Mr. Matsui’s Peace Declaration was its emphasis on the folly of the nuclear deterrence theory based on the current reality that certain world leaders continue to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.

The declaration could very well have been considered a rejection of the Hiroshima Vision, a policy that outlines how nuclear weapons should serve the purpose of self-defense so long as they exist. Notably, the peace declaration clearly defied the idea of nuclear deterrence. That resistance had been incorporated into the declaration based on demands made by A-bomb survivors and civic groups in Hiroshima.

Governor Yuzaki took it one step further in his remarks. Mr. Yuzaki had repudiated the nuclear deterrence policy in annual remarks he made at peace ceremonies in the past. In his remarks this year, he further buttressed that argument.

Mr. Yuzaki noted that the presence of people who support the idea of a proactive nuclear deterrence policy has impeded progress in nuclear disarmament. Impressive was the fact that he stepped outside of the traditional boundaries of a ceremonial speech and squarely challenged those in the nuclear deterrence camp by asking whether they would be willing to take responsibility for the loss of all human kind if the nuclear deterrence regime were ever to collapse.

Touching on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Yuzaki said, “Ukraine is not being invaded because the country gave up its nuclear weapons. The invasion cannot be stopped precisely because Russia possesses nuclear weapons.” With that, he pointed to the contradiction inherent in the idea of nuclear deterrence by asserting that such a situation was entirely predictable. And, in that, he was right.

How did Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who had put together Hiroshima Vision in his position as the G7 summit chair, handle the appeals made by the mayor and the governor? For his part, Mr. Kishida failed to clearly explain the government’s nuclear deterrence policy in his remarks at the ceremony or in his meeting with A-bomb survivors groups as he listened to their demands.

At a later press conference, Mr. Kishida was asked about the criticism from A-bomb survivors directed at the Hiroshima Vision. “We want to perfect our national security but, at the same time, we want to come closer to the ideal of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. “Revealing a roadmap for achieving that goal is the responsibility of government.”

As part of that goal, Mr. Kishida mentioned efforts to pursue the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to begin negotiations for establishment of a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT). While both are important, the CTBT has not been signed by certain nations, including the United States. Moreover, time is needed to effect an FMCT. Nevertheless, the initiatives are incapable of dealing with the immediate crisis that lies before us.

The only option to overcome the current issue surrounding nuclear weapons is their abolition. The fastest way for Japan to contribute to that goal is to become a state party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Hiroshima Mayor Matsui urged Japan to participate in the second meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, to be held in New York City in November, as an observer. While his statement is obvious, it is also clear that the government must strive to ratify the TPNW as soon as possible.

(Originally published on August 7, 2023)