Now is the time to abolish nuclear weapons

by Kenji Namba, Senior Staff Writer

This summer in Hiroshima many people could be heard saying that the abolition of nuclear weapons is not a dream and that there is now an opportunity to make it a reality. Sixty-three years have passed since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During that time various developments have occurred. Nuclear weapons went from atomic bombs to hydrogen bombs, and nuclear testing on Bikini atoll led to the movement to ban atomic and hydrogen bombs. The method of delivering nuclear weapons changed from bombers to missiles, and the Cold War order collapsed. Smaller nuclear weapons were developed, and the possibility that they might be used by terrorists arose. But there hasn’t been as much talk about the abolition of nuclear weapons as if it were a real possibility as there is now. I have looked into why it can now be said that nuclear abolition is no longer a fantasy and why there is now an opportunity to make it a reality.

U.S. and European Nuclear Nations
U.S. presidential candidates touch on nuclear abolition

One factor is the change in the stance of the United States, a major nuclear power, on nuclear weapons. The case against nuclear weapons has begun to gain support in the U.S. This can be clearly seen in the campaign leading up to the presidential election, which will take place in just over 40 days.

In July, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, said the United States “will make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.” At the Democratic Party convention in August this position was incorporated into the party’s platform and policy statement.

In a speech in May, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said, “A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, ‘Our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.’ That is my dream, too.”

This is the first presidential election in which nuclear weapons policy has been discussed and the issue has been addressed in party platforms.

The peace declarations of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the World Conference against A & H Bombs and other symposiums calling for nuclear abolition as well as newspaper editorials have referred to opinion pieces by George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, both of whom served as U.S. secretary of state, and two other former top U.S. officials. These articles were published in the Wall Street Journal in January last year and this year.

These two essays, which were titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” and “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” attracted attention because their authors had been pivotal figures in the U.S. administration and had promoted a policy of nuclear development. Yet they abruptly changed their stance and advocated the abolition of nuclear weapons. Another reason these essays attracted attention is that a movement in response to them spread throughout the world.

The second essay, which was published in January of this year, included a list of those who supported the writers’ recommendations. Among them were 14 of those who had served as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense or presidential adviser in charge of security issues over a period of more than 40 years from the administration of John Kennedy through the current administration of George Bush. This means that three out of four of the living former holders of these positions support the opinion set out in the essay.

Their recommendations also had repercussions among their allies. Government officials from many countries attended the 2008 Oslo Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in February. In his concluding remarks on behalf of the sponsor nation, Jonas Gahr Store, Norwegian foreign minister, said, “National leaders in all states should engage personally with, and make a national priority of, realizing the vision of a world free from nuclear weapons.”

Also in February, new developments occurred at the Munich Security Conference, which was attended by the defense secretaries of the member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “Disarmament and arms control are not yesterday's issues, but tomorrow's questions of survival!” He added, “We need to ask ourselves whether the deal made by Eisenhower and the other founding fathers of the NPT is still valid, namely, that the non-nuclear-weapon states refrain from developing such weapons in return for a clear commitment from the countries with nuclear weapons to seriously pursue the path of nuclear disarmament.”

Referring to the “bold initiative” described in the article, in June 2007 Margaret Beckett, then Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, said, “That initiative was to re-ignite the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and to redouble effort on the practical measures towards it. The need for such vision and action is all too apparent.”

And in January Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “...we will be at the forefront of the international campaign to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states, and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons.”

These speakers clearly had in mind the review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which is less than two years away.

Citizens’ groups and NGOs
Success in banning inhumane weapons; efforts broadened to include depleted uranium shells

Another reason it is clear that an opportunity for the abolition of nuclear weapons has come is the movement at the grass-roots level.

At the Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions in Dublin, Ireland on May 30, the Convention on Cluster Munitions was unanimously adopted. The convention calls for an immediate and unconditional ban on all cluster munitions.

The Cluster Munitions Process, also known as the Oslo Process, began in February 2007 and adopted the text of a treaty in 15 months. The treaty reflects the well-thought-out strategy of non-governmental organizations that are working to recreate the conditions that existed 10 years before.

The treaty was drafted by NGO members who worked on the Land Mine Ban Treaty signed in Ottawa, Canada in 1997 and who reunited for this new effort. Few nations have cluster bombs. As a result of their experiences in Ottawa, the NGOs knew that if they based their argument on international public opinion in favor of the abolition of inhumane weapons, they could overcome the opposition of the major powers.

Riding this trend, anti-nuclear citizens’ groups in Hiroshima and around the world have begun to say that the next step should be a ban on depleted uranium shells and that if this goal is achieved a ban on nuclear weapons should be next.

Japan and other Asian countries
Growing possibility of a nuclear-free zone

There is another reason to believe that there is now an opportunity to abolish nuclear weapons: the concept of a nuclear weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia, including Japan and the Korean peninsula. Is this possible?

The key to answering that question is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. The treaty, which encompasses all of the countries in Southeast Asia, has been signed by 25 nations, including North Korea, which signed in July of this year.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations sees TAC as the foundation of the region’s peaceful community. Although it initially included only members of ASEAN, since 1987 nations outside the region have been able to accede to the treaty.

The number of signatory nations has rapidly increased since the U.S. launched its Iraq war in 2003. China and India were followed in 2004 by Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Russia. Other nations have since acceded to the treaty, and the total population of the signatory nations is 3.7 billion, which represents 57 percent of the global population.

With clauses renouncing war and calling for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the TAC is in accord with the spirit of Article 9 of Japan’s constitution.

China and Vietnam, signatories to the treaty, were able to resolve through dialogue a dispute involving the land portion of their border. India and China also brought an end to a conflict that had gone on for more than 40 years. Though India and Pakistan have been engaged in conflict as the result of a serious confrontation over a territorial dispute in Kashmir, there have been ongoing talks between the two nations in an effort to find a peaceful solution.

There are seven nuclear weapon-free zones in the world today. Of these, five are in the southern hemisphere. The creation of a non-nuclear zone in northeast Asia would be highly significant.

The fact that Japan is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella is a problem. With Article 9 and its three non-nuclear principles, what sort of non-nuclear nation shall Japan be? The creation of a nuclear-free zone is impossible as long as this point remains unclear. Realizing a nuclear weapon-free world is an issue that all of us who live in a nation that suffered atomic bombings must address.

(Originally published on September 22, 2008)

Related articles
Former NSC Director calls for “a world free of nuclear weapons” (July 5, 2008)
Hiroshima Memo: The Contradiction of U.S. Nuclear Policy (April 30, 2008)
Former top U.S. officials present vision of a nuclear weapons-free world (April 25, 2008)