Can Hiroshima’s voice move the world at NPT Review Conference?

by Michiko Tanaka and Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writers

Is there a visible path toward “a world without nuclear weapons”? The Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), held every five years, opens on April 27 at United Nations headquarters in New York. Representatives from 190 member nations of the treaty will gather to discuss nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation for four weeks until May 22. In this 70th year since the atomic bombings, elderly A-bomb survivors will travel to the United States to convey heartfelt voices calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. While appeals for banning nuclear weapons based on the dreadful damage they wreak have been spreading among the international community, developments running counter to this trend, including tensions between the United States and Russia, nuclear superpowers, are also emerging. In this article, the Chugoku Shimbun will explore factors which could determine the success or failure of the Review Conference and the thoughts of those who represent the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.

Discussion over inhumane nature of nuclear weapons

Perhaps the most positive development since the last NPT Review Conference, held five years ago, is the mounting discussion over the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. Although all member nations of the NPT are obliged to pursue nuclear disarmament, the nuclear weapon states and their allies, which rely on nuclear arms for their national security, argue for a “step-by-step approach,” thwarting progress toward the reality of nuclear abolition. The non-nuclear weapon states, which have grown tired of waiting, have now seized the initiative. They seek to outlaw nuclear arms through a nuclear weapons convention and other measures by emphasizing the horrific consequences of these weapons and swaying international opinion.

The origins of this trend can be traced to the previous Review Conference in 2010. The final document adopted by member nations stated that the use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic consequences. Sixteen nations, including Switzerland, then issued a joint statement at the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, which was held in 2012. Their joint statement contained the words: “It is difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with the rules of international humanitarian law…All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Mari Amano, then the ambassador of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, who represented the Japanese government, predicted that, “This new proposal made from the state level might become a focus of attention.” Mr. Amano’s prediction has proven true in that the nations which led that first charge have sparked a series of statements at the U.N. General Assembly and the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference which stress the same theme. For the fifth joint statement, issued in October 2014, 80 percent of U.N. member nations, or 155 countries, signaled their support.

Another boost to this global momentum were three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The first conference was organized by the Norwegian government and held in March 2013. At the second conference, hosted by the Mexican government in February 2014, the chair stated that measures must be taken that are “legally binding.”

The Austrian government, which sponsored the third conference, is poised to pursue the next step on this path: presenting a document at the Review Conference that will pledge efforts for the abolition of nuclear arms. The document calls for a ban on nuclear weapons and the extreme danger they pose, and points out the legal gaps in abolishing them, possibly serving as the basis for making them illegal. The Austrian government delivered this document to all U.N. member nations in January 2015 and urged them to back the statement. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an NGO in the field, 68 countries have become supporters of the statement, as of April 17, 2015.

In addition, the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), comprised of six nations including Ireland and South Africa, which has led discussions over the inhumane nature of these weapons, along with Austria, will take the same stance. It has named multiple legal measures to ban nuclear weapons and will propose at the Review Conference that a venue be arranged to discuss which option among these measures should be adopted.

Keiko Nakamura, an associate professor at the Nagasaki University Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition in Nagasaki, commented, “Article Six of the NPT obliges member nations to pursue effective measures for nuclear disarmament. Based on this article, Austria and NAC are urging member nations to discuss ways to effect a legal ban, thus a series of discussions on the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons has entered a new phase under the NPT regime.”


However, the Japanese government, which knows most keenly how inhumane such weapons are, is hampered by indecisiveness. The initial joint statement on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons mentioned the idea of outlawing them, and because of this reference, the government did not endorse that statement, saying that it conflicted with Japan’s national security and reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The Japanese government was also reluctant to accept the subsequent statements which sought to ban the use of nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.” The government finally lent its support to the fourth statement, issued in October 2013.

At the International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons that was held in Vienna, Toshio Sano, the ambassador of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament, represented the Japanese government. As the participants discussed the difficulties involved in relief activities in the event of a nuclear explosion, Mr. Sano dubbed such talk “pessimistic,” casting a chill over the proceedings.

In March, at the House of Councilors’ Budget Committee meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan will not support the statement proposed by the Austrian government, which seeks to ban nuclear weapons. Again, the reason reflects the Japanese government’s concern over consistency in its security policy, which relies on the nuclear umbrella. As a result, the A-bombed nation is hindering momentum for outlawing these weapons. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, along with the mayor of Nagasaki, has been urging the central government to sign this statement.

Outline of the final document adopted at the 2010 NPT Review Conference

●The Conference expresses its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

●The Conference notes the proposal for negotiation on a nuclear weapons convention made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

●The nuclear weapon states are called upon to report their developments in nuclear disarmament in 2014.

●A conference aimed at the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction shall be convened in 2012.

●The member nations have agreed on an action plan comprised of 64 items on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

●The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) shall abolish all its nuclear weapons and return to the NPT at an early date.

●A large number of nations acknowledged that nuclear disarmament requires a concrete deadline.

Factors at play at the Review Conference

U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated

The United States and Russia hold over 90 percent of the world’s 16,350 nuclear warheads. Relations between the two nuclear superpowers deteriorated sharply over the crisis in Ukraine last year. The world now faces a situation where nuclear disarmament efforts by the two nations, which had been proceeding in fits and starts, are stalled. Moreover, such conditions could provoke tensions that involve nuclear weapons.

While in eastern Ukraine, many residents are pro-Russian, the population in the western part of the country leans toward the West. In February 2014, after the former pro-Russian government collapsed, Russia responded by annexing Crimea in March, an area with a large number of ethnic Russians. Western nations then launched sanctions against Russia.

Now isolated, Russia said that it would not accept inspections based on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been concluded by the United States and Russia. Although Russia had agreed to reduce the number of its deployed nuclear warheads to a minimum, that promise has not been fulfilled. Furthermore, in mid-March, President Vladimir Putin revealed that he had directed that Russian nuclear weapons be readied for possible use during the crisis in Ukraine. It was also learned that the Russian military was conducting large-scale military drills at the time under the assumption of limited, preemptive use of nuclear weapons.

The United States, too, has not eased these tensions. In February, in eastern Ukraine, the Ukraine government and the pro-Russian military faction issued a cease-fire agreement. But even after this development, the United States suggested that it would continue providing weapons to the Ukraine military. In addition, the United States is proceeding with its Missile Defense (MD) initiative in Europe.

Tensions between the nuclear superpowers, which show no sign of abating, have delayed nuclear disarmament and could offer the excuse to other anxious nations to seek their own nuclear arsenals. On April 14, Evgeny Afanasiev, the Russian ambassador to Japan, offered flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and visited Peace Memorial Museum. On April 17, Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, did the same.

How did these ambassadors, who touched the reality of the atomic bombing during their visits to the city, convey the thoughts of Hiroshima to their nations? The conduct of the superpowers at the NPT Review Conference must be watched closely.

Conference to address Middle East issues has not materialized

An international conference to pursue a “weapons of mass destruction free zone” in the Middle East, considered the most significant outcome of the 2010 Review Conference, has not taken place in the promised year of 2012 or thereafter.

The “Middle East Resolution,” seeking to create a region without weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, was adopted at the 1995 Review Conference. With Israel, a non-member of the NPT and the only nuclear weapon state in the region, Iran, suspected of developing nuclear weapons, and other Arab countries which distrust both these nations, the three-way discord has been deep-seated, making this resolution a distant goal.

After the final document at the 2010 Review Conference incorporated an international conference for pursuing this objective, Finland, the country designated to handle preparations, has served as mediator in the region, but arrangements for the conference were not realized. Arab nations, which had held high hopes, may be frustrated at this lack of progress and react with provocative words or actions at the Review Conference. Some say this could lead to distrust in the NPT regime itself, thus becoming the prime focus of the conference.

Nuclear non-proliferation and Iran agreement

In early April, Iran and six nations, including the United States and some European nations, agreed on a framework for resolving its nuclear issues. The agreement stipulates that Iran sharply reduce the amount of enriched uranium and the number of centrifugal machines for enriching uranium that it holds and accept monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While negotiations for the final agreement must be watched closely, this is a concrete step forward from the perspective of nuclear non-proliferation.

Meanwhile, the final document at the 2010 Review Conference included a resolution on North Korea’s nuclear issues, but no headway has been made. On the contrary, North Korea brazenly conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, the first test carried out under leader Kim Jong-un’s regime. North Korea is now also making moves that could be interpreted as preparations for its fourth nuclear test.

At the same time, the international community faces new threats, like the growing power of the radical Islamist group known as “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria. It is urgent that steps be taken to prevent nuclear technology and nuclear materials from proliferating to terrorist groups, not only to nations.

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[Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida: Cooperation needed between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers]

As the Japanese foreign minister, elected from a constituency in the A-bombed city, what are your thoughts prior to attending the NPT Review Conference?
As the only A-bombed nation in the world, Japan has the important mission of leading international discussions toward creating a world without nuclear weapons. Holding the wishes of Hiroshima citizens in my heart, I’d like to make my best efforts to advance realistic and practical actions, if only a single step forward.

What will you say on April 27, the first day of the conference, when you give a general statement as the representative of the Japanese government?
I would like to speak from the position that I believe the nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states must work together to realize a world without nuclear arms. I will urge the nuclear weapon states to improve their transparency and hold multilateral conferences for nuclear disarmament. I will also call on political leaders from all nations to visit the A-bombed cities to touch the reality of the atomic bombings.

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), led by nations that include Japan, has submitted to the U.N. secretariat a draft agreement for the Review Conference, is that right?
As we propose in the draft of the document, I believe that improving transparency is a basic premise for nuclear disarmament. This is an important step for the nuclear weapon states to ease anxiety among the non-nuclear states and gain their trust. The NPDI continues to take concrete action toward this end, such as creating a form for the actual reporting and urging the nuclear weapons states to submit this information. I hope that it will be incorporated as one outcome of the conference.

There are voices calling for a start to negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention, based on the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. Do you support the document proposed by the Austrian government, which calls for such measures as outlawing nuclear weapons?
I don’t think it’s necessary for me to discuss the pros and cons of the document. Although I express respect for their endeavor, I would like to make every effort to have our proposal become part of the core agreement at the conference. We must make use of discussions involving the inhumanity of nuclear weapons to strengthen cooperation between the nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. The position which respects cooperation between the two sides might appear to be a detour for creating a world without nuclear weapons, but I am convinced that this will ultimately result in a shorter route to the greater goal.

[Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui: Appealing for a nuclear weapons convention]

What are your hopes for the outcome of the NPT Review Conference?
I’m confident that perceptions of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons are spreading. If the member nations can agree on a final document and that document refers to starting concrete negotiations for creating the legal framework to ban nuclear weapons, then the conference will have produced a real outcome.

How should the Japanese government respond to the document from the Austrian government which calls for banning nuclear weapons?
Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue and I believe that the Japanese government should understand the intention of this document and lend support to it and we have urged Foreign Minister Kishida to do so. Awareness of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons is becoming widespread and we are facing a situation where the Japanese government should take a step in this direction. But it seems there’s still a gap in perception between us and the Japanese government. I hope that the foreign minister becomes fully aware of the global trend while attending the Review Conference and realizes that the perspective held by Hiroshima and Nagasaki has struck a chord in the world.

You have sought to emphasize national security measures which won’t rely on nuclear weapons, but discussions on this point have not gone far enough in the international community.

To deter attack, nations have tried to possess the most powerful weapons they can. To cut this sense of anxiety at its root, there is no way other than nurturing trust. Mayors for Peace has steadily increased its member cities and deepened our exchange activities with the idea that cities can nurture trust if countries find this difficult. I believe that Hiroshima and Nagasaki must continue these efforts.

What will your message be, as president of Mayors for Peace, at the NGO session of the Review Conference?
Foremost, I would like to convey the reality of the atomic bombings and the thoughts of the A-bomb survivors. In addition, I will state that all member nations of the NPT regime have the obligation to engage in negotiations for nuclear disarmament, as stipulated in Article Six of the treaty. In line with this argument, I will urge the international community to fulfill the promise made by this article and move one step forward toward realizing a nuclear weapons convention. I would like all nations to hear the voices of the A-bombed cities and take the position that we must attend to our obligations.

[Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki: Compel leaders to visit the A-bombed cities]

This will be the first time that a Hiroshima governor is participating at the NPT Review Conference. What are your hopes?
This is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings and the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons is now a focus of attention. The ultimate goal is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, but it’s hard to reach this goal at one stroke. First, I hope that the conference will compel the world’s political leaders to visit the A-bombed cities in person. By visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they will gain a firsthand understanding of how inhumane these weapons are, beyond all abstractions. During my visit to the United States, I will work to have this proposal included in the final document of the Review Conference.

How are the roles divided between the prefecture and the city?
While the City of Hiroshima is conveying the reality of the atomic bombing to serve as a foundation for empathy, Hiroshima Prefecture is adding a broader approach to this foundation. For instance, the prefecture has been implementing the “Hiroshima Report” which scores each nation’s efforts in such areas as nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, and holding round-table conferences with experts and former foreign ministers. I hope that the prefecture can influence the course of disarmament in the future by applying pressure to the decision-making process.

In conjunction with the Review Conference, the prefecture will display the Hiroshima Report at U.N. headquarters and hold a panel discussion on the theme of “the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons and the legal framework for abolition.” For this panel discussion, the notable participants will include Alexander Kmentt, director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. In these ways, we will convey our views.

How should Japan respond to the document from Austria which calls for banning nuclear weapons?
Whether or not Japan endorses the statement will depend on the diplomatic strategy of the Japanese government. If the document could impact the nuclear weapon states, Japan should endorse it; if the document would have no impact, endorsing it is unnecessary. It’s vital to have the nuclear weapon states involved in this discussion, but they tend to balk at taking part. If they feel cornered, they might rebuff the idea of discussing the humanitarian aspects of nuclear arms. It’s important that the conference adopt a final document which includes positive steps toward nuclear disarmament, however small they may be. I hope that the Japanese government will show their commitment to this point.

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Major Developments of the NPT Regime

August 1945
The United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

August 1949
The Soviet Union conducts first nuclear test.

October 1952
The United Kingdom conducts first nuclear test .

July 1957
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is established.

February 1960
France conducts first nuclear test.

October 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis involving the U.S. and the Soviet Union nearly results in nuclear war.

October 1964
China conducts first nuclear test.

July 1968
NPT is signed at the United Nations General Assembly.

March 1970
NPT takes effect.

May 1974
India conducts first nuclear test.

May 1975
First NPT Review Conference takes place and is subsequently held every five years.

June 1976
Japan ratifies NPT.

August 1985
The World Conference of Mayors for Peace through Intercity Solidarity (now Mayors for Peace) holds its first general assembly in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

December 1989
End of Cold War is declared at the U.S. and the Soviet Union Summit (in Malta).

January 1991
The U.S. and Soviet Union sign the First Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

January 1993
The U.S. and Russia sign Strategic Arms Reduction II. It has not taken effect.

May 1995
NPT is extended indefinitely based on decision at NPT Review Conference. The “Middle East Resolution,” which aims to create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, is adopted.

July 1996
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issues an advisory opinion that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would “generally be contrary to the rules of international law.”

May 1998
India conducts underground nuclear test. Pakistan responds by conducting first nuclear test.

May 1999
India and Pakistan engage in military conflict in Kashmir. Pakistani military readies its nuclear weapons.

May 2000
The final document incorporating 13 nuclear disarmament measures is adopted unanimously at the NPT Review Conference. The abolition of nuclear weapons is called an "unequivocal undertaking."

September 2001
The terrorist attacks of September 11 take place in the U.S.

August 2002
Iranian dissidents living in the U.S. reveal that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear development program for the past 18 years.

January 2003
North Korea declares its withdrawal from NPT.

May 2005
NPT Review Conference collapses. Differences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states prevent adoption of final document.

April 2006
Iran announces its ability to produce low-enriched uranium.

October 2006
North Korea announces its first nuclear test.

October 2008
U.S. and India Nuclear Agreement comes into effect.

April 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama makes address in Prague, Czech Republic which envisions “a world without nuclear wepons.”

April 2010
U.S. and Russia sign New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

April 2010
First Nuclear Security Summit is held in Washington D.C. The second summit is held in Seoul, South Korea in March 2012 and the third summit takes place in the Hague, the Netherlands, in March 2014.

May 2010
At NPT Review Conference, the participating countries unanimously adopt a final document with an action plan of 64 items aimed at promoting nuclear disarmament. The document also mentions the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and a nuclear weapons convention. Agreement is made to hold an international conference to pursue a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in 2012, but this conference has yet to be held.

March 2013
The Norwegian government holds first Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo. The second conference is held in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014 and the third conference is held in Vienna, Austria in December 2014.

April 27 – May 22 2015
NPT Review Conference is held in New York.

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Major Developments in the International Community on the Inhumanity of Nuclear Weapons

3.Endorsing Nation

1.April 2010(Geneva, Switzerland)
2.President of International Committee of the Red Cross says that nuclear weapons can bring about inhumane consequences.

1.May (New York, U.S.)
2.Final document at NPT Review Conference refers to inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

1.May 2012 (Vienna, Austria) 
2.At the first Preparatory Committee for the NPT Review Conference, some non-nuclear weapon states issue first joint statement on inhumanity of nuclear weapons.

1.October (New York)
2.At the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, the second joint statement is issued.

1.March 2013(Oslo, Norway)
2.The Norwegian government holds the first International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

1.April (Geneva)
2.At the Second Preparatory Committee for the NPT Review Conference, the third joint statement is issued.

1.October (New York)
2.At the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, the fourth joint statement is issued.

1.February 2014(Nayarit, Mexico)
2.The Mexican government holds the second International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The chairman’s summary stresses danger of nuclear weapons and that “legally binding action must be taken.”

1.October (New York)
2.At the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, the fifth joint statement is issued.

1.December (Vienna)
2.The Austrian government holds the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. A record 158 nations, including the U.S. and the U.K., nuclear weapon states, join the conference.

※The number of nations endorsing the joint statement as announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sources.

Nuclear Weapons in the World (January 2014, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)

Country Number of Weapons
United States 7,300
Russia 8,000
United Kingdom 225
France 300
China 250
India 90-110
Pakistan 100-120
Israel 80
North Korea 6-8
Total 16,350


Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)
The NPT is the only international treaty which obliges member nations to pursue nuclear disarmament, with “nuclear disarmament,” “nuclear non-proliferation,” and “the peaceful use of nuclear energy” standing as the document’s three pillars. The NPT took effect in 1970 amid the arms race which marked the Cold War and Japan ratified the treaty in 1976. It was extended indefinitely in 1995. Currently, there are 190 member nations.

The treaty permits the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China to possess nuclear weapons. While the treaty bans non-nuclear states from manufacturing or acquiring nuclear weapons, it grants them the right to “the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” India, Pakistan, and Israel, which are de facto nuclear weapon states, have not joined the treaty. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003. As such, some say the treaty lacks substance.

Every five years the Review Conference is held to assess the state of the treaty, with some previous conferences ending in success, others in failure. In 2000, the participating nations agreed on a final document which incorporated 13 items for future measures to advance nuclear disarmament. But in 2005, the Review Conference collapsed. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States put priority on nuclear non-proliferation rather than a reduction in nuclear weapons. The non-nuclear weapon states objected, and the conference ended without a final agreement.

At the Review Conference in 2010, the participating nations adopted a final document featuring an action plan of 64 items, including nuclear disarmament. It also referred to the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and a nuclear weapons convention.

At this year’s Review Conference, the participants will assess the developments of the previous action plan. Many experts hold a dim view of this progress, saying that much of the plan has not been implemented.

Article Six of the NPT
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

(Originally published on April 24, 2015)