Special Report: President Obama to visit Hiroshima, Part 3

Overcoming the impasse and moving forward toward nuclear abolition

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

On May 11, the day after the official announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama would visit Hiroshima, the mayor of the city, Kazumi Matsui, expressed delight. Mr. Matsui, who has already begun making preparations to welcome Mr. Obama, said that he is hopeful the president’s visit will sway him toward taking concrete steps for creating a world without nuclear weapons, spearheading the international community to that goal.

In April 2009, President Obama made a speech in Prague where he advocated “a world without nuclear weapons.” After this speech, global momentum for a nuclear-free world grew, and Mr. Obama was consequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since that time, which includes the tenure of former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have made continuous appeals for the president to visit the A-bombed cities and convey a message from these locations to accelerate action for the abolition of nuclear arms.

However, over the past seven years, international conditions surrounding nuclear weapons have devolved into disarray. In his speech in Prague, Mr. Obama highlighted the goal of making progress in negotiations with Russia on nuclear arms reduction. Yet because of turmoil in Ukraine, tensions have risen between the United States and Russia, and Mr. Obama’s drive for further reductions in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals has stalled.

The Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was held in May 2015 after a five-year interval, ended in failure because of conflict between the nuclear powers, including the United States, and the non-nuclear states which would like to hasten the aim of outlawing nuclear arms.

Consideration given to another view

Against this backdrop, the nuclear weapon states are not taking part in meetings of the U.N. working group on nuclear disarmament. Mayors for Peace, for which Mr. Matsui serves as president, sent an open letter to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations that urged its representatives to attend the working group meetings, but no reply has yet been received. Asked what exactly Mr. Obama should be asked to do, Mr. Matsui responded, “This is up to U.S. policymakers. I myself can’t say.”

On May 11, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest indicated that President Obama would not make a speech in Hiroshima, deflating the hopes of Hiroshima citizens for a “Hiroshima Speech” of even more significance than the speech he made in Prague. This reflects the U.S. government’s consideration for those who hold a wary view of the president’s visit to Hiroshima.

“An unconditional welcome for President Obama would contradict the stance taken by the City of Hiroshima and the A-bomb survivors’ groups which are calling for a ban on nuclear arms based on the inhumanity of these weapons. We should do much more to urge the president to take action to advance nuclear abolition,” said Haruko Moritaki, 77, co-chair of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.

Ms. Moritaki’s group will soon send a letter of petition to the White House, urging the U.S. government to recognize that the atomic bombings of Japan were wrong from the viewpoint of their inhumanity and join negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons. The members of the group are preparing to hold a symposium in the city center on May 27, the day President Obama visits Hiroshima.

Request for a declaration in Hiroshima

The Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms has also sent an open letter to the White House. In 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would “generally be contrary to” the rules of international humanitarian laws. The open letter sent by the Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms requests that the president make a declaration in Hiroshima that the United States will categorically refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Shizuka Kuramitsu, 19, a resident of Hatsukaichi City who took part in a symposium on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in Vienna, Austria in January and February 2016, has received email from young people overseas who attended the same event. In their messages, the young people have asked Ms. Kuramitsu to listen to President Obama’s speech in Hiroshima, if he makes one, and appeal for the ratification of the CTBT.

The president’s visit is an opportunity for the people of Hiroshima to reflect on our actions to help promote a nuclear-free world. Will May 27 be a historic moment in the quest to realize “a world without nuclear weapons”? The eyes of the world will be on Hiroshima.

(Originally published on May 13, 2016)