Commentary: U.N. resolution to establish nuclear ban treaty tests A-bombed nation’s duty

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

It is now certain that multilateral negotiations will be undertaken with the idea of establishing a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. The campaign calling for a legal ban on nuclear arms, led by a host of non-nuclear states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has borne fruit. The United Nation’s decision to begin negotiating a legal framework to ban nuclear arms represents a new step toward their elimination, which is the long-held desire of the A-bomb survivors who have persistently sought to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

Mexico and Austria, the nations that have spearheaded the resolution for a nuclear ban treaty at the U.N. General Assembly First Committee (on Disarmament and International Security), held a government-sponsored international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in 2014 with the aim of strengthening global public opinion. Mayors for Peace (for which Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui serves as president) has also called for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons from early on, seeking the total elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020. In addition, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) has been pursuing a campaign to collect signatures in support of banning and abolishing all nuclear arms from the earth. These organizations, both public or private, have gradually come together in their quest to realize a world without nuclear weapons.

Underpinning these efforts is the widespread dissatisfaction with the current impasse in effecting nuclear arms reductions, which the nuclear powers themselves have overseen, and warnings about a security framework that continues to rely on nuclear deterrence.

In spite of these concerns, when the vote was taken on the U.N. resolution calling for negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear arms, Japan voted against the resolution, following the lead of the United States and indicating that its priority is to maintain the security framework which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. As the gulf between the nuclear and non-nuclear states grows over the nuclear ban treaty, the A-bombed nation of Japan, which has previously declared that it would strive to help bridge this divide, instead offered the international community the clear impression that it in fact sides with the nuclear powers.

If Japan truly wishes to build a bridge between the two sides, it must make concerted efforts to bring all the nuclear powers to the negotiating table. It has been five months since U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima and spoke in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims about the courage to pursue a nuclear-free world. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also spoke in the front of the cenotaph and pledged to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Japanese governments must not pursue actions that will undercut the historic significance of those moments.

(Originally published on October 29, 2016)