Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is Adopted, Part 5

International public opinion needed to overcome hurdles for nuclear abolition

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

A treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons was adopted on July 7 with the support of many non-nuclear nations after negotiations at United Nations headquarters in New York. The Chugoku Shimbun examines the significance of this agreement and subsequent steps for realizing a world free of nuclear arms.

When the negotiations for the nuclear weapon ban treaty entered their final phase on July 5, the United States, Russia, Japan, and other nations that did not participate in the negotiations gathered in a conference room at United Nations headquarters in New York. They held an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss North Korea’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the day before. At this meeting, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., warned that her country is prepared to take military action against North Korea if necessary.

The United States boycotted the negotiations, saying the treaty will not resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues. And it does not intend to reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in its approach to global security, including maintaining a nuclear umbrella over Japan and South Korea. This tone stands in stark contrast to the U.N. conference hall, which was filled with joy when the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was adopted on July 7.

Randy Rydell distributed the welcoming statement from Mayors for Peace (for which Kazumi Matsui, the mayor of Hiroshima, serves as president) in the conference room. Mr. Rydell is senior advisor of Mayors for Peace, and has experience working for the U.N.’s Disarmament Affairs. He deplores the poor progress made on nuclear disarmament by the United States and Russia, progress that is vital for eliminating the world’s nuclear arms.

The United States and Russia are two nuclear giants that each hold some 7,000 nuclear weapons, and U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated that he will seek to enhance that country’s nuclear capability. At the same time, there was hope that the two countries might move toward reducing their nuclear arsenals if their relationship, which deteriorated during the administration of former President Barack Obama, could improve. Unfortunately, the U.S. government is in a state of political turmoil over suspicions that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year. Steps toward nuclear disarmament are unlikely to be made until this confusion comes to an end.

Although the obstacles remain high, Mr. Rydell said he would continue to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons in concert with local communities by drawing their attention to how nuclear arms impact their lives. On June 26, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its annual meeting that was sponsored by the lead U.S. mayor for Mayors for Peace, located in Des Moines, Iowa, and the mayors of 19 other cities. The resolution calls on the U.S. government to redirect the one trillion dollars budgeted for nuclear weapons and spend these funds on such human needs as education and environmental protection. It also declares the mayors’ support for the nuclear weapon ban treaty.

Global public opinion could help bridge the gulf between the nuclear haves and have-nots. The new treaty must be made use of wisely to raise awareness among the international community.

Lou Maresca, the legal adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took part in the negotiations and has hopes for the article in the treaty which states that the world will provide assistance to the “hibakusha,” or victims of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. The ICRC has raised concerns about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and initiated the momentum for establishing a legally binding agreement. The treaty stipulates that each state party will provide aid such as medical care and it highlights the importance of humanitarian international cooperation by making use of a framework with the U.N. and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Mr. Maresca has visited Hiroshima twice: once on ICRC business and the other time on a family trip. He has become familiar with the inhumanity of the A-bomb damage and the tremendous efforts that were made to reconstruct the city, feeling the powerful drive of Hiroshima citizens for nuclear abolition. He said he would like the nations of the world to confront the suffering of the A-bomb survivors that continues today by providing them with support and come to recognize that joining the treaty is our humanitarian responsibility.

The preamble of the treaty refers to the first resolution of the U.N. General Assembly, which states the need for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.” It was adopted in 1946, the year after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by the atomic bombs. Despite repeated efforts by the nuclear nations to undermine the treaty process, it was adopted with the approval of 122 member states, or more than 60% of the U.N. body, which indicates that a majority believe this is the right path.

Elayne Whyte Gómez, the president of the conference for the nuclear weapons ban treaty, said this international agreement, more than 70 years in the making, was established on the back of the hard work done by the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In Hiroshima, the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing will be marked on August 6 and representatives from the governments of many nations are expected to attend. This will be the last Peace Memorial Ceremony before countries can begin signing the nuclear weapon ban treaty on September 20. We will see if the nations of the world can bridge their divide over nuclear abolition and come together to at last eliminate these weapons. Hiroshima’s appeal for abolition, with the silent support of the victims of the atomic bombings, will continue to play a vital role in achieving this end.

(Originally published on July 14, 2017)