Views on the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty: Heigo Sato, 51, professor at the Institute of World Studies, Takushoku University

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Member states that seek to realize a world without nuclear weapons began to add their signatures to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 20 at United Nations headquarters in New York. However, international conditions involving nuclear weapons have become increasingly difficult, undercutting this historic step. In this series, the Chugoku Shimbun asks experts and atomic bomb survivors about the significance of the treaty and the role that should be played by the citizens of the A-bombed city.

Achieving a world without nuclear weapons has become a common goal for the international community. In particular, because Japan experienced the terrible consequences of the atomic bombings first-hand, it has a responsibility to take action to help prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again. The nuclear weapons ban treaty is a significant step in that it legally defines the elimination of nuclear arms as the final goal.

Ironically, though, I think this treaty will distract us from realizing a world without nuclear weapons. Even if it has been designed to fill the legal loophole of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), its effectiveness is another issue. The will of the nuclear nations and the nations that rely on the nuclear umbrella has been neglected. This has made the nuclear nations turn their back on the treaty, and the current situation, where they continue to possess and develop their nuclear arsenals, will become further entrenched.

It’s also questionable, I think, whether the nations that are signing the nuclear weapons ban treaty will remain proactively engaged in the NPT regime. As a result, the NPT will deteriorate while the framework of the nuclear weapons ban treaty will only be supported by non-nuclear nations. If that happens, we will no longer have the chance to discuss the crucial process about how to proceed with nuclear disarmament together. In fact, legally banning nuclear weapons was adopted in the treaty without engaging in a calm discussion on the potential negative repercussions of this move.

The Japanese government has indicated that will not sign or ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty because the U.S. nuclear umbrella is a central pillar of Japan’s national security, as it confronts threats from neighboring China and North Korea.
When the Obama administration decided to scrap the nuclear-tipped cruise missile, which was the last tactical nuclear weapon in the U.S. Navy, the Japan-U.S Extended Deterrence Dialogue began, in line with a request from Japan. The U.S. government will continue to provide consultation for Japan’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defense as to what type of nuclear weapons would be used in an attack and under what conditions. This fact shows how the U.S. government has struggled so that its allies won’t feel that nuclear deterrence has been weakened.

However, if Japan joins the nuclear weapons ban treaty, this act alone would be counter to the idea of the nuclear umbrella. The United States would then question why it should continue to shield Japan with the nuclear umbrella. There would be a severe shake-up to the dependability of nuclear deterrence and the conditions of Japan’s national security.

If the situation remains unchanged, Japan’s influence and leadership as the A-bombed nation will be undermined. That is the point being made by the A-bomb survivors and organizations that advocate nuclear abolition.
The nations that have backed the treaty are like those who cross a river and reach the other side. The ties between these nations and the nuclear-armed states have been severed. Japan has no option but to dedicate its efforts to serving as a bridge between the two sides. I think holding a gathering in Hiroshima of the Group of Eminent Persons (based on the suggestion from Fumio Kishida, the former foreign minister) is the right direction for Japan to play that role.


Heigo Sato
Born in Okayama in 1966. Obtained his doctoral degree from the Graduate School of Law at Hitotsubashi University. After serving as chief research officer at the National Institute for Defense Studies, he assumed his current position in 2013. His expertise is in areas that include international affairs and arms control.

(Originally published on September 27, 2017)