Views on the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty: Tadateru Konoe, 78, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, 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.

If a nuclear weapon was used, the terrifying damage from this would overwhelm the Red Cross. The United Nations, governments, and other groups all lack the capacity to provide sufficient relief for victims of a catastrophe of that magnitude. Furthermore, there could be other effects of a nuclear attack, like the environmental contamination caused by radioactive fallout as well as a food crisis and famine from lower amounts of sunlight.

Even 72 years later, the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still endure physical and mental suffering. But even if a nuclear weapon was not used intentionally, there is concern that a nuclear explosion might occur as a result of an accident, due to mechanical malfunction or human error, or computer hacking. And that risk will increase unless the total number of nuclear weapons is reduced. Human beings have no rational reason to possess the sort of weapons that hold the power to destroy the earth many times over.

The Red Cross generally takes a neutral position as it pursues its aid activities amid conflict, and it has been involved in assistance for A-bomb survivors, too. The organization has stressed the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and led discussions to have them banned.
The nuclear nations have responded with fierce opposition to the nuclear weapons ban treaty. I think this actually underscores how valuable the treaty is. Even though the nuclear powers and other nations that rely on the nuclear umbrella are still spurning the treaty at this point, it will nevertheless put political, economic, social, and humanitarian pressure on these nations and will help accelerate nuclear disarmament. The treaty can create an opportunity to appeal to civil society, in the countries that cling to nuclear weapons, and sway public opinion toward abolition.

If the vast majority of the public is opposed to nuclear weapons, this will make the nuclear nations even more hesitant to use them. That’s the point. The same thing happened in the past, in regard to the treaties that ban land mines and cluster munitions. However, because nuclear weapons are strategic weapons, a lot more money, technology, and manpower has gone into them compared to land mines and cluster bombs. It’s not easy to push back with a larger wave of antinuclear support. Our challenge now involves persuading the nations that haven’t yet joined the treaty.

In April, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement held an international conference in Nagasaki, where Red Cross representatives from a range of nations came together. The conference adopted the Nagasaki Appeal, which calls for eliminating nuclear weapons.
No one has been successful in stopping North Korea’s nuclear development program, despite the many efforts made around the world to date, which include the U.N. sanctions. Unless the nuclear nations take the lead in moving toward nuclear disarmament and eliminating nuclear weapons, they lack persuasiveness when they ask other nations to abandon their own nuclear ambitions. I’m concerned that some non-nuclear nations may even try to possess nuclear arms in order to defy nuclear threats made by nuclear nations.

I hope the Japanese government will call on the nuclear powers to move forward with nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. As the only country to have experienced atomic attack during wartime, Japan is in the best position to speak about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons, which the Red Cross has stressed, with real influence. It’s sad that Japan is not being proactive when it comes to the continuing antinuclear efforts being made internationally. Each Red Cross and Red Crescent organization will persist in encouraging their home nations to take positive action to support the nuclear weapons ban treaty.


Tadateru Konoe
Born in 1939 into the Hosokawa family, a family of feudal lords of the former Kumamoto Domain, Mr. Konoe was later adopted by the Konoe family, on his maternal side. His elder brother is Morihiro Hosokawa, a former prime minister, and one grandfather is Fumimaro Konoe, who served as prime minister just before the Pacific War broke out. Mr. Konoe joined the Japanese Red Cross Society in 1964 and became president in 2005. From that year, he also assumed the post of vice president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and was promoted to president of this body in 2009.

(Originally published on September 24, 2017)