Efforts to advance nuclear abolition, one year after adoption of nuclear weapons ban treaty

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

One year ago, on July 7, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations. The treaty, which was created on the basis of the humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the first international treaty to completely prohibit nuclear arms. As of the end of this past June, 59 countries have signed it and 10 have ratified it. But the nuclear weapon states and their allies, including Japan, remain opposed to it. Following the June 12 summit between the United States and North Korea, the international community is at a crossroads. What is being done to advocate for the treaty’s goal of eliminating nuclear arms? This article focuses on the efforts of A-bomb survivors inside and outside Japan as well as other proponents of the treaty in civil society.

ICAN issues statement after U.S.-North Korea summit: Nuclear weapons ban treaty can play key role in denuclearization of Korean Peninsula

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is the Geneva-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Beatrice Fihn, 35, the executive director of ICAN, visited Hiroshima in January of this year. On June 12, Ms. Fihn held a press conference in Singapore and issued a statement regarding the joint statement signed by the leaders of the United States and North Korea on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Ms. Fihn said, “Trump and Kim should be signing a real document based on international law, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty doesn’t tweet, it doesn’t change its mind on the plane home.” Referring to the lack of concreteness of their initial agreement, and the possibility that any agreement may not be fulfilled due to the capricious nature of the two leaders, she stressed the significance of the treaty, which seeks a “verifiable and irreversible” way of achieving meaningful nuclear disarmament by making nuclear abolition legally binding.

ICAN welcomes the attitude shown by the United States and North Korea for seeking a solution to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic efforts. The day before the summit, ICAN presented a five-step “roadmap” for denuclearization, which would include the ratification of the treaty. Akira Kawasaki, 49, a member of ICAN’s International Steering Group, comments that the negotiations between the two nations lacks the perspective of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the involvement of civil society.

Based on the appeals of civil society, including A-bomb survivors, the nuclear weapons ban treaty regards nuclear arms as the “ultimate evil,” whereas the nuclear weapon states and their allies consider nuclear deterrence to be “good” or a “necessary evil” for security. The treaty aims at swiftly achieving the goal of nuclear abolition by urging such countries to change their policies. ICAN will seek to get involved in the negotiations between the United States and North Korea in order to expand the base of support for the treaty, hewing to the basic principle that nuclear weapons are the “ultimate evil.”

It is believed that pressure from the United States and other nuclear-armed nations is taking the steam out of the treaty. The treaty was supported by 122 countries and regions when it was adopted last year. But less than half of them have signed it. Key to the treaty’s success are the 30 nations, including Japan, which rely on the so-called “nuclear umbrella.” But none of those countries has signed it.

The Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT) was held this past spring. During the meeting, the nuclear weapon states and those under a nuclear umbrella stuck to their stance that nuclear deterrence is necessary. The chairperson’s summary statement included both the pros and cons of the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The NPT Review Conference is held every five years to discuss nuclear disarmament issues.

According to a survey conducted by ICAN, the countries that have already signed the treaty will move forward with ratification procedures, such as parliamentary approval. It also estimates that 50 nations will have ratified the treaty, which is required for the treaty to enter into force, by next year. ICAN hopes that this will happen before the next NPT Review Conference, which will provide an opportunity to seek more support for the nuclear weapons ban treaty. At the next NPT Review Conference, those that have ratified the treaty will pressure the nuclear weapon states to abandon their nuclear arsenals by maintaining that such weapons are already comprehensively banned by international law.

The year 2020 will be the 50th year since the NPT took effect. Article 6 of the NPT stipulates that all parties pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures concerning nuclear disarmament. After half a century, there are still 14,500 nuclear weapons in the nine nuclear states, which include non-signatory nations of the NPT. The preamble of the nuclear weapons ban treaty includes these words: “Mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (hibakusha).” Can this treaty be effectively used to help eliminate nuclear arms from the earth? Hiroshima and Nagasaki must continue their efforts to convey the necessity of nuclear abolition.

Interview with Setsuko Thurlow, speaker at Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony: Urge own nation to take action

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Toronto, Canada – Setsuko Thurlow, 86, witnessed the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations. Ms. Thurlow, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Toronto, Canada, delivered a speech on behalf of ICAN at the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize last December. The Chugoku Shimbun asked her to reflect on the past year.

What are your thoughts as we approach July 7, the anniversary of the day that the nuclear weapons ban treaty was adopted?
During those negotiations, I stressed that not only current generations but also the spirits of the A-bomb victims who were burned alive were watching where the discussions would go. Sensible diplomats took my words seriously and worked in good faith, and the treaty, our long-cherished wish, was realized.

However, the number that have ratified the treaty is far from enough. Some people from ICAN say that the pace of ratification is not particularly slower compared to other treaties, but I can’t wait. We have to hurry. What is preventing the treaty from taking effect? What should ordinary citizens do? We must decide what we should do and focus on those efforts.

What, for example, do you think we should do?
The challenge we face following the treaty’s adoption is how to go about urging our own governments to sign it. This is a matter of course, but it’s the main thing for us to do. We must move our government from the grassroots level.

Are people taking action like this in Toronto and in other places in Canada?
We must move the Canadian government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They are not interested in nuclear weapons issues. We must make appeals to the parliament, too. In April, citizens called on the public health committee of the City of Toronto to hold a public hearing and urged them to take a more responsible approach to nuclear arms, since the committee would have to deal with a nuclear disaster if it happens. We also demand that the city council adopt a resolution calling on the national government to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

The people of the nations whose governments refuse to sign the treaty must recognize that their own countries are hindering the effectuation of the treaty. This is true of both Japan and Canada. I encourage the people of Hiroshima to take more action.

The past year must have been a busy one for you with the adoption of the treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize.
I took them as opportunities for me to share with more people that the danger of nuclear weapons is an urgent problem. I was very glad about the Nobel Peace Prize and the adoption of the treaty, but these are not purposes or goals. They are just starting points toward the greater goal of abolishing all nuclear weapons. Though my health is poor these days, I will not stop conveying my message to our community and to the world.

Hiroshima groups lead signature campaign while Japanese government offers no support

Nestled in the mountains in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture is the Toyohira district of the town of Kitahiroshima. Toshiyuki Mimaki, 76, called on Mamoru Sumida, 90, at a construction company for which Mr. Sumida serves as chairman. Mr. Mimaki, vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), asked Mr. Sumida to give his signature to the “Hibakusha Appeal,” an international signature drive promoted by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo). Mr. Mimaki handed Mr. Sumida a document and said, “Here, I would like you to add your name. This is for the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

“In that case, I have to,” said Mr. Sumida and wrote his name. He also shared his own experience of the atomic bombing. Back then, he had been a police officer, stationed at a temple located two kilometers from the hypocenter. At the time of the bombing, he became buried under the temple when it collapsed. In the central part of the city, he saw the bodies of many victims who had put their heads into the water of fire cisterns. “I’m absolutely against atomic bombs,” said Mr. Sumida. Employees at his company and survivors who live nearby also gave their signatures.

In June of last year, Mr. Mimaki brought to the United Nations a list of 2.96 million signatures from people in and out of Japan. Among these were signatures of students at a Tokyo high school where he recounted his A-bomb experience. The signatures were accompanied by letters. “I hope these signatures will make the countries that are not thinking of joining the treaty change their minds,” said Mr. Mimaki.

To collect 1.4 million signatures, half the population of Hiroshima Prefecture, by 2020, a promotional association was established this past March by 77 groups and one person in the prefecture, including the two Hiroshima Hidankyos, the Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union Hiroshima, and the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group Hiroshima. The promotional association is determined to lead the signature campaign.

However, in January, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in the Diet, “Given the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, I have a responsibility to protect the lives of the people of Japan by maintaining the deterrence provided by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.” He stated that he would support neither the treaty nor the international signature drive.

Mayors for Peace, for which Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui serves as president, is backing the signature drive. According to the organization, discussions on security policies that do not rely on nuclear deterrence will become more challenging. The Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament submitted its recommendations to the government in March. The recommendations presented by the group established by Japan’s Foreign Ministry said that nuclear deterrence “is a dangerous long-term basis for global security and therefore all states should seek a better long-term solution.”

Yasuyoshi Komizo, the secretary-general of Mayors for Peace, is one of the members of the group. He said that tensions before the U.S.-North Korea summit was held made experts of the nuclear weapon states realize that the use of nuclear arms, which are supposed to serve as a deterrent, could potentially be triggered by small developments. He added that civil society should urge the government to promote security policies based on mutual trust. He wants to give momentum to the movement through the signature campaign Mayors for Peace is conducting alongside the international signature drive.

Australia: Parliamentary Pledge to help fuel signing and ratification of nuclear weapons ban treaty

How can citizens call for a change in their government’s policy when it holds a negative attitude toward the nuclear weapons ban treaty? In Japan, gathering signatures and sending them to the United Nations is the main undertaking. But other countries are pursuing different approaches.

Australia, like Japan, is an ally of the United States and relies on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” ICAN members in that country are now promoting the “Parliamentary Pledge” in which they urge members of the national and local assemblies to sign a document that pledges their commitment to work, “as parliamentarians, for the signing and ratifying of this landmark treaty by our respective countries.”

Tim Wright, ICAN’s treaty coordinator, is from Australia. He said that three quarters of the Australian Labor Party MPs have signed the pledge. ICAN announces the names of those who have signed the pledge through social networking sites. The Labor Party is the largest opposition party countering the ruling Liberal/National Coalition. ICAN hopes that Australia will sign and ratify the treaty when the party comes to power.

The Netherlands is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. PAX, an antinuclear group based in the Netherlands and a member of ICAN, has been calling for a stop to financing or investing in companies involved in the production or maintenance of nuclear weapons. The adoption of the treaty has given momentum to this movement, and in May a major German bank announced that it would not finance or invest in companies engaged in such business. PAX is working to strengthen the rejection of nuclear weapons and encourage more people to call on the government to sign the treaty.

Mr. Wright hopes that the people of Japan will also take more action to encourage a change in policy. He will speak about the group’s activities in a keynote speech at an international symposium to be held on July 22 at the International Conference Center Hiroshima. Hiroshima Peace Media Center https://www.hiroshimapeacemedia.jp/blog/

(Originally published on July 2, 2018)