International symposium is held in Hiroshima to discuss nuclear weapons ban treaty

by Miho Kuwajima, Sakiko Masuda, and Yuji Yamamoto Staff Writers


Keynote speaker
Tim Wright: Treaty Coordinator, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO)

Seiji Endo: Professor in the Faculty of Law at Seikei University
Tatsujiro Suzuki: Director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University (RECNA)
Son Hyun Jin: Associate professor of the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University
Yumi Kanazaki: Staff Writer of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center at the Chugoku Shimbun

Akiko Naono: Professor of the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University

Messages from Hiroshima
Emiko Okada: A-bomb survivor
Mayu Seto: Singer-songwriter

On July 22, an international symposium titled “Opening the Door to Peace: The Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons and Beyond” was held at the International Conference Center Hiroshima under the auspices of Hiroshima City University, the Chugoku Shimbun, and the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University. The symposium focused on the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted at the United Nations one year ago, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the U.S. and North Korea summit. It also reconfirmed the significance of the roles of the A-bombed nation of Japan and the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with regard to the above two goals.

Keynote speech by Tim Wright: Treaty Coordinator, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

More countries are sure to ratify the treaty / Summit diplomacy gave us renewed hope

‘The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons’

Let me begin by thanking the Hiroshima Peace Institute and Chugoku Shimbun for kindly inviting me to deliver this keynote address. It is my great honour and privilege to do so. Let me also convey my deep condolences to those who have lost homes and loved ones in the terrible flooding of recent weeks.

A Global Humanitarian Challenge

I first visited Hiroshima in 2010 at the invitation of Tadatoshi Akiba, then the mayor of this city and an energetic leader of the global Mayors for Peace network. A few months earlier, we had each attended a major conference in New York to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, at which many of the usual diplomatic tussles took place between those nations committed to nuclear disarmament and those committed to the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons.

But something out of the ordinary also happened. The states parties to the treaty, including those that possess nuclear weapons, collectively expressed their deep concern at the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of any use of nuclear weapons. It was an unprecedented statement for that forum, and at our meeting in Hiroshima we discussed with some excitement the new opportunities that it might create for progress on disarmament.

Ultimately, the statement would provide the necessary hook for states to convene three ground-breaking intergovernmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, in 2013 and 2014, and to conclude successful negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons for all time.

Of course, for the people of this city and of Nagasaki, the fact that nuclear weapons inflict catastrophic harm is, and has always been, self-evident. However, in many parts of the world, it is something that we must actively teach to younger and older generations alike if we are to overcome the effects of decades of propaganda designed to obscure the full, awful reality of these weapons.

The governments of nuclear-armed states talk about their nuclear weapons in deliberately abstract terms, as if they were just political tools rather than devices designed to reduce entire cities to smouldering ruins, to extinguish tens or hundreds of thousands of human lives in an instant. When they refer to their “deterrent”, they are reducing the worst weapons of mass destruction to a mere theory.

In 2007, when we launched the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, we were determined to challenge, and change forever, this discourse. We were determined to reframe the public and diplomatic debate to focus on the abhorrent nature of nuclear weapons, not on military strategies, power relations or geopolitics. We were determined to amplify the voices of survivors, lest anyone else ever suffer from the use or testing of these weapons.

In the 1990s, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines had adopted a similar approach, and was remarkably successful in galvanizing global support for a comprehensive treaty-based prohibition on anti-personnel mines. Every day, those weapons were killing and maiming civilians. By presenting this as a humanitarian problem, the ICBL was not rejecting the concept of security; it was redefining it. ICAN, too, has attempted to redefine security as it relates to nuclear weapons.

Security does not come from possessing and threatening to use the deadliest of all arms. It comes from eliminating them. Far from ignoring the security concerns of governments, the historic treaty-making process that took place last year in New York was a direct response to such concerns. Everybody’s security is undermined by the existence of nuclear weapons, and every state has the right and responsibility to work for their elimination.

Filling the Gap in International Law

In February 2014, at the second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the Mexican chair issued a powerful summary of the discussions. He noted that, in the past, weapons have been eliminated after they have been outlawed. “We believe this is the path to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.”

Weapons that have been prohibited by international treaties are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political status and, along with it, the resources for their production. Arms companies find it more difficult to acquire funds for work on illegal weapons, and such work carries a significant reputational risk. Banks and other financial institutions divest from these producers.

At the third humanitarian conference, held in Austria in December 2014, governments continued this discussion, and legal experts noted the existence of a gap in international law. Whereas comprehensive, universally applicable prohibitions were in place for chemical and biological weapons, no such prohibition was in place for nuclear weapons – instruments of vastly greater destructive capacity.

Over the following year, 127 governments pledged to work together to fill this absurd and unacceptable gap, and to stigmatize nuclear weapons. The notion of stigmatization was, at that time, still new in the context of nuclear disarmament. Some governments objected to it, arguing that it would simply alienate nuclear-armed states, not compel them to act. But most governments understood that progress, in fact, required us collectively to challenge the legitimacy of their reckless and dangerous behaviour, to reject it unequivocally.

Just as we would react with revulsion and outrage at any government claiming the right to use chemical weapons, we must react with revulsion and outrage at any government claiming the right to use nuclear weapons. The mere contemplation of such action is abhorrent, gruesome and barbaric. And it is profoundly immoral for any leader to insist that these are legitimate weapons.

In a lecture delivered in 2014, Angela Kane, then the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, commented on the strong stigma against chemical and biological weapons. “How many states today boast that they are ‘biological-weapon states’ or ‘chemical-weapon states’?” she asked. “Who is arguing now that bubonic plague or polio are legitimate to use as weapons under any circumstance, whether in an attack or in retaliation? Who speaks of a bio-weapon umbrella?”

No doubt, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has, over the past half-century, helped curtail the spread of nuclear weapons. But it has not properly stigmatized them. It has not created a universal taboo. Those defined under the treaty as “nuclear-weapon states” view their special designation as a mark of prestige, not dishonour, and some two dozen other NPT states parties show no shame in claiming protection from an ally’s nuclear forces. Yet, what these so-called umbrella states envisage is the widespread slaughter of civilians on their behalf.

In time, nuclear-armed states, and the allies whom they “protect”, will come to realize the wrongness of their policies and actions. They will join the international mainstream in opposing nuclear weapons. Any leader who abhors the use of chemical weapons, who cannot tolerate the sight of injured and dying children in Syria or elsewhere, must recognize that nuclear weapons are an even greater menace requiring nothing less than our full-throated opposition.

Historic Treaty Negotiations

In December 2016, acting upon the recommendation of a working group that met in Geneva earlier that year, the UN General Assembly voted to establish a mandate for negotiations on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

A few months later, in March 2017, a large majority of the world’s governments began work on this new instrument. In so doing, they brought an end to more than two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts. High-level officials delivered impassioned opening statements at the negotiating conference in which they described their vision for the treaty and underscored the urgency, and historical significance, of the task at hand.

At a press conference outside the UN General Assembly hall, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, loudly protested the initiative alongside her British and French counterparts. The United States “would love to have a ban on nuclear weapons,” she told reporters. “But in this day and time we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good – trying to keep peace and safety – not to have them.”

ICAN has always challenged this kind of logic. We have challenged the notion that certain states ought to be trusted with weapons of mass destruction. As Ban Ki-moon often said, “There are no right hands for wrong weapons.” And one might add, there is no such thing as a responsible nuclear-weapon state. Rather than making the world safer and more peaceful, nuclear weapons threaten us all.

Pope Francis, in a message to the conference, said that the treaty had been “inspired by ethical and moral arguments”. He expressed his hope that the negotiations would prove to be “a decisive step” towards a world without nuclear weapons and urged nations to “move beyond” the theory of deterrence, which all too often is invoked as a justification for retaining nuclear weapons indefinitely.

The decision of the nine nuclear-armed states, and many of their allies, to boycott the negotiations was deplorable but unsurprising: deplorable because they are legally bound to pursue nuclear disarmament; but unsurprising because they have failed, for decades, to fulfil that obligation. The nuclear-free majority proceeded undeterred – confident in their ability to create a pathway forward despite the obstructive behaviour of those who wield these horrific weapons.

Throughout the negotiations, members of civil society pushed for the strongest possible treaty. We insisted that the prohibitions be comprehensive, with no loopholes. We insisted that the treaty include provisions for assisting victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, and for taking steps towards the remediation of environments contaminated by nuclear detonations. We vigorously challenged any proposal intended to weaken the draft text.

On 7 July, after four weeks of intensive negotiations, 122 nations made clear their total rejection of nuclear weapons, concluding a treaty to prohibit them, categorically, for all time – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Prolonged applause broke out at the UN headquarters as the president of the negotiating conference, Costa Rican ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, gavelled through the landmark accord. She commented: “We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Diplomats and campaigners who had worked tirelessly over many years to make this treaty a reality embraced in celebration of the achievement. South Africa’s ambassador remarked that we had taken an extraordinary step “to save humanity from the frightful spectre of nuclear weapons”: “For us, as a country,” she said, “it was a duty to vote ‘yes’ for this treaty. To have voted ‘no’ would have been a slap in the face to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In a heartfelt closing statement, Setsuko Thurlow, who survived the atomic bombing of this city as a 13-year-old girl and has been a leading figure in our campaign since its inception, said: “I never thought I would see this moment … I’ve been waiting for this day for seven decades, and I am overjoyed that it has finally arrived.” I know that many other hibakusha felt similarly elated and hopeful. Setsuko described that moment as “the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons”.

She asked the assembled delegates to pause “to feel the witness of those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki … hundreds of thousands of people”. Each had a name, she reminded them. Each was loved by someone.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first multilateral disarmament treaty to be concluded in more than two decades. It prohibits states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in such activities.

A nation that possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to remove its nuclear weapons from operational status immediately and destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. A nation that hosts another nation’s nuclear weapons on its territory may also join the treaty, so long as it ensures the prompt removal of those weapons.

The treaty also includes strong provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation. No other nuclear-weapon-related treaty includes similar provisions. And the preamble acknowledges the unacceptable harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons – the hibakusha – and those affected by nuclear testing.

In the words of the preamble, achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world is “a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests”. This it not just a treaty for those states that already oppose nuclear weapons. It is a treaty for all states. The ultimate goal, as expressed in Article 12, is “universal adherence”. And we will continue to campaign until every last state has joined the treaty and fulfilled its obligations.

Signature and Ratification of the Treaty

On 20 September last year, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, formally declared the treaty open for signature, at a ceremony in New York. He congratulated the states that had negotiated it and saluted their “commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament and to our planet’s safety and security”. He also acknowledged the “vital role” of civil society “in bringing the treaty to fruition”, noting in particular the contribution of the hibakusha.

“The heroic survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said, “continue to remind us of the devastating humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Their testimony has provided moving and moral impetus for the negotiation of this treaty.”

The presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of 50 states immediately signed the treaty. It was a remarkable show of support for a treaty that fundamentally challenges the status quo in nuclear diplomacy – one that goes beyond traditional arms control and non-proliferation approaches and embraces an abolitionist agenda. Three nations also ratified the treaty on 20 September, and a further nine have done so over the past 10 months. The treaty will enter into force once a total of 50 states have ratified or acceded to it.

Earlier this month, on the first anniversary of the treaty’s adoption, a number of Japanese media outlets reported that the progress to date towards entry into force has been slow.

However 10 months after opening for signature, the ban treaty had the same number of ratifications as did the NPT at the ten-month mark, and one more than the Biological Weapons Convention. The Chemical Weapons Convention and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty each had just four ratifications. It is regrettable that most media reports neglected to include those statistics, giving the false impression that the pace of ratification is unusually slow.

This narrative is the narrative of the nuclear-armed states, which are downplaying the level of support for the treaty in an effort to slow the momentum for its entry into force and to make their own opposition to it appear more reasonable.

We are confident that the vast majority of the world’s nations will sign and ratify the treaty in the foreseeable future. They will do so because they consider nuclear weapons to be morally repugnant and illegal, and they understand the urgency of eliminating them. They are eager to do everything in their power to rid the world of this unparalleled threat to humanity.

Some states continue to argue that the ban treaty is somehow incompatible with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But there is no legal basis for that claim. It is a political statement intended to distract from their true objection to the treaty, namely, that it forbids them from claiming protection from nuclear weapons. The UN secretary-general flatly rejected their argument when he spoke in Geneva in May. He said that the two treaties are “fully compatible” and complementary.

Japan’s Lack of Support for Disarmament

Last August, in his annual peace declaration, the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, described the adoption of the treaty as “a moment when all the efforts of the hibakusha over the years finally took shape”.

And he scolded the Japanese government for failing to participate in the negotiations. This, he said, “is quite incomprehensible to those of us living in the cities that suffered atomic bombings”. He urged the government to join the treaty at the earliest possible opportunity. Mayor Taue is to be applauded for his moral clarity and leadership.

The Japanese government’s stance, in my view, is a betrayal of the survivors of the atomic bombings, who for decades have warned of the horrors of nuclear war and appealed for disarmament. This government has ignored their pleas. It has discounted their suffering.

The Japanese government’s commitment to disarmament is largely rhetorical. Its many initiatives aimed at advancing this cause have been shallow and fruitless, their primary purpose to distract attention from, and mask, its enduring belief in the fundamental legitimacy of nuclear weapons. Despite all that we know about what these weapons do to people, the Japanese government still insists that, in certain circumstances, their use might be justified.

This position is immoral and must change. It is the sole reason for Japan’s decision to boycott last year’s negotiations. And it is the sole reason for its decision not to sign the treaty.

The government paints itself as a sensible “bridge-builder” between nuclear-armed and nuclear-free nations. But Japan is not a bridge-builder. By rejecting the ban treaty, Japan has sided with the small group of nations that recklessly wield these awful weapons. It has revealed itself as a significant part of the problem that we face as a global community.

Japan has signed and ratified the treaties prohibiting biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. It should not hesitate in doing the same for the new treaty outlawing nuclear weapons.

The treaty does not prevent a state party from maintaining an alliance with a nuclear-armed state. Japan could remain an ally of the United States. But, as a state party, it would need to refrain from encouraging the United States to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons on its behalf. In other words, it would need to renounce the so-called “nuclear umbrella”.

It is worth noting that many US allies do not claim to be protected by nuclear weapons, and indeed voted in favour of the treaty’s adoption last July – a fact usually omitted from media coverage. Of the 17 states designated by the US government as “major non-NATO allies”, 11 cast a vote in favour of the treaty.

There is also significant public and political support for the treaty in many NATO states. Hundreds of parliamentarians, including those in government, have signed ICAN’s parliamentary pledge – a commitment to work towards the signature and ratification of the treaty by their respective countries.

Opinion polls released a few weeks ago revealed strong public support in four of the NATO countries that host US nuclear weapons on their territory. In Belgium and the Netherlands, 66 per cent of citizens want their country to join the treaty. In Germany it is 71 per cent of citizens and in Italy 72 per cent. A poll in France also revealed strong support: 67 per cent.

In my own country, Australia, our campaign has made major progress towards achieving a formal commitment from the main opposition political party, Labor, to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty when it next forms government. Around three-quarters of all federal Labor parliamentarians have signed ICAN’s pledge, and many of the major unions affiliated with Labor have also supported the treaty. Polls indicate that Labor stands a good chance of winning next year’s election.

In Australia, there is a clear disconnect between public opinion and government policy. That disconnect is evident, too, in Japan. In fact, it is perhaps more evident here than in any other country. But, ultimately, it is not up to your leaders to decide whether Japan will sign and ratify this landmark international agreement. Ultimately, it is up to you, the Japanese people. This is a democracy. And all of us should refuse to vote for any politician unwilling to support this treaty.

Creating a New Reality

Last December, a few days after our campaign accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, my colleague and I travelled to South Korea and stood on a platform overlooking the demilitarized zone. In the freezing cold, we issued an appeal for both Koreas to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and to work for peace on the peninsula. It was hard to imagine that, just months later, the leaders of these countries would meet at last.

Dialogue is the first step towards disarmament. The inter-Korean summit in April and the summit between North Korea and the United States in June give us renewed hope that we can move beyond old rivalries, that we can move beyond nuclear weapons. No doubt, major challenges remain for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But progress is possible, and Japan has the opportunity to show leadership by stating clearly, without qualification, that nuclear weapons are unacceptable for all. It should do so by signing and ratifying the ban treaty.

In Oslo, when Setsuko Thurlow accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on ICAN’s behalf, she said: “All responsible leaders will sign this treaty. And history will judge harshly those who reject it. No longer shall their abstract theories mask the genocidal reality of their practices. No longer shall ‘deterrence’ be viewed as anything but a deterrent to disarmament. No longer shall we live under a mushroom cloud of fear.”

The Nobel Peace Prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth. It is a tribute also to the hibakusha, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing the ban treaty.

We hope that the decision of the Norwegian Nobel committee to bestow upon us this great honour will inspire others to embrace this crucial cause. The spectre of nuclear war looms large, and we cannot afford to fail.

Naysayers told us that we would never succeed in securing a mandate from the UN General Assembly to negotiate this treaty. But we did. Then they told us that the negotiating conference would not result in a treaty being adopted. But it did. Now they tell us that the treaty will not enter into force. But it certainly will. And they tell us that Japan will never join. Again, we will prove them wrong. And we will continue proving them wrong until every last nuclear weapon is dismantled.

Thank you.


Born in 1985 in Melbourne, Australia, Mr. Wright developed an interest in nuclear issues in childhood through folding paper cranes. In 2006, while still a student at Melbourne University, he was involved in establishing ICAN and launching the campaign to realize the nuclear weapons ban treaty. In December 2017, he took part in the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is currently engaged in international efforts to promote the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Panel discussion

The denuclearization of North Korea

Naono: What kind of approach should be taken to improve international relations in Northeast Asia?

Son: The U.S.-North Korean summit held in June has resulted in North Korea and the United States creating a mutual goal to realize a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through a complete denuclearization process. The two leaders confirmed this goal, which holds significant meaning. How to realize a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization is the challenge ahead. Since 2016, North Korea has launched missiles more than 60 times, and carried out six nuclear tests since 2006, including those that ended in failure. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are a real threat. With a combination of international condemnation and sanctions, North Korea was forced to face severe conditions.

Suzuki: When RECNA suggested the creation of a “Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone” three years ago, this was thought to be a good idea, but that the issue of North Korea would be an obstacle. However, there is now the possibility of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. One of the most important points involving the Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone is that the United States, China, and Russia, which are the nuclear weapon states surrounding South Korea, North Korea, and Japan, would pledge to guarantee that they would not attack or threaten to attack non-nuclear weapon states and North Korea with nuclear weapons. If they promise to do so, South Korea and Japan can withdraw from the nuclear umbrella. An opportunity for discussing the security issues of Northeast Asia is also necessary.

Endo: Although U.S. President Donald Trump is a controversial person, he did seek to reach an agreement with North Korea by building a trusting relationship with them. Conversely, Japan has thought it more important to apply pressure on North Korea. The anxiety that some people in Japan feel regarding North Korea and China supports the demand for the U.S. nuclear deterrent and the possession of this nation’s own nuclear weapons.

Security provided by nuclear deterrence could lead to a proliferation of nuclear arms. No matter how much it is threatened, North Korea will never relinquish its nuclear weapons. The most important thing is to build mutual trust over time.

Wright: When I visited the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear-free zone, flocks of birds were flying freely above the ocean. Like these birds, I hope that the people of South Korea and North Korea can move freely between the two countries in the future. The key is to create meaningful opportunities for ordinary citizens to connect. When communication continues between not only the leaders, but also the people of these two nations, this can lead to real progress toward nuclear disarmament.

The future of the nuclear weapons ban treaty

Naono: The nuclear weapons ban treaty has promoted a change in mindset from “nuclear weapons guarantee national security” to “the elimination of nuclear weapons guarantees human security.” Looking ahead, what are the challenges involved in getting the treaty to take effect?

Endo: The nuclear weapons ban treaty has confirmed to many nations and people across the world that nuclear arms have no moral justification and it has clarified why nuclear weapons must be eliminated. Having the treaty take effect is one of the goals that will advance nuclear disarmament.

Kanazaki: The complete outlawing of the possession and use of nuclear weapons is an inevitable step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, the actual devastation wrought by the atomic bombings has not been fully understood. It is increasingly important to question the folly of some countries in trying to protect themselves and their people with these most inhumane weapons, based on the experiences of the A-bomb survivors. We have to pass on the experiences of the survivors to future generations and develop more young people who will work toward the goal of abolishing nuclear arms.

Son: South Korea has yet to join the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Members of civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the mass media must work together to sway the government. I think it’s important for these three entities to urge national governments and parliaments to make stronger efforts to fuel the momentum for nuclear disarmament.

Suzuki: Local governments can also raise their voices. There are many things that the Japanese government could do before it signs the treaty. The nuclear weapons ban treaty stipulates that assistance be provided to the victims of nuclear weapons. Japan can participate in the meeting of the States Parties as an observer, and provide assistance to the hibakusha and education about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Wright: To have the treaty enter into force, ICAN is putting a lot of effort into speaking with governments of all nations and speeding up the process for ratifying the treaty. We’re also putting priority on awareness activities to convey the impact of nuclear arms and encourage financial institutions to divest funds from companies which produce nuclear weapons.

It is difficult for us to imagine a world without nuclear weapons and we tend to think that the world will continue to have nuclear weapons forever. However, I’d like you to use your imagination. We also have to continue to apply pressure on the nuclear weapon states, and each person in the world has to voice their opposition to the existence of nuclear arms.

The roles of the A-bombed cities

Naono: What are the roles that the A-bombed nation of Japan and the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can play?

Suzuki: There are three paradoxical aspects to Japan’s nuclear policy. While Japan, as the only country in the world to have suffered nuclear attack, has set the elimination of nuclear weapons as the ultimate goal of its diplomacy, it relies greatly on the Japan-U.S. alliance which depends on nuclear deterrence. Furthermore, the current Japanese regime has plainly urged the Trump administration to strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Instead, the Japanese government should discuss how dangerous it is to depend on the policy of nuclear deterrence.

Also, Japan now possesses 47 tons of plutonium recovered from reprocessed plutonium for the purpose of the peaceful use of atomic energy. This reprocessed plutonium is causing anxiety among other Northeast Asian countries. They worry that this stored plutonium will eventually be used as a potential nuclear deterrent. It is imperative for Japan to reduce the amount of stored plutonium with the help of the international community and create an international norm that discourages the unreasonable reprocessing of plutonium.

Endo: Even though Japan has appealed for the elimination of nuclear weapons, it has not joined the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Despite this anomaly, only a small portion of the Japanese public is strongly critical of the government’s stance. And with very little warning, the government is planning to improve its capacity to wage war, and it lags far behind in making progress toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

Son: It is said that there are some 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. According to what they’ve witnessed, there are people living in Punggye-ri, where a nuclear test site is located, that have been exposed to radiation emitted from North Korean nuclear tests. The environmental contamination of the area surrounding the test site is serious. It is important for the people of Hiroshima to talk about the North Korean victims of the nuclear tests and the environmental issues there so that people around the world will be aware of these problems.

Kanazaki: At nuclear test sites all over the world, there are many people who have suffered serious harm. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should work with these people and try to amplify their voices. With the A-bomb survivors growing older, young people must think concretely about how they can connect with the hibakusha of the world.

Endo: It is important that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki collaborate with other hibakusha living near nuclear test sites out in the world. However, it is much more important to say to the world that all the A-bomb victims desire a world free from conflicts, where they can live peacefully without being threatened by armed force.

Naono: A-bomb survivors began their activities in the hope that other people will never go through the hell that they have suffered, and they have continued their fight for their own survival and the survival of all human beings. Never giving up this hope for a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons and war, they have persisted in spearheading our quest to realize a nuclear-free world. Now it is time for us to take up the baton from them and exercise our right to live in peace.

Wright: What Japan must do is broaden the discussion about the elimination of nuclear weapons. If the voices of all people, including not only experts on nuclear disarmament but also A-bomb survivors, doctors, students, and teachers, are brought together, this could change the mindset of conservatives who believe that nuclear weapons are needed. I hope that Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui will include words which appeal strongly to the Japanese government to ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty in the Peace Declaration that he will read on August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


Tatsujiro Suzuki: Born in Osaka in 1951. Earned a master’s degree in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Holds a doctorate in engineering. Served as vice-chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission at the Cabinet Office. Assumed his current post in 2015. Also serves as a member of the council of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Specializes in nuclear energy policy and science, technology, and society.

Seiji Endo: Born in Shiga Prefecture in 1962. Earned a master’s degree at the University of Tokyo Graduate Schools for Law and Politics. Served as a research associate at the Faculty of Law, the University of Tokyo, and as a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Seikei University. Assumed his current post in 2001. Also served as the president of the Peace Studies Association of Japan. Specializes in international politics and peace studies.

Son Hyun Jin: Born in Pusan, South Korea in 1971. Earned a doctorate at Kobe University Graduate School of Law. Served as a specialist for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification which deals with North Korea’s human rights and abduction issues, and as a researcher at the Korea Legislation Research Institute. Assumed his current post in 2014. Specializes in international law and issues involving North Korea.

Akiko Naono: Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1972. Graduated from American University. Greatly contributed to American University hosting an atomic bomb exhibition in 1995. Earned a doctorate in sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2002. Known for her research on drawings of the atomic bombings made by A-bomb survivors. Served as an associate professor at the Graduate School of Kyushu University. Assumed her current post in 2016.

Yumi Kanazaki: Born in Hokkaido in 1970. Graduated from the School of Law, Hokkaido University. Joined the Chugoku Shimbun in 1995. Mainly in charge of reporting on issues involving the atomic bombing and peace. Covered the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan and the 2010 NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) Review Conference. Co-awarded the 2017 Japanese Association of Science and Technology Journalists grand prize.

What is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons?

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a landmark treaty that outlaws all activities related to nuclear arms, including developing, possessing, and threatening to use nuclear weapons. In July 2017, the treaty was adopted by 122 nations at a conference for negotiations at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York. The preamble of the treaty incorporates the word “hibakusha,” the victims of the use of nuclear weapons, with these words: “Being mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the hibakusha, the treaty recognizes the efforts undertaken by the hibakusha to achieve the goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons.” The treaty can be said to reflect the thoughts and feelings of all Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bomb survivors who have long sought to convey the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

The treaty, in fact, opens the door for the nuclear weapon states to also take part by submitting a time-bound plan for the elimination of their nuclear weapons. However, the United States, Russia, and other nuclear-armed states have refused to sign the treaty, and their allies, including Japan, the A-bombed nation, are following the lead of the nuclear-armed states.

The treaty will enter into force 90 days after at least 50 nations have ratified it and completed other necessary procedures. At present, some 60 countries have already signed the treaty, and 13 of those nations have also ratified it (as of July 25). While the United States is reportedly putting pressure on other countries not to sign the treaty, ICAN does not believe that the speed of ratification is slower than other international treaties.

What is ICAN?

After establishing an office in Melbourne, Australia in 2006, ICAN officially began pursuing its activities in 2007. The formation of ICAN was inspired by a suggestion from doctors of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

The members of ICAN have lobbied vigorously for the banning of nuclear weapons based on international law at various high profile venues including the United Nations, in line with the idea that nuclear arms are inhumane weapons. They have galvanized public opinion in countries around the world and strongly urged governments worldwide to work toward the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons. ICAN has also joined forces with A-bomb survivors to promote nuclear disarmament, work which resulted in the U.N. adopting the nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017 and ICAN receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Setsuko Thurlow, 86, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Canada and who has worked closely with ICAN, said at the award ceremony, “Our light now is the ban treaty. Let us follow each other out of the dark night of nuclear terror.” The members of ICAN are now strongly urging all nations of the world to sign and ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Messages from Hiroshima

Emiko Okada, 81, resident of Higashi Ward, Hiroshima: A-bomb survivor still worries about her health

I experienced the atomic bombing while at home in Onaga-cho (now part of Higashi Ward), Hiroshima, about 2.8 kilometers from the hypocenter. At the time I was 8 years old, a third-grader at a national school. After the bombing, I became prone to regular bouts of fatigue and was bedridden much of the time. I have suffered from intense pain, sorrow, and bitterness, and I continue to experience anxiety over the possibility that I have passed on A-bomb diseases to my children and grandchildren. As the survivors continue to pass away, the number of those who live with this anxiety is declining.

I would like you to imagine what it is like to have a family member who never returns. On the day of the atomic bombing, my sister, who was then a first-year student at Hiroshima Prefectural First Girls’ High School (now Minami High School), said goodbye and left home to help tear down homes to create a fire lane. But she never returned home. She was just 12 years old. Although our parents searched for her every day, they were never able to find any trace of her, even her bones. Only her name was inscribed on the family gravestone.

More than nuclear disarmament, I want nuclear weapons to be eliminated entirely. Possessing nuclear weapons is shameful. However hot it gets in summer, A-bomb survivors continue to exert all the strength we have to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Most of us, though, are now growing too old to keep up such efforts for much longer. I hope that if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Hiroshima on August 6, he will declare in front of the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims that the Japanese government will sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Mayu Seto, 27, resident of Kure City: Convey the desire for peace through song

In 2011, I joined the activities of Peace Boat, an NGO based in Tokyo, and in 2013, went on an around-the-world voyage in which A-bomb survivors conveyed their experiences of the atomic bombing. I am from the city of Kure and my grandmother is an A-bomb survivor. I thought that I had understood that nuclear weapons and war are completely unacceptable, but it was not until I listened to the A-bomb survivors’ stories that I was truly able to grasp that the atomic bombing actually took place.

I would like to convey my feelings to other people. When I thought about why, despite the fact that I myself didn’t experience the atomic bombing, I realized that it was because I now have a strong desire to help eliminate the terror of nuclear weapons. I believe that my feelings are shared by other people in the world beyond generations and national borders.

Everyone should realize that the atomic bombing was not just something that happened in the past, but that its catastrophic effects still continue in the present and that a nuclear attack could take place again in the future.

(Originally published on July 30, 2018)