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Idealism & pragmatism

May 27, 2016

COMMENTARY/ Nuke-free goal a struggle between idealism and pragmatism



By TAKESHI YAMAWAKI/ American General Bureau Chief of The Asahi Shimbun

Despite the constraints placed upon him, U.S. President Barack Obama pushed his nuclear-free ideal while remaining pragmatic in his written responses to an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201605270001.html).

In explaining the reasoning behind his decision to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Obama did not dwell on the appropriateness of dropping the atomic bomb on the city in western Japan in 1945.

And instead of focusing solely on the atomic bomb victims, he said he would “remember and honor the tens of millions of lives lost during the Second World War.”

The choice of visiting Hiroshima was because it “reminds us that war, no matter the cause, results in tremendous suffering and loss, especially for innocent citizens.”

Within the context of describing the horrors of war, Obama also reiterated his continued pursuit of a nuclear-free world, a goal he first laid out in a speech in Prague in 2009.

There is still strong sentiment in the United States that the dropping of the atomic bombs was necessary for ending World War II.

Moreover, as commander in chief of a nuclear power, Obama is in no position to acknowledge the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.

Still, Obama appears to have tried his best to once again raise an ideal he holds.

At the same time, Obama is a pragmatist.

His administration has set aside budgetary outlays to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal from the standpoint of strengthening its deterrent force.

Criticism has been raised in the United States that such action contradicts Obama’s ideal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

A number of people are disturbed by the gap between the lofty idealism and actual course taken by the Obama administration.

After a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 25, Obama attended a joint news conference at which he said “it is still going to be a dangerous world” and there will be times when the U.S. military will have to be deployed.

But Obama also emphasized that “war involves suffering and we should always do what we can to prevent it.”

That comment shows that a pragmatic approach is necessary in the process of reaching one’s ideals.

In his written responses, Obama raised the nuclear threat from North Korea, through its repeated nuclear tests, as being the most difficult hurdle to achieving a nuclear-free world.

The response gives the impression that Obama believes it is important to strengthen deterrence and defense capabilities. At the same time, it can be read as a message calling on Japan and South Korea to overcome historical differences to work together along with the United States to deal with North Korea.

What is clear is that Obama will visit Hiroshima on May 27 as another step toward achieving his ideal of a nuclear-free world while being well aware of the criticism that it may provoke.

The “reconciliation” achieved by two nations that were once engaged in a tragic war is certainly a positive accomplishment. But pragmatism also means that Japan in the future will be faced with a number of difficult issues, such as how to narrow the differences between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers in seeking an abolition of nuclear weapons as well as the extent to which neighboring nations can cooperate to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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