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Nuke ban a bit closer?

August 23, 2016

Editorial: Nuke ban becomes one step closer, but challenges remain



A significant step has been made toward the realization of a world without nuclear weapons.

The United Nations' Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament adopted a report recommending the U.N. General Assembly to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons before the end of 2017.

A recommendation with a specific start-by date is a reflection of heightened international public opinion seeking the signing of a treaty banning the use of nuclear weapons, focusing on their inhumane nature.

The vote, however, was not unanimous. Of the member states, 68 voted for the recommendation while 22 voted against and 13 abstained. Japan, along with such countries as Switzerland and Sweden, abstained from voting, hinting at the rocky road that lies ahead before a worldwide nuclear ban can be enforced.

Such countries as Mexico and Austria, which voted in favor of the recommendation, were the same countries that led the move to establish the working group. Frustrated by the breakdown of the 2015 review conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons -- commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- these countries seek a speedy conclusion to the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Japan, Australia, and NATO countries, which are dependent on the U.S.'s nuclear umbrella, take the position that in the interest of security, nuclear disarmament should take place in stages, and that it is too soon for a global nuclear ban to be instituted at the moment.

Even among countries that argue for a gradual approach to nuclear disarmament, there were differences in how they voted in the working group: Australia, South Korea and Germany voted against the recommendation, while Japan, as mentioned earlier, abstained from voting. There exist layers upon layers of gaps among non-nuclear members.

When it comes to non-nuclear member states and nuclear member states -- the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China -- the gaps are even wider. In protest of a nuclear ban, nuclear member states did not attend a single session of the working group held in February, May and August of this year.

The recommendation will be submitted to the fall session of the U.N. General Assembly. Alongside the submission of the recommendation, Mexico, among other members, is expected to make a motion to pass a resolution to begin negotiations. A majority of 107 U.N. member states are said to be in support of starting negotiations, indicating that there is a sufficient chance that the resolution will be passed.

As it continues to appeal to the rest of the world of its status as the only country that has ever experienced nuclear bombing, Japan, which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, has claimed that it would serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear members. As the Japanese delegation's abstention shows, however, fulfilling that role has been extremely difficult.

The content of the nuclear weapons ban treaty has not yet been established. What countries such as Mexico have in mind is a treaty that restricts only non-nuclear states from using or possessing nuclear weapons. Others suggest a framework convention, in which a broad policy toward abolition of nuclear weapons is stipulated first, after which specific contents are negotiated.

It is crucial for Japan to more actively push nuclear members such as the U.S. to get moving, and to engage more actively in debate that brings together both the ideal of a world without nuclear weapons and the realities of security circumstances. Japan must contribute toward harnessing the significant step the working group has just made in adopting its negotiation recommendation.



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