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October 29, 2016

EDITORIAL: Japan’s vote against nuke ban talks mocks its anti-nuke credo



Japan’s vote against a United Nations resolution calling for talks on a treaty to ban nuclear arms has made a mockery of its pledge to lead the movement toward a world without nuclear weapons, as the only country that has suffered nuclear attacks.

The U.N. General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security adopted a resolution to start formal negotiations next year on a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. In the vote, 123 nations supported the resolution, with 38 opposed.

The United Nations’ decision to embark on full-fledged discussions on a legal framework to ban nuclear arms represents a historic move.

But Japan, along with nuclear powers the United States, Russia, Britain and France, voted against the measure.

Japan has been cautious about negotiating such a treaty. But its vote against the resolution is tantamount to declaring that it is now taking a position closer to those of the nuclear powers. It is hard to fathom the reason for Japan taking this extremely regrettable action.

No wonder the Japanese government’s action has triggered a barrage of criticism by hibakusha, or the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as various non-governmental organizations devoted to the cause of world peace both at home and abroad.

It is obvious that the use of nuclear weapons is inhumanity at its worst. But there is no international law that bans nuclear arms.

Austria and other non-nuclear states that have sponsored the resolution have made a convincing case for negotiating a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons as a first step toward their elimination.

The United States has expressed especially strong opposition to the move. The principal reason for Washington’s vehement objection is that the proposed treaty would disturb the delicate balance of international security based on nuclear deterrence.

The United States has also called on its allies protected by its “nuclear umbrella,” including Japan and NATO members, to vote against the resolution, claiming that their security, too, would be affected by the envisioned treaty.

As a result, South Korea, Australia and Germany, as well as Japan, were also among the countries that opposed the measure.

The U.N. committee adopted a separate resolution promoted by Japan calling for gradual cuts in the global stockpile of nuclear weapons. The United States supported this resolution.

Explaining Tokyo’s vote, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said starting negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty is inconsistent with Japan’s basic approach to nuclear disarmament.

Many Japanese government policymakers believe the protection of the deterrent effect of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is essential for Japan’s own national security at a time when the security environment in East Asia is deteriorating due partly to North Korea’s continued development of nuclear arms and missiles.

But the proponents of a ban treaty are not calling for an immediate end to dependence on the extended U.S. nuclear deterrence. These non-nuclear states are only advocating the beginning of talks on such a treaty.

How to pursue both nuclear arms reductions and national security is a challenge the world should tackle through international negotiations.

The nuclear powers are acting too inflexibly by opposing even the establishment of a conference for such negotiations.

Japan and other U.S. allies that have followed Washington’s lead will face some serious questions about their independence.

The resolution is now set to be adopted in a U.N. General Assembly session by the end of this year. The first round of negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty is expected to be held in March next year.

The United States and other nuclear powers have indicated they will boycott the talks. But Kishida has said Japan will be at the negotiating table.

The rift between nuclear and non-nuclear states is deeper than ever before.

Japan should now try to play an active role in the efforts to narrow the gap between the positions of both camps by persuading the nuclear powers to join the negotiations.

That’s the way for Japan to maintain the credibility of its commitment to the elimination of nuclear arms as the nation that was once devastated by atomic bombs.


October 29, 2016

Editorial: Is Japan giving up mediator role in nuke ban treaty talks?




The U.N. General Assembly's First Committee on Oct. 27 approved a draft resolution calling for the start of negotiations next year to legally ban nuclear weapons, while Japan -- the only nuclear-bombed country in the world -- opposed it.

While Japan has proclaimed itself a "mediator" between nuclear and non-nuclear powers, there's no way it can fulfill such a role while objecting to what is seen as a historic step forward to a world without nuclear weapons.

The International Court of Justice in 1996 issued an advisory opinion that the use of nuclear weapons generally runs counter to humanitarian law, sparking a 20-year debate over a new nuclear weapons ban treaty. The U.N. General Assembly is expected to adopt the draft resolution at a plenary session in December and start negotiations next year. Moves to institute a nuclear weapons ban treaty are finally taking shape.

The draft resolution was jointly proposed by countries including Austria and Mexico and was approved by a total of 123 countries. However, 38 countries -- including Japan and nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia, Britain and France -- opposed it, while China and 15 other countries abstained.

Although Japan suffered the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki toward the end of World War II, the country has settled for protection under the U.S. "nuclear umbrella." The Japanese government insists that nuclear disarmament should be promoted in stages with cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear powers, taking both the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and the security environment into consideration.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida explained the reason why Japan rejected the draft resolution, saying, "It will further cultivate conflict and deepen the rifts between nuclear and non-nuclear nations."

However, if there is deep conflict between the two parties, that is all the more reason for Japan not to have turned down the proposed resolution. It raises questions about Japan's legitimacy as a "mediator" between nuclear haves and have-nots.

The U.S. staunchly objected to the draft resolution, saying that it would have negative repercussions on its nuclear deterrence and that of its allies. The U.S. even went so far as to demand that NATO members and Asian countries vote against the draft resolution. As a result, countries dependent on U.S. nuclear deterrence -- including Australia, Canada, Germany and South Korea -- turned down the proposed resolution. Japan is also believed to have been pressured to nix the motion.

It is unacceptable that the U.S., which has advocated a world without nuclear weapons, has adopted a negative stance that could further deepen the divide between nuclear and non-nuclear countries.

As the draft resolution carries little of what a ban treaty may end up containing, details are to be worked out after the resolution is fully adopted. Negotiations over the introduction of the treaty are scheduled to start in March next year, and Foreign Minister Kishida has expressed a positive attitude toward Japan's participation in the talks. We urge the Japanese government to join the negotiations proactively and strive to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear powers.

In the meantime, a Japan-sponsored draft resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons was also adopted with a majority of 167 countries. The U.S., which abstained from the vote last year, co-sponsored the resolution.

In the eyes of the international community, Japan's wishy-washy stance -- expressing aspirations toward the elimination nuclear weapons while rejecting a practical move toward a nuclear weapons ban treaty -- is hard to understand and only invites skepticism.


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