The Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministerial conference should be an important step toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons.
At the end of the meeting on April 11, the G-7 foreign ministers released the Hiroshima Declaration on nuclear arms reductions and non-proliferation. Prior to the move, the seven foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, viewing a display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and laid wreaths at the cenotaph for atomic bombing victims.
Seventy-one years have passed since 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 74,000 people in Nagasaki lost their lives in the atomic bombings of these two cities. This was the first time that the foreign ministers of nuclear powers, including the United States, Britain and France, had visited an atomic-bombed city.
The G-7 and other relevant countries have a mission of pushing ahead with nuclear arms reduction based on the spirit of the historic message dispatched from Hiroshima.
The Hiroshima Declaration was put together as one of the documents on achievements made in the foreign ministerial conference, such as a joint statement on countermeasures against terror and the refugee issue and one on maritime security.
At the beginning, the declaration states, "The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced immense devastation and human suffering as a consequence of the atomic bombings ..."
At the end, the statement expresses sympathy with the people of atomic-bombed cities. "We share the deep desire of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear weapons never be used again."
The G-7 consists of three nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain and France -- and four non-nuclear powers -- Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada. As such, the Hiroshima Declaration shows certain consideration to the three nuclear powers. The declaration stops short of mentioning the "inhumanity of nuclear weapons," a key phrase for countries aiming to form a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Still, the declaration should be appreciated as it uses the phrase, "human suffering," to express sympathy with the plight of hibakusha, or atomic-bombing survivors.
Among the seven foreign ministers, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry drew particular attention from the public for his words and deeds as a representative of the only country that has launched nuclear attacks.
Public opinion in the United States is largely in favor of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since both Democratic and Republican parties are selecting their presidential candidates, Kerry and other U.S. officials had apparently considered the impact of the first visit to Hiroshima by a U.S. secretary of state on the presidential race.
However, Kerry told a news conference following the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that what he called a "gut-wrenching display" of the atomic bomb's aftermath "reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices of war and what war does to people, to communities, countries, the world."
Kerry then said he will certainly convey the importance of visiting the atomic-bombed cities to President Barack Obama.
It was Kerry who proposed that the G-7 ministers visit the Atomic Bomb Dome although they were not originally scheduled to visit the monument. It was unfortunate that they had no chance to talk with hibakusha. Kerry's remarks have undoubtedly made the fact that the meeting was held in Hiroshima more significant.
President Obama proposed to pursue "a world without nuclear weapons" in a Prague speech in 2009, and even mentioned the moral responsibility of the United States as a country that used nuclear weapons, expressing enthusiasm about visiting the atomic-bombed cities.
As the most influential leader in the world, Obama should visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he comes to Japan in May to attend the G-7 summit in Ise and Shima, Mie Prefecture.
The global situation surrounding nuclear arms reduction and non-proliferation is serious. Efforts to reduce nuclear weapons have been deadlocked because of a conflict between the United States and Russia, two nuclear superpowers. There is no sign that nuclear proliferation will be stopped as is shown by the fact that North Korea went ahead with its fourth nuclear test. China's modernization of its nuclear weapons remains obscured. Grave concerns have been expressed over nuclear arms expansion by India and Pakistan, which have not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
The G-7 foreign ministers issued the Hiroshima Declaration under such circumstances. It was the first time after the NPT review conference collapsed in May last year that both nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers have issued a joint statement calling for a world without nuclear weapons.
At the NPT review conference, Japan proposed that the parties to the NPT urge that global political leaders visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but China voiced opposition, citing the issue of historical perceptions. Therefore, the Hiroshima Declaration's mention of the significance of visits by political leaders to atomic-bombed cities should be welcomed.
There are some shortcomings in the Hiroshima Declaration and visits by the G-7 ministers to the atomic-bombed city. However, there is no denying that the declaration and the visit to the cenotaph for atomic-bombing victims would not have been achieved without the strong enthusiasm of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a native of Hiroshima Prefecture.
In the U.S. presidential race, business mogul Donald Trump has stated that Japan and South Korea should be allowed to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, stirring controversy.
However, Japan never has the option to go nuclear from a political and historical viewpoint. Japan has a duty to lead international opinion calling for elimination of nuclear weapons as the only country that has suffered atomic bombings. At the same time, the United States and other nuclear powers must keep in mind that they are obligated to make efforts to reduce their nuclear arms.
Japan has prided itself on its role of mediating between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers while relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its own security. Tokyo has attached importance to a "practical and realistic approach" before achieving the ultimate goal of nuclear abolition.
This idea is incorporated in the Hiroshima Declaration. Japan needs to continue its efforts to narrow the gap between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers.
It is a task for not only the G-7 but also the whole world to consider how to move toward nuclear abolition, while bearing in mind the significance of the G-7 foreign ministers gathering in Hiroshima.