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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 of 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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