The Japanese government has announced it will abstain from talks underway at the U.N. headquarters on establishing a convention to outlaw nuclear weapons. By abstaining from the talks, Japan is effectively abandoning its opportunity as the world's only atomic-bombed country to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states.
On the reason for Japan's abstention, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida pointed out that the five nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China are not taking part, and said that the talks "may have the opposite effect of deepening the divide between nuclear and non-nuclear states."
In October last year, the Japanese government voted against a U.N. resolution on launching the talks. But at the time, Kishida expressed the view that Japan would actively take part in negotiations that were to begin in March.
The state of opposition between nuclear and non-nuclear states remains unchanged. It therefore makes no sense for Japan to first say it will participate and bridge the gap, only to make a turnabout and declare it will not participate, citing fears that opposition between the two camps would deepen.
The government's decision, which overturned the foreign minister's previous statement that Japan intended to participate, damages trust in Japanese diplomacy.
Changes in global affairs since last autumn appear to have influenced Japan's decision not to participate. In November last year, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, and the Trump administration has taken an active stance toward bolstering his country's nuclear capabilities. The United States and other nuclear powers argue that it is not realistic in terms of security to establish a convention outlawing nuclear weapons when facing the threat of North Korea's missile and nuclear development.
The United States is said to have pressed Japan to abstain from the talks. Some Japanese government officials took the position that even if Japan took part in negotiations, it would be limited to stressing its opposition to the convention, creating the impression of a negative stance, which would be meaningless. But this is an overly defensive position.
For Japan to participate as a bridge-builder, it needed to prepare the proper environment, by expanding the ring of like-minded countries, for example. But there is no evidence that Japan made such efforts.
Another round of negotiations is due to be held between June and July, and it is possible that a draft of the nuclear weapons convention could be compiled at that time.
It is said that such a treaty would be weak without the participation of nuclear states, but it is nevertheless possible that it would play a major role in the long run in shaping international opinion on banning nuclear weapons. It is lamentable that Japan is not taking part in that process and speaking out as a country that has suffered as an atomic-bombed country.