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Editorial: Nuclear weapons ban treaty a step toward realizing nuke-free world

The adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty at the United Nations scheduled for July 7 marks an important step toward a world without nuclear weapons, which humankind should achieve. We support the philosophy behind the move as well as each party's efforts to achieve this ideal.

The adoption of the convention, the first one to legally ban the possession and use of nuclear arms, comes 72 years after the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively, which left hundreds of thousands of people dead. The word "hibakusha," or atomic-bombing survivor, is mentioned in the preamble of the pact.

The international community's firm determination not to repeat these tragedies is the linchpin of the convention.

Skeptics have raised questions over whether the efficacy of the treaty can be ensured. However, the pact is significant in that it makes nuclear disarmament an international norm.

It is symbolic that the U.N., established with the goal of achieving world peace, called for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction" in General Assembly Resolution 1 adopted in January 1946.

However, the United States and the Soviet Union began a nuclear arms race during the Cold War. The number of nuclear warheads all over the world surpassed 70,000 at the peak of the arms race in 1986, enough to render humans extinct dozens of times over.

Nuclear arms reduction efforts were launched out of fear of a nuclear war. As a result, the number of nuclear warheads worldwide has dropped to some 15,000. At the same time, the number of countries that possess nuclear weapons increased from five -- the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia -- to nine, including Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

North Korea, which began full-scale development of nuclear weapons in the 1990s and has since conducted repeated nuclear tests, poses a serious threat to Japan, and there is growing concern that terrorist organizations could acquire nuclear weapons -- the situation surrounding nuclear arms is becoming increasingly serious. The U.N. pact was drafted to counter this destabilizing trend.

The treaty bans the development, production, possession, deployment, transfer, receipt and use of nuclear weapons as well as threatening to use them. The pact also prohibits assisting any such moves.

Nuclear powers did not participate in negotiations to draft the convention. Since the pact outlaws any threat to use nuclear arms, which is the core of nuclear deterrence, countries that have not signed the treaty will be unlikely to join later.

Still, the convention is of great significance in that 121 countries and regions -- more than 60 percent of the U.N.'s entire membership -- are participating, and thus represent the majority opinion of the international community. The convention will also likely be effective in deterring pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons by nuclear powers.

Emphasis on humanitarian damage caused by nuclear weapons has convinced the international community of the need to outlaw nuclear arms.

Hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still pained physically and mentally. Some of them have been worried about developing cancer.

Some point out that nuclear weapons have not been used since the bombing of Nagasaki because the leaders of nuclear powers have become aware of the weapons' extremely inhumane nature.

The adoption of the nuclear weapons treaty was motivated partly by non-nuclear powers' frustration at nuclear powers' lack of progress in arms reductions. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) obligates nuclear powers to hold nuclear arms reduction talks. The U.S. and Russia have held talks on reducing strategic nuclear weapons but no serious steps toward reductions have been made. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not come into force because the U.S. has not ratified the pact. The pace of nuclear arms cuts is too slow. At the same time, these powers are continuing to develop and upgrade their arsenals. Nuclear nations' argument that no other country should possess nuclear arms while they themselves are modernizing their stockpiles is far from convincing.

Most U.S. allies -- almost all NATO members, as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia -- did not participate in the weapons ban talks. Japan and other countries that are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella apparently came under pressure from Washington not to join the pact.

Japan has proposed U.N. resolutions on nuclear disarmament for 23 consecutive years since 1994, and successfully had each of them adopted.

Moreover, as the only atomic-bombed country, Japan has served as an intermediary between nuclear and non-nuclear powers. Last year, Japan realized a visit by then U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima. Considering all this, it is indeed regrettable that Japan has not joined the latest pact.

Difficulties in keeping consistency between the NPT, which recognizes the status of nuclear powers, and the nuclear weapons ban convention, which denies their position, will pose a challenge to nuclear powers in joining the treaty.

However, these powers should abandon the thinking that maintaining a nuclear arsenal is a symbol of national greatness, and work seriously on nuclear arms reductions. Otherwise, paving the way for nuclear disarmament is impossible.

The latest convention will establish a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons as an international norm. Nuclear-armed countries would be worthy of their position as major powers only if they can demonstrate not just their military and economic might, but also moral norms. It is hoped that the convention will encourage nuclear powers to be aware of this.

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