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Editorial: Countries must not neglect responsibility for nuclear weapons abolition

On Aug. 6, 1947, on the second anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, then mayor of the city Shinzo Hamai read out the city's first ever Peace Declaration in the blazing sun.

In the statement, Hamai underscored the need for a "Revolution of Thought" toward getting rid of what he called "horrible weapons" (atomic bombs) in order to achieve lasting peace. He then said, "... because of this atomic bomb, the people of the world have become aware that a global war in which atomic energy could be used would lead to the end of our civilization and extinction of mankind," according to his memoir, "Genbaku Shicho" ("Mayor of the atomic-bombed city").

Probably because of the sense of tension with which he addressed the world from a corner of a country that was defeated in World War II, Hamai recalled that he felt as if his voice were not his own.

Seventy years later, on the occasions of the 72nd anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively, one cannot help but wonder whether the "Revolution of Thought" has since progressed.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which came into force in the 1970s, allows the five nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- to possess such arms. However, India and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons in the 1990s, and Israel is widely viewed as a de-facto nuclear power.

In addition, North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear and missile tests and even threatened to use nuclear weapons against Japan and the United States, highlighting the deadlock in the "Revolution of Thought" and the NPT regime.

Amid such moves, about 120 countries adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations this past July. However, not only the United States and other nuclear powers, but also Japan and South Korea -- both under the U.S. nuclear umbrella -- as well as NATO members opposed the pact.

This is apparently because the treaty not just bans the possession and use of nuclear arms but is also critical of the traditional nuclear deterrence theory. Tokyo appears to have deemed that the country could not support the pact amid the growing threat posed by Pyongyang.

In May 2016, however, Japan invited then U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima, where the world's only atomic-bombed country renewed its vow for a world without nuclear weapons. Even though Obama's successor Donald Trump is pursuing nuclear arms expansion, it appears out of place for Japan to put the brakes on moves toward nuclear weapons abolition.

It is only natural that organizations of A-bomb survivors, or "hibakusha" in Japanese, expressed displeasure with the Japanese government's response to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Setsuko Thurlow, a hibakusha who participated in the talks on the treaty, lamented that she deeply felt that she had been betrayed and abandoned by her home country.

"The Japanese government is rigidly tied down" by many countries, according to Yasuyoshi Komizo, secretary-general of the "Mayors for Peace." Japan has faced pressure from the United States and the threat posed by North Korea. Moreover, it is difficult for nuclear powers and their allies to support the pact that prioritizes a ban on the possession and use of nuclear arms.

To make it easier for nuclear powers to sign the pact, Komizo proposed to incorporate "verification measures," to which nuclear powers attach particular importance, in the pact, during discussions on the draft of the treaty at the United Nations.

"There is some criticism, but the fact that the treaty was created is a major achievement. The wording of the pact is something that is difficult to criticize. I hope countries that have not participated in the treaty would boldly transform their policies," Komizo said.

In deciding not to participate in the pact, the Japanese government appears to have sided with the United States rather than hibakusha. If the Japanese government were to say it is a misunderstanding, then Tokyo should take concrete action to demonstrate its will to rid the world of nuclear stockpiles. The ultimate goals of both the NPT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are nuclear abolition. Japan should endeavor to ease the international conflict over these two pacts and facilitate international cooperation toward elimination of nuclear arms and reconsider its own response to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

In response to the threat posed by North Korea, some people might say, "Countries threatening the world with nuclear weapons should be countered with nuclear weapons." However, as long as nuclear arms exist, similar crises could occur. It should be realistic for and sincere of Japan to make its utmost efforts toward nuclear abolition while not ruling out nuclear deterrence as-is.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is not the only way to rid the world of nuclear arms.

But have nuclear powers opposing the treaty fulfilled their responsibility for nuclear arms reductions provided for by the NPT? Non-nuclear powers moved to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons because little progress had been made in nuclear disarmament. Nuclear powers' negligence and lack of a sense of crisis should be called into question.

With regard to the "security of all humanity" mentioned in the nuclear weapons ban treaty's preamble, Mitsuru Kurosawa, professor at Osaka Jogakuin College, said, "The time has come when countries should consider security arrangements on a global scale in addition to those between individual countries. We should change our way of thinking." A second "Revolution of Thought" is now apparently necessary while keeping in mind risks involving nuclear weapon detonation by accident.

In a message he contributed to the 1947 Hiroshima Peace Declaration, Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied Powers, warned that weapons that could annihilate human beings could be used in war and that Hiroshima served as a warning to all people against such a situation, emphasizing that the warning should not be ignored.

The United States should take to heart the meaning of MacArthur's message as the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war.

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