"Have we ever had an age like now when peace appears so uncertain?" wrote the editorial of the Mainichi Shimbun on Aug. 6, 1981, in connection with the memorials of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Back then, the United States and the Soviet Union were leading nuclear weapons states in their bid to expand nuclear arsenals.
"The fear looms so large that sensing it is difficult," the article continued. "Aren't we living in an illusion that yesterday and today were peaceful and thus peace is confirmed for now," the editorial said.
Thirty seven years later, we face a similar situation. The possibility of a military clash between the United States and North Korea has faded from center stage, but Pyongyang is not going ahead with getting rid of its nuclear weapons, and its nuclear arsenal might become a permanent presence.
A vision to seek a world without nuclear weapons, which was extolled by the Obama administration, has turned into a thing of the past. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that many nuclear weapons states are either developing new nuclear weapons systems or modernizing existing ones.
Meanwhile, Japan, the only country in the world that has felt the devastation of atomic bombs, seems to have an identity crisis and is failing to implement its obligation to act for the elimination of nuclear arms. It should be said that this situation is dangerous.
In July last year, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which makes nuclear weapons illegal, was adopted at the United Nations in New York, but Japan did not support the international accord. When a senior member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the effort to introduce the treaty, visited Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused to meet her saying his schedule was tight. Abe made no mention of the treaty in his speech on the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
Is this an expression of difference to the United States? However, considering the fact that the average age of hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bombings, now stands at 82, the treaty should be given more importance as leverage toward the elimination of nuclear arsenals. It is only natural that ICAN members say that they feel a big gap between the judgment of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the policy of the government of Japan.
Japan possesses a stockpile of some 47 metric tons of plutonium. The amount is enough to make some 6,000 atomic bombs. Some people abroad suspect that Japan has a hidden intention to develop nuclear arms in the future.
Let's avoid the appearance of evil. The United Nations Secretary General is attending the memorial service in Nagasaki for the first time on Aug. 9 with an apparent concern for "uncertain peace." Japan should change its attitude toward the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and eliminate all elements in its words and deeds that cause suspicions about its resolve to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons, including its plutonium stockpile.