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Hiroshima mayor makes strong calls for 'a world free from nuclear weapons'

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, right, and a representative of the bereaved families of victims of the atomic bombing of the city, dedicate a list of victims to the cenotaph at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Aug. 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

In this year's peace declaration given Aug. 6 to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Mayor Kazumi Matsui for the first time urged the Japanese government and the international community to sign and ratify the United Nations' Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Survivors of the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- also known as hibakusha -- harbor a sense of crisis over a possible new arms race between the U.S. and Russia, and potentially other countries. And it appears that as one of only two cities that have experienced the atomic bomb, the mayor saw the need to deliver a strong message calling for "a world free from nuclear weapons."

Meanwhile, the Japanese government aims for nuclear arms reduction in stages based on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, conflict between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers has placed the NPT in a state of crisis, and has put Japan in a difficult position.


"I call on the government of the only country to experience a nuclear weapon in war to accede to the hibakusha's request that the TPNW be signed and ratified," Mayor Matsui emphasized in his speech Aug. 6 of this year.

In his peace declaration on Aug. 9, 2018, the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, said, "I hereby ask that the Government of Japan, the only country to have suffered from the wartime use of nuclear weapons, support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and fulfill its moral obligation to lead the world towards denuclearization."

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now in step with each other in their approach toward the central government.

Thus far, Hiroshima's Matsui had refrained from making direct demands of the national government, arguing that even among hibakusha, there were a range of methodologies being advocated for the abolishment of nuclear weapons aside from the TPNW. It was in July 2017 that the U.N. ratified the TPNW, but in his Aug. 6 2017 peace declaration, Matsui only went so far as to call on the Japanese government "to manifest the pacifism in our constitution by doing everything in its power to bridge the gap between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, thereby facilitating the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons."

The Japanese government, which depends on the nuclear deterrence force of the United States, is not party to the TPNW, arguing that the treaty does not take into consideration the real aspects of security. It seems that Matsui believed that he, along with the central government, should call for a "realistic abolishment" of nuclear weapons to the international community.

This change in Matsui's approach comes against a backdrop of strong demands from hibakusha and civic organizations. In February 2018, the U.S. announced its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which incorporated such things as the development of small nuclear weapons. On Aug. 2 this year, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the U.S. and Russia became null and void. Between this June and July, 23 civic organizations and six hibakusha groups that felt a sense of crisis over the development urged the city of Hiroshima to tell the Japanese government that it had a responsibility to act proactively toward the TPNW. According to the Hiroshima Municipal Government, it was rare for such a request to be brought to the city by so many groups over a peace declaration, and because of this, the contents of Matsui's peace declaration were changed.

The hope is to increase the momentum of the will of people aspiring for a world without nuclear weapons to move nuclear powers to take action. What hibakusha and others working toward a non-nuclear world pin high hopes on is the international NGO Mayors for Peace, led by Hiroshima; its membership comprises some 7,800 member cities from 163 countries and regions. The NGO aims to shape international public opinion by sharing the realities of nuclear bombs among municipal governments.

"Raising international awareness is a good thing. It'll help move politicians," says a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official, who acknowledges the Hiroshima Municipal Government's efforts. Meanwhile, Akira Kawasaki, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), says, "It's too much of a strain to place nuclear abolishment on a single mayor's shoulders. It's an issue that we should all be working on."

Based on the NPT, the Japanese government is poised to seek a ban against non-nuclear states producing or possessing nuclear weapons, and for nuclear states to reduce their nuclear arms arsenals. However, with the chasm between non-nuclear and nuclear states growing deeper, the NPT, which allows for only the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., and France to possess nuclear weapons, has been pointed out as being a sham. Japan is struggling to find common ground between the two groups before the NPT Review Conference, held once every five years, convenes next year.

At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony Aug. 6, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his speech, "Japan is determined to build a bridge between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, tenaciously promote dialogue by gaining cooperation between the two, and lead the efforts put forth by the international community." However, at a press conference following the ceremony, Prime Minister Abe said Mayor Matsui's push to sign the TPNW was "not based on the real aspects of security," and that the treaty was "not signed by any of the nuclear-weapon states."

Japan is the only country to have had nuclear bombs dropped on it, and at the same time, as an ally of the U.S., it has aspired to be a mediator between nuclear states and non-nuclear states. But Japan's position as a bridge between the two groups became tenuous in 2017 when the TPNW was adopted at the U.N. Out of consideration for the U.S., Japan displayed a cautious approach toward the treaty, and was criticized by Mexico and Australia -- which had been enthusiastic about the treaty -- as being "backward looking" toward nuclear disarmament.

In a Japan-sponsored resolution against all nuclear weapons submitted to the U.N. last fall, Japan avoided mentioning the TPNW, but did refer to Article 6 of the NPT, which calls for nuclear states to make moves toward nuclear weapons reduction. The resolution was the result of efforts to take the positions of all parties into consideration, but the U.S. abstained from voting, leaving challenges for Japan, which was trying so hard to be a "bridge."

If rifts in the international community are left as they are, they may just lead to the final document at the 2020 NPT Review Conference being scrapped, as it was when participants failed to reach consensus agreement on the final document in the 2015 conference. The NPT framework itself could be dealt a hard blow, making it possible for nuclear weapons development in North Korea and Iran to go unchecked.

At the press conference, Prime Minister Abe expressed his intention to "formulate a foundation that is common among all nations, as well as mutual dialogue" before the NPT Review Conference next year. Japan is anticipating that it can find common ground between nuclear states and non-nuclear states over more transparency and verification -- such as in the disclosure of nuclear policy and the number of nuclear warheads a country possesses. "First, we have to prevent any more rifts between nuclear states and non-nuclear states from arising," a Japanese government-related source told the Mainichi Shimbun. "More than being a 'mediator,' it's a priority right now for us to promote and maintain dialogue."

(Japanese original by Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department, and Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)

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