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Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons! A Message from Japan

Tadatoshi Akiba, former mayor of Hiroshima, is seen in this file photo taken at the city's Peace Memorial Park, on May 12, 2016. (Mainichi/Tadahiko Mori)

By Tadatoshi Akiba, former mayor of Hiroshima

    As a former mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, I call for President Vladimir Putin and the world leaders to immediately declare that no nation will use nuclear weapons in this conflict!

    I also call for Prime Minister Kishida, who is from Hiroshima, to visit Moscow to meet President Putin and attend the United Nations Security Council meeting to explain why, by conveying the cry of the hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I want to share the sense of urgency that the hibakusha and Japanese citizens felt when President Putin made the first of the two statements that we interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons. It compelled me to start an online signature collection campaign titled, "Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons! -Message from Japan-" via Change.org (https://www.change.org/p/do-not-use-nuclear-weapons-message-from-japan).

    On February 24, President Putin signaled the potential use of nuclear weapons, stating: "Now a few important, very important words for those who may be tempted to intervene in the ongoing events. Whoever tries to hinder us, or threaten our country or our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never faced in your history." (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/24/putins-speech-declaring-war-on-ukraine-translated-excerpts. Viewed on March 8, 2022)

    Then on February 27, the situation escalated even more. He ordered the defense minister and the head of the Russian military to put its deterrence forces, including nuclear forces, on "a special mode of combat duty" against Ukraine and NATO.

    Threatening to use nuclear weapons is a clear violation of international law. In 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion stating:

    "It follows from the above-mentioned requirements that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law; However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake."

    It is evident to everyone that the situation of Russia does not qualify as an "extreme situation of self-defense," so there is no doubt that it is a violation of international law.

    Furthermore, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which fills the gap the ICJ's advisory opinion left, and took effect as international law last year, prohibits "threatening to use nuclear weapons."

    In addition, in the "Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races" of Jan. 3, the five countries, including the Russian Federation, went to the trouble of affirming that "none of our nuclear weapons are targeted at each other or at any other State."

    Thus, neither international law nor the five-country joint statement of which President Putin is a party deterred him from threatening the world with the possible use of nuclear weapons. One noteworthy fact is that the four remaining leaders of the joint statement have not criticized President Putin for violating the points of the Jan. 3 pledge.

    The reason becomes clear when we recall the reactions of the nuclear weapons states in 2016 to British Prime Minister Theresa May's statement that she would authorize the use of nuclear weapons against other countries:

    "Theresa May has declared without hesitation that she would order a nuclear strike to kill hundreds of thousands of people if she thought it was necessary. ... Ms May was challenged by the SNP's George Kerevan, who asked: 'Are you prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?' Ms May replied with one word: 'Yes.'" (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-trident-debate-nuclear-bomb-yes-live-latest-news-a7143386.html. Viewed on May 4, 2022)

    The U.S., France, China, and Russia did not criticize PM May's "yes without hesitation," either. Their silence on these two occasions indicates that they would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons themselves if they considered it necessary. As a corollary, they would not hesitate to threaten other states with the use of nuclear weapons, either. One possible exception could be China, which has adopted a no-first-use policy since it acquired nuclear weapons.

    What I have just summarized here shows the obvious: The nuclear-weapon states are doing business as usual within the framework of the deterrence theory, and it did not work. If the deterrence theory had worked, Putin would not be threatening the world with the possible use of nuclear weapons!

    And how is the deterrence theory helping to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people's sufferings? And what means does the deterrence theory provide to make Russia declare that it will not use nuclear weapons? The question is crucial because one of our most urgent goals is to ensure that the current crisis will not turn into a nuclear exchange.

    Hibakusha and citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who know the misery and inhumanity of the atomic bombs from our own experiences, have been strongly urging this point: Do not use nuclear weapons under any circumstances!

    Why is it that the nuclear-weapon states and the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have such an antipodal attitude toward nuclear weapons? Based on my observation of people visiting Hiroshima from abroad for over half a century, I dare conclude that the leaders of these countries are absolutely ignorant of the consequences a single nuclear weapon could bring.

    Most visitors, confident that they had learned enough about atomic bombs, have admitted, "I did not know anything about Hiroshima until I came here." Those visitors include an Oscar-winning Jack Lemmon.

    So, visiting Hiroshima and spending half a day visiting the A-bomb Museum, listening to a hibakusha, exchanging views about life and death with them, and observing how Hiroshima citizens treat you would be a good start. However, it is unlikely that President Putin would actually visit Hiroshima before deciding to push the nuclear button.

    My recommendation is for President Putin (and the leaders of other nuclear-weapon states as well) is to use their imaginations. Try to imagine, with the help of those historians who have a good knowledge of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what would happen if he pushed the button.

    Eyewitness accounts of hibakusha, hand-drawn pictures by hibakusha after the bombing, photographs taken minutes after the bombing, movies, artifacts from the ruins of the cities, and many others are available to glimpse the "living hell" the A-bombs brought.

    However, there is a huge difference between 1945 and now. Billions of people in the world would witness this "living hell" in real-time. You do not need to stretch your imagination much to understand that drones with high-resolution cameras can enter devasted areas that are still highly radioactive to capture and send high-resolution videos and sound to the rest of the world easily.

    Billions of people would continuously and for a long time witness the indescribable scenes and voices coming from those still alive and burned, disfigured dead fragments of those who had died in agony or even without knowing what actually happened.

    If you have any imagination left, think about what these billions of people would be thinking about and talking about to each other about all over the world.

    "Nuclear weapons are evil," "Get rid of nuclear weapons now," and "Why do we have nuclear weapons in the first place?" will be some of the voices that would fill every corner of the world. It would be difficult for any nuclear-weapon state to refuse the overwhelming demand by the supermajority of the population.

    If this is a possible scenario, why can't we skip the bombing part to save the lives of those from the imagined "living hell" and go to the conclusion of no nuclear weapons?

    Also, imagine that the screaming and shouting of people suffering in agony and dying will be recorded and edited, and the recordings will forever carry the label "What President Putin did" and "What Russia did."

    President Putin's words "consequences that you have never faced in your history" will mean the world would remember President Putin and the Russian Federation as despicable, hateful, and an unwelcomed existence for all time to come.

    As a cautionary note, let me remind you that these scenarios constitute my "thought experiment" based on purely logical possibilities. And I leave it to you readers to judge their plausibility.

    No one, including the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wishes for President Putin and Russia to be remembered so negatively. To avoid such an unflattering future image of President Putin and Russia, what he and Russia need to do is to declare that "We will not use nuclear weapons."

    That would make our wish come true -- that not a single person should suffer the same tragedy as the victims and survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    My goal in writing this article is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons during this crisis and thereafter.

    Having written this far, all of a sudden, a thought occurred to me that there may be a more profound interpretation to President Putin's two "threats" to use nuclear weapons.

    Is it possible that he wanted to shock the world with those statements to alert us to how dangerous it is to use nuclear weapons and then persuade the nuclear-weapon states to adopt a no-first-use policy? If so, the world would remember him as an audacious and creative leader who advanced the cause of eliminating nuclear weapons beyond anyone's imagination.

    In either case, I ask President Putin and other world leaders to immediately declare the nonuse of all nuclear weapons and ensure to fulfill their most fundamental responsibility as members of the human race. This is the responsibility of all the countries with nuclear weapons, not just Russia.

    I also ask you to abandon the concept of "nuclear deterrence" and declare a no-first-use policy with nuclear weapons, as China has done.

    Even though voices as far away from Japan may not reach the people of the nuclear powers, Japan's current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, could play a major role. He was elected from the Hiroshima district where the A-bomb Dome stands.

    Prime Minister Kishida is in a good position to speak for the hibakusha. Now is the time for him to visit Moscow to meet President Putin and attend the United Nations Security Council meeting and convey the reality of the atomic bombings and the cry of the hibakusha who passed away, or who are actively living with the sacrosanct wish: "No one else should ever suffer as we did."

    We wait for PM Kishida's wise decision as well as those of the leaders of the states with nuclear weapons, especially President Vladimir Putin.

    Please sign and share the aforementioned petition if you are for peace!

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