(Asahi: February 23, 2016 – p. 3)
By Ichiro Matsuo in Geneva; Hajime Takeda
The UN working group on nuclear disarmament held its first meeting at the UN European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Feb. 22. With none of the nuclear powers being represented, Japan is participating as an “intermediary between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations” since it has experienced atomic bombings. The working group will submit recommendations on a new legal framework to ban nuclear weapons and related issues to the UN General Assembly this fall.
The working group is an auxiliary body of the UN General Assembly initiated by Mexico, Australia, and other non-nuclear nations aiming at leading the process of international consensus building on the elimination of nuclear arms. It was set up by a majority vote of 138 UN member states at the General Assembly last year.
The key issue is whether an agreement can be reached on “concrete and effective legal measures and legally binding provisions and norms” toward the eradication of nuclear weapons. The group has in mind a “nuclear arms ban treaty” that outlaws nuclear weapons on grounds of inhumanity.
After its first meeting, the group will also meet in May and August in its effort to come up with recommendations for discussion at the UN General Assembly in fall. While the recommendations will not be legally binding on UN members, they are meant to push forward the sluggish process of eliminating nuclear arms.
However, the five nuclear powers – the U.S., Russia, the UK, France, and China – remain opposed to moves aiming at the promulgation of a nuclear arms ban treaty, claiming such a treaty will “restrict their security policies.”
Japan, which relies on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” for its security, takes the position that it is “premature” to conclude such a treaty. It had abstained from the vote on setting up the working group. However, it suddenly decided to participate in the working group at the last minute because non-participation is incompatible with its longstanding diplomatic posture as the only nation to have experienced atomic bombing that advocates a nuclear arms-free world. This move is also seen as an attempt to prevent the non-nuclear nations from seizing the initiative in developing the new legal framework.
In light of the worsening security environment as a result of North Korea’s nuclear test and other developments, Japan is advocating “realistic and practicable nuclear disarmament that can also obtain the cooperation of the nuclear powers” at the working group. It is asking not to include a timetable for the eradication of nuclear arms in the recommendations. It is also proposing the approval of the recommendations by a unanimous vote and not a majority vote, in order to avoid bold proposals that will likely be rejected by the U.S. and other nuclear powers.
The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations is requesting an opportunity for hibakusha to testify at the working group. Toshiki Fujimori, 71, a hibakusha from Hiroshima, said: “No person from any country should ever experience the same suffering as the hibakusha,” calling for progress in imposing a legal ban on nuclear arms.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the anti-nuclear arms NGO Internal Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), stated at a news conference in Geneva on Feb. 22: “As the only country to have experienced atomic bombing, Japan has a responsibility to shed light on the true nature of nuclear weapons.”