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Nagasaki hopes for elimination of nuclear weapons

Clear differences in views on Nuclear Weapons Convention

 

By Kentaro Yamano

 

With the aim of eliminating nuclear weapons, the 26th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues opened in Nagasaki on Dec. 12. Gathered for the event are some 30 experts, disarmament officials, and other people from international institutions and about 20 nations, including the United States and Russia, which are nuclear-weapon states (NWSs). The discussions on the Nuclear Weapons Convention on the first day of the conference revealed differences between the positions of non-NWSs, which are calling for the promotion of the convention, and NWSs.

 

This year’s conference was jointly organized by the United Nations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it marks the third time ever for Nagasaki to host the event and the first time for the city to hold it since 1998. At the opening ceremony on Dec. 12, Kim Won-soo, UN under secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said: “There is a sharp divergence in views on how to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. How can we reconcile our differences? All countries must take immediate action.”

 

At a breakout session on the methods and path for achieving nuclear disarmament, disarmament officials from various nations and other participants exchanged views on the Nuclear Weapons Convention, for which deliberations will begin next year. The official from Austria, which is in favor of the convention, stressed the significance of promoting it by saying: “We have indicated a clear path. This is important from a humanitarian perspective.”

 

In response, the U.S. official said: “Nuclear disarmament cannot be separated from the security environment. If we ban nuclear weapons first before taking other actions, it will add a destabilizing factor.” Germany, which depends on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, said, “The aim of the convention is appropriate, but seeking an immediate ban will not produce concrete results.” Japan also opposed deliberating the convention without the participation of NWSs, saying, “This requires a realistic and practical approach.” The UN conference will be held through Dec. 13.

 

Our soft cries will develop into a broad movement

 

By Shohei Okada

 

Yoshiko Hirahara, an 88-year-old Nagasaki hibakusha [A-bomb survivor], attended the UN conference as an observer. Hirahara is the former leader of the Himawari (Sunflower) Choir, a hibakusha group that performs songs that convey the members’ wishes for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Last year she also participated in the choir’s performances in the United States and Germany. She has attended a course open to citizens at Nagasaki University’s Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition to learn about the situation of nuclear weapons today.

 

She listened to the discussions at the UN conference with a serious expression on her face and jotted down notes. One of the things that concerned her was the stance of the Japanese government. Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shunsuke Takei said that Japan “wants to be a bridge” between the countries promoting the convention and NWSs.

 

She says she can’t stop wondering “why Japan opposed (the UN resolution that sought to launch negotiations on the convention)?” Hirahara thinks that “Japan should first get out from under the ‘nuclear umbrella’ and then offer its opinion.”

 

What left a strong impression on her at the conference was the statement by the U.S. official. Hirahara learned that although the United States is opposed to commencing negotiations on the convention, “it is making efforts,” including listening to nuclear disarmament initiatives. She was also able to appreciate the view that nuclear weapons are needed as “deterrence” for security.

 

However, she says, “We must eliminate the need for deterrence.” To the extent that the world depends on deterrence, there is a risk of mutual escalation, and this makes eliminating [nuclear weapons] impossible, Hirahara believes. “This may be too idealistic, but I would like to see war eliminated through diplomacy,” she said, expressing her fundamental hope for peace.

 

After listening to the debate, Hirahara said, “Nuclear weapons aren’t going to be eliminated in my lifetime.” But this does not mean she is pessimistic. “The important thing is to raise your voice, as we have been doing. Our soft cries will develop into a broad movement.”

 

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