Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, representative of the government of Japan, and atomic bomb survivors, witnesses to the horrific scenes of 1945, appeared to have little language in common.
That unfortunate scene, almost too painful to bear, was repeated again this summer.
During the peace memorial ceremonies to mark the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mayors of the two cities and a representative of atomic bomb survivors all expressed their positive hopes for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and called on Tokyo to take serious action.
But Abe did not even mention the treaty during his speeches at the ceremonies. When he met with atomic bomb survivors, he said Tokyo has a “different approach” to the shared goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, thereby denying Japan’s participation in the pact.
The nuclear weapons ban treaty, adopted last year with approvals of 122 countries at the United Nations, embodies the fruition of longstanding calls by atomic bomb survivors. The treaty’s spirit, which stresses the inhumane nature of nuclear arms, has a universal value that has much in common with “human security,” one of the stated pillars of Japan’s diplomacy.
Abe, however, did not even pay homage to the significance of the pact, any more than he did last year. It is all too natural that representatives of atomic bomb survivor groups felt disappointed by the attitude of the prime minister, who was mostly only reading aloud statements on the government stance during both the ceremonies and the meetings with the atomic bomb survivors.
Abe said of the current state: “differences in the approaches of various countries on nuclear disarmament have become evident.”
That is true. A deep sense of distrust is spreading between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states.
And where does the responsibility lie? The nuclear weapon states, which are spending huge sums of money on modernizing their nuclear arsenals, have a “special responsibility to lead,” as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly said in his speech in Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
Abe described himself as a “mediator” for bridging the gap between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Given that, his words would sound persuasive only if he took initial action to call on nuclear weapon states to reduce their nuclear arsenals.
Far from that, Foreign Minister Taro Kono has “highly appreciated” a new strategy of nuclear arms buildup that was set out by the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump. By no means would Japan be able to live up to its duty of a country that suffered atomic bombings if it were only ratifying a military policy that could be described as representing a superpower’s egotism.
It is true that, as a matter of reality, Japan’s security policy is premised on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” But citing that as the grounds for continuing to reject the nuclear weapons ban treaty is tantamount to turning its back on international opinion.
Many world citizens are no different from atomic bomb survivors in their deepening sense of crisis. More countries could set out on nuclear weapons development amid the ongoing spread of national egocentrism.
Tokyo should advance multilateral diplomacy for seeking closer ties with international opinion, not the least for preserving the global framework for preventing nuclear proliferation.
Abe said Japan is determined to “lead” the efforts of the international community toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. The prime minister should live up to that pledge not just in his words but also in his actions.