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Editorial: Create opportunity for nuclear disarmament despite delay in NPT meeting due to virus

Priority should be given to curbing the military face-off between the United States and Russia, and the United States and China, to create an environment for constructive discussions on nuclear disarmament.


The 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, originally scheduled to be held in New York from late April, was postponed due to the spread of the new coronavirus. The conference is slated to be convened within a year.


The NPT aims to limit the possession of nuclear weapons to five states — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — and prevent the spread of such weapons to other nations. While the five countries are obliged to reduce their nuclear arsenals, other nations are guaranteed the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.


More than 190 countries and regions have joined the treaty since it came into force in 1970. The NPT has played a certain role in restraining the nuclear arms race.


However, the harsh reality remains. The United States and Russia are competing to enhance their nuclear weapons capabilities. A bilateral treaty designed to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear forces expired last year. China is stepping up its development and deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles by taking advantage of its position, unfettered by U.S.-Russia nuclear disarmament treaties.


Another issue is the fact that disputes between nuclear and non-nuclear powers are intensifying, as the latter have increasingly felt disappointed with the stalemate over nuclear disarmament.


Some non-nuclear states seek an early entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the United Nations in 2017. Other nations, including the United States and France, oppose the move, arguing that the treaty is unsuited to the current reality, as it rejects nuclear deterrence and thus weakens the NPT regime.


Even if the NPT review conference, which is held every five years, had been convened as scheduled, it would have ultimately been unable to adopt an agreed-upon document. It would have only revealed the deep division between the two sides.


The important thing is to promote discussions on nuclear disarmament in line with the actual security environment. A new framework needs to be explored to cope with the development of military technologies utilizing artificial intelligence, among other innovations, and China’s military expansion.


Whether U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been reluctant to work on nuclear disarmament, is reelected in November is an important variable, but the significance of arms control by the United States, Russia and China will remain unchanged, irrespective of who the U.S. leader may be.


The three countries are expected to move forward with easing tensions and establish a situation in which they can feel assured of securing their safety without relying on nuclear weapons.


This year marks 75 years since atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the only nation to have suffered atomic bombings, Japan has a responsibility to persistently assert the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, as the country is now facing threats from China and North Korea, it must be said that extended U.S. nuclear deterrence has a certain role to play.


Because it is caught in this dilemma, however, Japan has a solid understanding of both nuclear and non-nuclear powers’ viewpoints. Japan should proactively work to break the deadlock, acting as a go-between for the two sides.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 4, 2020.

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