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Editorial: Japan can no longer turn its back on treaty banning nuclear weapons

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that bans nuclear weapon activities, such as developing, using and even threatening to use them, will take effect on Jan. 22, 2021, as 50 countries and regions have ratified the treaty.


The use of biological and chemical weapons, which can cause mass destruction and major damage to humanity, is already banned, but the use of nuclear weapons is yet to be prohibited.


The TPNW was adopted in 2017 with the approval of 122 countries and regions at the United Nations. But as none of the nuclear-weapon states have joined, the abolishment of the arms will not be so quick.


However, when the TPNW enters into force it will become the first international norm outlawing nuclear weapons themselves, and is expected to put pressure on countries that possess the weapons to disarm.


The Japanese government is yet to join in the legal framework. As a country that shelters under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, Japan has said the treaty “is not realistic or practical” without the participation of nuclear powers.


Nuclear deterrence is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Nuclear wars can start due to a misunderstanding in the state of affairs or even malfunctions in the system. If nuclear weapons are used in attacks and counterattacks, not just the participating countries but the whole world will come to an end.


Countries that possess nuclear weapons and their allies must change their mindset from the military strategy during the Cold War when nations maintained a deterrence by stocking up on nuclear weapons.


The Japanese government argues it is realistic to strengthen the structure of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Japan is promoting negotiations on nuclear disarmament, which is required under the NPT.


It is true that the United States and Russia significantly reduced the number of nuclear warheads they own. But in the last three years, Washington withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and is competing with China over the modernization of nuclear weapons.


The United States has apparently been putting pressure on small- and medium-sized countries in agreement with the TPNW. Japan says its job is to bridge the gap between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, but it hasn’t produced any results in regards to easing the conflict between the two groups.


The Japanese government has turned its back on the TPNW due to a difference in the way it approaches nuclear weapon abolition, but it is clear that its path has reached a dead end.


Within a year after the TPNW takes effect, signatory countries will hold a conference of the parties. Non-members can also participate in the conference as observers if approved.


Japan must serve its function by participating in the conference, listening to discussions for nuclear abolition, considering effective ways for nuclear disarmament, and by spreading the idea to the world.


Hibakusha, a term referring to people affected by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is used in the preamble of the TPNW. Japan must realize again the weight of that fact and its responsibility as the only country that has suffered from the wartime use of nuclear weapons.

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