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Editorial: A-bomb victim Japan should lead efforts to ban nuclear arms

The world is at a crossroads for choosing between two scenarios: fear of nuclear war ending in a catastrophe or a safer future of coexistence.

Confrontations among states are heating up in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the most striking example being the U.S.-China rivalry over hegemony. The situation is prompting a rise in anxiety about a possible nuclear war.

At the same time, a trend is gaining momentum for seeking a world without nuclear weapons, above and beyond the framework of nations, in finding value in cooperation precisely at a time like this.

Which path we should be choosing appears evident when we give thought to the ravages of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima 76 years ago today.

Humankind should not be allowed to commit the same fault again. And Japan should be leading the pledge and action for fleshing out that vow.


Japan narrowly escaped turning into a nuclear battlefield four years before the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which left the world frozen with fear. How that all came about was described in a classified U.S. document, which was recently brought to public light.

The hair-raising development took place behind the scenes when the People’s Republic of China, nine years into existence, shelled Taiwan’s Kinmen islands. The United States considered the option of delivering nuclear strikes on China’s military bases.

There would be “no alternative but to conduct nuclear strikes deep into China” if the situation were to worsen, the document paraphrased a U.S. general as saying.

He was also quoted as saying that such strikes would possibly involve nuclear retaliation by the Soviet Union against Okinawa, but “the consequences had to be accepted.”

In the end, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided against making nuclear strikes. It is nonetheless so horrifying to learn there were arguments for pushing ahead with a war even at the sacrifice of Okinawa, which was under U.S. administration.

More than 60 years from that time, the situation surrounding nuclear arms has become more complicated.

In addition to the United States and Russia, China has also come to possess its own nuclear arsenal and is stepping up its moves toward a military buildup.


At the same time, the economies of Japan, the United States, China and Taiwan are closely entangled with one another, a relationship that cannot be simply described as confrontational.


By no means, however, does that lessen the perilous nature of the situation in light of the lessons of history, which tells us that many wars arose from minor friction, misconception, overconfidence and the like.


Amid the tension, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden included their perception of the Taiwan issue in a joint statement they released when they met earlier this year.


That was the first time a similar mention was made since Tokyo normalized diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1972.


The government has reinterpreted its pacifist Constitution to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense, albeit on a limited scale. The United States is therefore expected to call for Japan’s involvement in the event of a military contingency in Taiwan.




Some in the United States have gone so far as to discuss a plan to have intermediate-range ballistic missiles deployed in Japan so as to strengthen deterrence on China.


Japan is, unfortunately, likely getting caught up in the muddled situation without having its own independent vision about how the country wants to keep a distance from the power struggle of major nations and help build an order led by rules.


There are discussions in the world about concerns that a decline of Washington could weaken the confidence in the U.S. nuclear umbrella and prompt a chain of nuclear armament among U.S. allies.


The Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a countdown to a hypothetical global catastrophe, remains stuck at 100 seconds to midnight, the worst ever.


Worthy of note, in the meantime, is a statement issued in June by the leaders of the United States and Russia, the two leading nuclear weapon states, on the occasion of their summit.


“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Biden and Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, said in a passage of their joint statement by echoing the same pledge exchanged in 1985 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union.


Their latter-day successors should live up to that wording if it was intended as a manifestation of their responsibility and pride about remaining reasonable and retaining a sense of alarm even while they are butting heads with each other.


The nuclear weapon states, including the United States and Russia, are turning their backs on their obligation to engage in disarmament talks, which is provided in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).


They remain opposed, however, to nuclear development programs by emerging nations. The selfish nature of that attitude has eroded the ethics of arms control.

The United States and Russia opened high-level talks after their joint statement. That should be a starting point for setting up a new framework of talks that involve China as well.


Biden should issue a long-awaited declaration of a “no first use” of nuclear weapons and foster momentum for dialogue with China.


When the administration of former President Barack Obama considered the option of declaring a no first use, the Japanese government raised an objection on the grounds that such a declaration would weaken nuclear deterrence.


Tokyo should stop sticking to the risky thought that nuclear arms can only be held in check by the dreaded use of other nuclear arms.




Japan should seek to play the role of a catalyst for prompting a dialogue between Washington and Beijing by drawing on the alliance it has with the United States and the historical ties it has with China.


Tokyo should work out a long-term strategy with an eye toward a comprehensive “Northeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone,” the framework of which should also be used to address North Korea’s nuclear development.


The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which took effect earlier this year, is the culmination of efforts by non-nuclear weapon states to pursue the elimination of nuclear arms by rallying international support if the major powers of the world are unwilling to do so.


Nuclear weapon states, which adhere to the NPT, have refused to join the TPNW, a stance that is also shared by Japan.


But the pair of treaties are “mutually complementary” in their pursuit of the common goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, said Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs.


The first meeting of signatory nations to the TPNW is expected to be held next year. Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who suffered from nuclear tests, representatives of nations, members of nongovernmental organizations and others will all meet together in one place on the occasion.


Profound disappointment would go down in history if no one were to be there to represent the government of Japan, the sole nation of the world that suffered atomic bombings in a war.


The TPNW has yet to be fleshed out. Getting involved in the work for setting rules on the decommissioning of nuclear weapons would be vitally important to Japan, which is under North Korea’s threat.


Lessons and insight from Japan would also be useful in providing assistance to those who suffered from nuclear tests and restoring the environment affected by them.


Japan should, for starters, attend the meeting as an observer to show its willingness to work together with the global community.

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