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Kishida faces dilemma on disarmament while aiming to “bridge” nuclear and non-nuclear states

By Toyoda Mayumi


On Dec. 9, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio Kishida attended the online “Track 1.5 Meeting [for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament]” to discuss with Japanese and foreign experts measures to realize a “world without nuclear weapons,” which he refers to as his lifework. Kishida is hoping to lead the discussions by serving as a “bridge” between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states ahead of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in January 2022. Kishida will have difficulty in exerting Japan’s presence since Japan is dependent on the U.S. nuclear deterrence capabilities.


At the meeting, Kishida stated, “As the only country that has come under nuclear attack during wartime, Japan must lead the countries that take different positions from division to cooperation with the involvement of nuclear-weapon states.”


The previous NPT Review Conference in 2015 ended unsuccessfully as it was unable to adopt an agreement. Kishida expressed his intent to make every effort to adopt an agreement at the next conference and emphasized the need to increase the “transparency” of nuclear capabilities. Kishida announced that Terada Minoru, special adviser to the prime minister in charge of nuclear disarmament, will be dispatched to the countries involved to foster momentum for an agreement. Like Kishida, Terada was elected to the Lower House from an electoral district in Hiroshima.


The path ahead will be difficult. As Kishida said, the divisions within the international community over nuclear weapons are deepening. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which completely bans the possession of nuclear weapons, came into effect in January 2021 without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states. Although Kishida was eager to participate in the treaty negotiations during his time as foreign minister, he decided not to participate, saying it would “make the rift between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states decisive.”


Those close to Kishida recall that “he was very distressed at that time and it was painful for him to decide not to participate.” At the Dec. 9 meeting, Kishida recalled his efforts, saying, “Nothing will happen unless both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states are involved and the nuclear-weapon states take action.”


The importance of the “nuclear umbrella” that relies on the United States remains unchanged. Declaring “no first use of nuclear weapons,” which the Biden administration is discussing, could undermine deterrence. The Kishida Cabinet takes a cautious position on the declaration. Foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa says “it would be meaningless unless all nuclear-weapon states did it in a verifiable manner at the same time.” There are doubts as to whether Japan can take the lead in nuclear disarmament.


The first Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will be held in March 2022. At the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Dec. 9, Kishida was asked about Japan participating in the meeting as an observer. Kishida expressed a negative view, saying, “We need the cooperation of nuclear-weapon states to change the reality, but none of them have joined the treaty.” Those close to Kishida emphasize the importance of a realistic approach, saying, “We should take it one step at a time. It is more important to aim for a concrete outcome rather than to put on a performance.”

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