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Editorial: Japan should join UN nuclear weapons ban treaty’s 1st meeting

  • June 21, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The first meeting of parties to the United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty will kick off on June 21 in Vienna. It is of significance for different states aiming to achieve a world without nuclear weapons to gather under one roof, as the use of such weapons of mass destruction has become a credible threat amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a comprehensive ban on the production and use of, as well as the threat to use nuclear arms. It was adopted by the United Nations in 2017 and came into effect in 2021. It’s ratified by 62 countries and regions.


Japan, which depends on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” has maintained that it will not join the treaty. At the same time, the country prides itself as “a bridge” between nuclear powers and non-nuclear holders as the only country in the world to have been attacked with atomic bombs in war.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who represents a constituency in the city of Hiroshima, has repeatedly said nuclear disarmament is his “lifelong mission.” He’s shown his eagerness to enhance the structure of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and decided to host next year’s Group of Seven summit meeting in Hiroshima.


And yet, he’s refused to participate in the first states parties meeting, saying he was “not considering joining this year,” following a request that Japan take part as an observer. It doesn’t make sense for him not to take this opportunity to accelerate the momentum for nuclear disarmament.


Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global nongovernmental organization that helped formulate the nuclear weapons ban treaty, criticized the Japanese government for not participating in the meeting, saying that Japan would not be able to serve as a bridge between the two sides.


Even among nations with close ties to the United States on security issues, many have announced that they will be joining the meeting as observers. In addition to Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium — four member countries of the U.S.-Europe military alliance NATO — Australia, part of the “Quad” framework with Japan, the U.S. and India, will also be joining the meeting in Vienna. In contrast, we are not seeing the Japanese government’s proactive stance toward the gathering.


While the observers don’t have voting rights in the meeting, they will be given a chance to deliver speeches and witness the discussion among states parties firsthand. An opinion poll has also shown that the majority of the people want the Japanese government to participate. It’s time Prime Minister Kishida made a decision.


Atomic bombing survivors, or hibakusha, and high school students from Japan are already in Vienna for the meeting, and the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will both be attending the plenary session. This highlights the gap between Japan’s national government and groups including local governments and hibakusha.


“War is terrifying. I want atomic bombs to be eliminated,” said an A-bomb microcephaly patient during an online event, while holding a picture that she drew. The Japanese government has a duty to deliver the voices of “hibakusha,” who are mentioned in the treaty’s text, to the world.

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