Even as Japan recently marked the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated the government’s opposition to joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
The stance came under renewed domestic scrutiny as Japan reflected once again on its history as the only country to have suffered wartime atomic attacks. Now, however, Japan relies on the nuclear-armed United States for its protection. In recent years, Japan has been particularly worried about the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
In a press conference, Abe argued that not a single nuclear power had joined the new treaty because it “was created without taking into account the realities of security.” He noted that the differences among various countries’ approaches had become evident in recent year and reaffirmed Japan’s position that it would seek to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states.
Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, however, made an emphatic plea for the central government to “support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and fulfill its moral obligation to lead the world towards denuclearization.”
Delivering the Nagasaki Peace Declaration during the city’s memorial service on August 9, Taue noted that more than 300 local assemblies in Japan had voiced their desire to see the treaty signed and ratified. He also urged people around the world to “demand that the governments and parliaments in your countries sign and ratify” the treaty so that it could come into effect as early as possible.
The Hiroshima Peace Declaration of August 6 also touched on the issue. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui noted that ICAN, the campaign group that was instrumental in promoting the treaty, had won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. “On the other hand,” he added, “certain countries are blatantly proclaiming self-centered nationalism and modernizing their nuclear arsenals, rekindling tensions that had eased with the end of the Cold War.”
World leaders “must strive to make the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a milestone along the path to a nuclear-weapon-free world,” Matsui said. The Hiroshima mayor called on the Japanese government to play its proper role in “leading the international community toward dialogue and cooperation for a world without nuclear weapons.”
Japan is heavily engaged in diplomatic efforts related to nuclear weapons. According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) should be seen as the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Tokyo aims to work on “realistic and practical proposals to maintain and strengthen the NPT regime,” according to the Diplomatic Bluebook 2017. Tokyo also prioritizes early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
António Guterres, the first United Nations secretary-general to attend the Nagasaki peace memorial service, acknowledged disarmament processes had “slowed and even come to a halt.” During a press conference in Nagasaki, he suggested that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons had been motivated by “enormous frustration” at the lack of progress on disarmament.
Guterres said that as UN secretary-general he fully supported the treaty and hoped that it would enter into force. But he added that the treaty was “in itself not enough” and he paid tribute to the Japanese government’s efforts in a number of areas, including aiming for the success of the NPT review due to take place in 2020.
While in Japan, Guterres met with Abe and expressed gratitude for Japan’s support for multilateralism. The UN chief said he fully supported the U.S.-North Korea negotiations in order to meet the objective of “a total denuclearization that is verifiable, that is irreversible, to make sure that North Korea can be a normal member of the international community in this region.” Guterres further voiced support for Japan’s attempt to seek direct talks with North Korea, while noting he remained committed to implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.