Twenty-one years ago, at the Kananaskis G-8 Summit in Canada in 2002, the world’s leaders agreed to form the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This initiative was a framework for engaging Russia and other former Soviet Union countries to support them in fulfilling their arms control commitments as the basis for reducing nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War. It also sought to reduce the risk of proliferation and terrorism through the safe control of weapons of mass destruction. Russia became a full member of the G-8 the following year, participating in all G-8 meetings, and was expected to jointly play a leadership role in global governance under the coordination of the G-8 countries.
Twenty years on, and the G-7 leaders have met in Hiroshima and reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons by issuing the “G-7 Leaders’ Hiroshima Vision for Nuclear Disarmament,” the first-ever G-7 document to focus on nuclear disarmament. In contrast to the initiative 21 years ago, Russia is no longer seen as a partner in disarmament and non-proliferation. Instead, the document accuses Russia of nuclear coercion, changing the status quo by force, and building up nuclear capabilities. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was accompanied by threats of nuclear use, has increased the perceived threat of nuclear weapons and has once again reminded the international community of the presence of nuclear weapons in the security environment and reaffirmed the importance of nuclear deterrence.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, a Hiroshima-elected politician who has made nuclear disarmament his life’s work, was eager to host the G-7 summit in the city, one of only two to have been struck by an atomic bomb. It was only natural that nuclear disarmament would be a focus of the meeting. The G-7 and EU leaders visited the Peace Memorial Park and had the opportunity to speak with A-bomb survivor Keiko Ogura at the museum. This was an opportunity that Kishida himself had very much sought.
Messages that the leaders left at the museum reflect their personal understanding of the tragedy it represented and their determination as leaders to work for a more peaceful future. Kishida has long recommended that young people and world leaders visit Hiroshima to experience the reality of the use of nuclear weapons as a foundation for promoting nuclear disarmament. In this sense, it is fair to say that one of Kishida’s objectives has been achieved.
However, the environment surrounding nuclear disarmament leaves little cause for optimism, and indeed the gravity of the situation is clearly reflected in the “Hiroshima Vision.” Civil society groups and survivors’ organizations, which strongly push for nuclear abolition, have complained that the commitment to nuclear abolition is inadequate. These complaints are a testament to the slow pace and patience required to work toward a “world without nuclear weapons” in the face of the reality of intensifying strategic competition among the major powers.
Nevertheless, the Hiroshima Vision outlines ideas and initiatives for regaining momentum for nuclear disarmament, even amidst a difficult international environment.
The Vision begins by reaffirming the commitment of the G-7 leaders to a goal of a “world without nuclear weapons” and emphasizes the norm of non-use of nuclear weapons, intertwined with the importance of the 77-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons and the position that no threat of use of nuclear weapons by Russia or any actual use of nuclear weapons is admissible. It affirms the Bali Leaders’ Declaration of the G-20, to which Russia and China are also committed, and the P-5 joint statement in January 2022 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” It also endorses a global norm against nuclear testing.
It is also important to note that the P-5 mentioned adherence to the existing disarmament regime. The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was cited as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime and the need to uphold it as the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. What is striking about the document is that it states that the G-7’s approach is not only realistic and pragmatic, but also “responsible,” which suggests that the G-7 is aware of its role. It also calls for a return to full implementation of the New START Treaty by Russia.
The Hiroshima Vision goes beyond maintaining the existing foundations for nuclear disarmament by proposing several new initiatives. For example, to promote transparency, the document calls for a meaningful dialogue with non-nuclear weapons states on transparency regarding nuclear arsenals and limiting nuclear competition. This dialogue could include an open explanation of national reports coupled with an interactive discussion with non-nuclear weapon states and civil society at NPT-related meetings. This proposal is in line with the proposal contained in the message to the First Preparatory Committee for the 2026 NPT Review Conference issued by the International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons.
As for the production of fissile materials, the document calls for a voluntary moratorium on the production of fissile materials for weapons use, as well as for the IAEA to report its civilian plutonium stockpiles in accordance with the Plutonium Management Guidelines (INFCIRC 549). The measures on transparency in fissile materials management, while not named, are mindful of the lack of transparency in China.
There is also a reference to pre-notification of strategic activities by nuclear weapons states to reduce strategic risks. Although it does not specifically state that it will be implemented, in a situation where strategic dialogue among major powers has been disrupted, such tension-reducing measures, if implemented through dialogue and consultation among nuclear weapon states, would help prevent inadvertent escalation and crises based on unpredictable events and misunderstandings.
The G-7 is expected to share its vision for better global governance with the international community and to demonstrate its leadership and willingness to fulfill its responsibilities. The group should take a firm stand against moves that run counter to international norms and nuclear disarmament, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the nuclear arms buildups without transparency by China and North Korea, while at the same time taking steps that provide a foundation and a way forward for the international community to make some progress toward the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons. While this may not be sufficient, it is necessary, and the international community should now use this as a springboard to implement more substantive measures.