Can Japan Become a Bridge-Builder for Nuclear Disarmament?

August 19, 2015
Masako Toki

Can Japan be a bridge-builder for nuclear disarmament Shinzo Abe

H.E. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan. Courtesy CSIS/Flickr

The following is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The recent, 70-year anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki offer a sobering opportunity to truly re-examine the real impact of the use of nuclear weapons—and not just take a sanitized view.

Because the age of the average survivor of the bombings, or “Hibakusha,” is now over 80, it is a race against time to pass on their experiences to the next generation. Hibakusha’s testimonials are poignant. Once you listen to them describing the effect of the use of nuclear weapons against human beings—indiscriminate mass murder that included not just instantaneous death for some, but lingering deaths from radiation sickness, burns, and spontaneous bleeding, among other horrific effects, as well as psychological agony—you will surely have different perspectives toward nuclear weapons. You soon realize that they are not just talking about the past, but they are also talking about the future—our shared future on this planet.


For many Hibakusha, the 2015 NPT conference would be the last one that they will able to  attend, given that the Treaty’s review conferences only occur once every five years (although there is a preparatory committee session in each of the three preceding years). So it was particularly disappointing to the elderly Hibakusha that this meeting ended without a final consensus document.  […]

In the decades after the nuclear bombings, Japan has emerged as a leader in global nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. At the same time, North Korea and China’s nuclear weapons programs have called into question Japan’s reliance on the nuclear umbrella of the United States. That, along with Japan’s increasing stockpile of separated plutonium, is fanning concerns about Tokyo’s ultimate nuclear intentions.


Japan is often faulted by domestic and international critics for its reliance on the nuclear umbrella of the United States as a pillar of Japan’s national security policy; some say it  undermines the goal of a nuclear-free world. To remedy this, Japan should consider taking more of a leadership role in the humanitarian initiative for nuclear disarmament. […] Japan must take a bolder step, and come up with ways to enhance regional security with the United States while continuing to make efforts to engage the United States in the humanitarian initiative.

In his message to the 2015 NPT Review Conference, President Obama stated that “There are no shortcuts in this endeavor, and each step must be carefully taken to ensure that the security of all is increased along the way.” Efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons need to be multifaceted—which Japan knows better than many other countries.

Read the entirety of the op/ed at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.


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