Present road map for world to build consensus on nuclear disarmament

If the nuclear disarmament system is enfeebled, international order will collapse. The consensus-building efforts and wisdom of each country are being put to the test.

A review conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has begun at U.N. headquarters. This is an opportunity for the more than 190 signatory nations to meet to discuss such topics as nuclear disarmament, ordinarily once every five years. However, having been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference this time is the first in seven years.

During the about four-week session, it is necessary to clarify a concrete path toward nuclear disarmament. The focus is on whether an outcome document can be compiled in the end.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement in line with the start of the conference, saying that Russia consistently follows the letter and spirit of the treaty. While Russia has invaded Ukraine and Putin has made intimidating remarks repeatedly indicating a possible use of nuclear weapons, it is appalling that Moscow issued such a statement.

It is obvious that Russia’s actions violate the U.N. Charter, which prohibits the threat of force. At the review conference, it is necessary, first and foremost, to affirm the NPT’s principle of no use of nuclear weapons.

At the last conference in 2015, nuclear powers and nonnuclear nations were at loggerheads over the denuclearization of the Middle East and failed to adopt an agreement document. The gap between the two sides is widening even more now.

Aside from the NPT, some African and other nonnuclear nations that have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, in their first meeting of states parties to that treaty in June, called for the prohibition of the possession of nuclear weapons.

As that treaty does not mention the role that nuclear deterrence plays in security, nuclear powers, as well as U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea, are not parties to the treaty.

The abolition of nuclear weapons is a high ideal, but Japan, which faces nuclear threats from North Korea, China and Russia, cannot maintain its peace and safety without the U.S. nuclear umbrella. To work to advance nuclear disarmament while looking squarely at such facts is only realistic.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida became the first Japanese prime minister to attend an NPT review conference and called on nuclear powers to draw up an action plan for nuclear disarmament in his speech. He also announced that Japan will donate $10 million to the United Nations to create a fund to invite young people from around the world to atomic-bombed cities in Japan.

As the only country to have suffered atomic bombings, Japan has a major role to play in this regard. Japan must continue to act as a bridge between nuclear and nonnuclear states.

The United States and Russia, which together possess 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, have signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which obliges them to conduct mutual inspections, among other measures. But China, which does not participate in such an arms management system, is modernizing and stepping up its nuclear capabilities — a situation that cannot be left unattended.

It is important for the international community to continue asking Beijing to, at the very least, disclose the number of nuclear warheads it possesses and to participate in the framework for nuclear disarmament.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2022)