By Katsuhiro Asagiri
TOKYO (IDN) – “I wish for all states, in particular Japan, to join the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. No more hibakusha,” wrote Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), on a message board at the opening of an exhibition on January 12 at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
The exhibition marked the award of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN on December 10 in Oslo, “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
Three days later, in Hiroshima, Fihn signed a petition placed in the Peace Memorial Museum calling for the early ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on July 7, 2017.
She also signed the museum’s guest book with a message: “The city of Hiroshima has experienced the worst of humanity. But in rebuilding and working for the abolition of nuclear weapons, it has responded with the best of humanity. Hiroshima is a city of hope, and ICAN will work with you to see the end of nuclear weapons.”
It was Fihn’s first visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the two Japanese cities, which suffered the first ever atomic bombings in history in 1945. She was invited by the University of Nagasaki, and travelled to Japan nearly four weeks after ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Fihn received the award on December 10 in Oslo together with Setsuko Thurlow, “as a member of the family of hibakusha who,” as she said in her acceptance speech “by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” and for more than seven decades, has been campaigning for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
The Nobel Peace Prize was “for its [ICAN’s] work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
The treaty, adopted in the United Nations General Assembly by 122 countries, springs from unrelenting efforts of ICAN, backed by 468 partner organizations in 101 countries including the faith-based organizations (FBOs).
Japan, the only country to suffer nuclear bombings, did not take part in UN negotiations on the TPNW, stressing that such talks without nuclear-armed countries participating would not contribute to bringing about a world without nuclear weapons.
Fihn’s one-week long visit to Japan from January 12 to 18 purported to win over the political elite and parliamentarians in favour of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty and convince the government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to sign the agreement.
ICAN had requested a meeting with Abe to coincide with Fihn’s visit. But the meeting could not take place because the Prime Minister left for a six-nation European tour on the day the ICAN chief arrived in Japan.
However her visits to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as well as encounters with activists engaged in the prohibition of nuclear weapons, have obviously left on her mind and heart an indelible impression prompting her to remark to reporters that her “determination” to strive to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again had been boosted by the visit.
Her resolve was evidenced at the news conference and discussions with parliamentarians in Tokyo.
“We need action and leadership from Japan…Japan can be moral authority on nuclear disarmament, and that can begin with Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe joining the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons,” she told reporters.
Countering arguments that Japan needs U.S. nuclear deterrence to “protect the lives and properties of Japanese citizens in the face of growing and realistic nuclear threat from North Korea,” Fihn said: “If nuclear deterrence creates peace, then, we should welcome North Korean nuclear weapons. Then, it should be peace, right now, right? But that’s not the case . . . Instead, we have increased risk. So I think we see clearly evidence that nuclear weapons fuel crisis.”
In an open forum with parliamentarians of nine political parties represented in the Diet and the government, organized by the NGO Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, she passionately pleaded for Japan to reconsider its current security policy based on nuclear deterrence and start parliamentary debate on the possibility of joining the TPNW, and indicate the way from what appears to be a blind alley.
Warning that staying out of the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty would make the country an “outlier” of the global disarmament movement, Fihn said: “Japan can join this treaty while keeping the military alliance with nuclear armed states like the United States,” adding that the treaty urges a signatory to commit “to not using, not producing, not possessing nuclear weapons and not encouraging or assisting the use of nuclear weapons.”
“Every responsible state that respects human rights and humanitarian law should do that,” she stressed, and added: “I urge (the Japanese parliament) to start an investigation that would look at the prohibition (treaty) and how that relates to the activities that Japan is doing,” she said.
“The stakes are too high to not explore this option for nuclear disarmament and right now with the increasing threats of nuclear war (posed by North Korea) the treaty is the best path forward,” she added.
In this context, Fihn cited examples of Italy and Norway, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as Sweden and Switzerland, which have started considering the treaty as an option for disarmament.
However, Masahisa Sato, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, reiterated the government’s stance against signing the treaty, citing the lack of its support by major countries possessing nuclear weapons and saying that joining the pact “would deny the legitimacy of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the nuclear deterrence.”
Keizo Takemi, representing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Prime Minister Abe, was also cautious about the treaty, saying, “We must make diplomatic efforts morally, but at the same time respond to real military threats” posed by North Korea.
On the other hand, Tetsuro Fukuyama of the Constitutional Democratic Party favoured Fihn’s suggestion and said: “It would be good for Japan to study the effects that the nuclear weapons ban treaty may have. Our party plans to raise this issue in the Diet for discussion.”
Kazuo Shii, Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party said: “Stigmatizing nuclear weapons will become a big force to urge North Korea to renounce nuclear development.” Yuichiro Tamaki, President of the Party of Hope added: “We must fill the gap between real threat and the world free from nuclear weapons” but did not clarify if he supports the idea of joining the treaty.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, President of the New Komei Party, a coalition partner of LDP, said: “The fact that a norm of banning nuclear weapons was established internationally has a ground-breaking significance. New Komei Party gives our blessing to the treaty from long-term and broad perspectives.”
On the other hand, in consideration of the reality of the security environment facing Japan, Yamaguchi pointed out: “In the face of North Korea’s nuclear development and possession [of atomic arsenal], both nuclear states and non-nuclear states have to cooperate with each other in partnership to solve immediate problems.”
Yamaguchi then emphasized the significance of the global nuclear disarmament under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, and said that the nuclear ban treaty has an impact to a certain degree and that Japan would like to play a bridging role so that it can gain acceptance among nuclear states. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 January 2018]
Photo (top): Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) close to the main building of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which ICAN Chief Beatrice Fihn visited, and wrote in the Museum’s guestbook: “. . . Hiroshima is a city of hope, and ICAN will work with you to see the end of nuclear weapons.”
Photo (left in text): left to right – The Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen; ICAN campaigner Setsuko Thurlow who survived the bombing of Hiroshima as a 13-year-old; ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn. Credit: ICAN
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