OPD 11 August 2021
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, scientists from across the U.S. and others wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, requesting that Japan not oppose the adoption of the Biden administration’s no-first-use policy.
In order to reduce the risk of nuclear war, Japan, the only country to have been attacked with a nuclear bomb, should sincerely accept this letter and fulfill its role of moving toward nuclear disarmament.
After the Trump administration pushed for the development of “usable nukes” and worked to expand the U.S.’ nuclear arsenal, the Biden administration is aiming to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy. While there is no clear path toward a resolution to the confrontation between the nuclear powers, it is significant that the U.S. is changing course and raising the threshold for using nuclear weapons.
The letter states, “It would be tragic if Japan, the only country to suffer nuclear attacks, and a staunch advocate of the abolition of nuclear weapons, blocked this small but important step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
The reason for this firm warning is that when the Obama administration was considering a no-first-use policy in 2016, Japan was strongly opposed to it.
At the time, the Japanese government expressed its opposition, saying that the U.S. declaration of no first use would send the wrong message to countries like China and North Korea about the U.S.’ resolve to protect its allies. The Abe administration held the position that Japan should rely on the U.S.’ expansion of nuclear arms as a deterrent to nuclear threats.
It is not surprising that Japan has come under severe criticism for its double standard of advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons while at the same time relying on the nuclear umbrella.
In his address at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb anniversary ceremonies, Suga said that as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, Japan would seek an end to nuclear weapons, but he did broach the topic of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The TPNW came to fruition after survivors of the atomic bombings told the story of their harsh experiences and highlighted the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.
In his first peace declaration since the treaty went into effect, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called on the Japanese government to “to join the treaty as soon as possible,” and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue called for it to become a “shared rule for the world.” However, Suga has not only expressed opposition to joining the treaty, but has even been reluctant to participate in treaty meetings as an observer.
In his speech at Hiroshima, Suga skipped part of the address, including the passage saying, “We will steadily work to build a world without nuclear weapons.” It is a shame that he was not only inconsiderate toward the atomic bomb survivors, but also that he missed the opportunity to appeal to the international community to abolish nuclear weapons.
As the U.S. and China compete for global influence and Russia increases its nuclear capability, the headwinds against nuclear disarmament will continue. However, with the Biden administration in power, the leaders of the U.S. and Russia have been promoting strategic dialogue based on the principle that “there are no winners in nuclear war” with an eye on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, set to expire in five years.
If the U.S. chooses to enact a no-first-use policy, it could pressure other nuclear powers to do the same, reducing the risk of nuclear war.
The Japanese government should support the U.S. administration’s policy of no first use and participate as an observer in the TPNW. Now is the time that we must be proactive.
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