The movement to abolish nuclear weapons has only grown weaker recently. It has been revealed that last year, the United States conducted two subcritical nuclear tests.
These tests show that, even under the Biden administration, there has been no change in America’s desire to push forward with the modernization of its nuclear capabilities. Subcritical nuclear tests are being conducted to evaluate and improve the performance of nuclear weapons, although they do not involve nuclear explosions. Last year’s tests at an underground nuclear test site in Nevada were the latest in a series of tests, including those conducted by the previous Trump administration in 2020.
The U.S. suspended the development of new nuclear warheads after the end of the Cold War, though the Trump administration reversed this decision. Trump’s policy change led to the development of new nuclear warheads to be mounted onto submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a practice the Biden administration has continued.
The development of long-range standoff cruise missiles equipped with nuclear warheads and the renewal of intercontinental ballistic missiles indicate that America has a long-term commitment to maintaining nuclear capabilities into the 2080s and beyond. That is not the position of a country committed to being a leader in nuclear disarmament.
The Trump administration’s revised strategy to increase nuclear capabilities and expand the role of nuclear weapons has largely been shelved. America’s new nuclear strategy, as outlined by Biden administration, is to prioritize extended deterrence and protect allied nations with the “nuclear umbrella.” As such, the Biden approach does not deviate from traditional nuclear policy.
At the same time, Russia, a nuclear superpower on par with the United States, has not hesitated to repeatedly threaten the use of nuclear weapons following its invasion of Ukraine. China’s development of nuclear capabilities is also noteworthy. In such an environment, attempting to counter one nation’s nuclear threat could easily lead to a nuclear arms race.
The Strategic Stability Dialogue on nuclear armament has ended, while a route to talks that include China has yet to emerge. In addition, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which compels nuclear nations to disarm, is on the brink of collapse.
The five nuclear nations, which include the United Kingdom and France, issued a joint statement in January that declared disarmament and avoidance of nuclear war to be their greatest responsibility. This pledge by the nuclear nations to limit the role of nuclear weapons to deterrence and fulfill their duty to disarm as set out by the NPT was almost entirely meaningless.
The international community’s vehement objections to the ongoing lack of action on nuclear disarmament under the NPT has given rise to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The first meeting of state parties to the agreement is scheduled for June.
We cannot stand idly by as nuclear disarmament efforts continue to backslide. It is precisely because the threat of nuclear weapons is so immediate that we must now redouble our efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and establish a foundational treaty that would make the absolute abolition of nuclear weapons international law. As a country that knows the calamity nuclear weapons can lead to, Japan has a responsibility to take a leading role in this mission.