77 years after Hiroshima, nuclear-free remains a dream

ISTANBUL – Japan on Saturday marked the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States.

The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida views it as meaningful for Japan to “set out how realistically we should move forward towards a world without nuclear weapons.”

Observers, however, fear that a nuclear weapons-free world “remains a remote prospect due largely to the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament by the five Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear weapons states in the past 20 years.”

A total of 191 countries have signed the NPT, which took effect in 1970 and is intended to prevent the spread of nuclear arms and technology, promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy and help achieve nuclear disarmament.

The signatories include the five nations that possess nuclear weapons — China, Russia, Britain, the US, and France.

Japan is the only country to have been the victim of nuclear bombs that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of its people, and affected the lives of future generations.

“In recent years, all of them either expand their arsenals, reverse on their previous pledges, or continue with modernization programs,” Jingdong Yuan, a nuclear studies scholar at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told Anadolu Agency.

“This has been a major contention at the UN Review Conference on the use of Nuclear Weapons between the P-5 (5 UN Security Council permanent members) and the NNWS, the non-nuclear weapons states,” Yuan said.

“Frustrated with the lack of progress,” the SIPRI scholar said the NNWS “drafted and passed a nuclear ban treaty, which is now in effect. However, the prospect of getting the P-5 to sign  it at this moment is nearly nil.”

The other four nations known to have nuclear warheads – India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan — are not party to the NPT. Israel, however, has neither officially denied nor admitted to having nuclear weapons.

Pointing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, the SIPRI scholar said the deal “to some extent halted Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

“But the US withdrawal during the former Donald Trump administration has allowed Tehran to start enriching uranium, even to weapons grade,” said Yuan, who is also a professor of International Security at the University of Sydney.

“Until and unless a deal is made to repair the damage and return to what was agreed on in JCPOA, nuclear nonproliferation will be seriously undermined,” he said.

He also said the AUKUS “certainly poses another serious challenge to the nonproliferation regime.” The AUKUS is a security pact involving the US, UK and Australia signed last year under which Canberra will get nuclear-powered submarines.

“While the AUKUS members have stated they will abide by their commitments to nuclear nonproliferation and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) will be involved, there are still many questions about safeguards issues,” he said.

Yuan said such steps, including the AUKUS, will have the “most serious consequence” that “other countries may follow suit, and the flood could well break the nuclear nonproliferation dam.”

He cited former US President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech where he called for a “nuclear-free world,” but Yuan said “we are getting back to the world full of challenges and uncertainty.”

The SIPRI scholar said the ongoing UN Review Conference on the use of nuclear weapons “could be a make or break one with respect to the future of NPT and indeed the nuclear non-proliferation regime itself.”

Hiroshima Action Plan

At the UN Review Conference earlier this week, Kishida reiterated Japan’s “determination to firmly uphold the NPT” and announced the Hiroshima Action Plan, which he said is “designed to help bring about a world without nuclear weapons.”

Kishida is the first Japanese leader to attend the conference which is held every five years. He said Japan will work to “re-invigorate international momentum on this issue and will tie it into next year’s G7 Hiroshima Summit.”

The Japanese prime minister also announced a US$10 million  aid for the UN to facilitate visits by young people who will learn about the horrors of atomic bombs by getting a look at the twin cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing, on August 6, 1945, and then Nagasaki, which resulted in the deaths of at least 140,000 people by the end of that year. The dead include more than 20,000 Koreans.

A monument with 2,802 names of Korean victims was installed in Hiroshima on Friday. Koreans, whose undivided country was then under Japanese control, had been forcibly brought to Japan, before and during World War II.

Survivors of the atomic bombing are locally known as “hibakusha”. “We must immediately render all nuclear buttons meaningless,” Kazumi Matsui, mayor of Hiroshima, said at an event on Saturday.

Japan has since adhered to a pacifist Constitution and led efforts to end the use of nuclear weapons.

Kishida was voted into power with a constituency in Hiroshima, a modern city, located on Honshu Island.

Peace Memorial Museum

The two nuclear-hit cities have established a Peace Memorial Museum. Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, more than a million people visit the Hiroshima Museum annually while the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum receive between 600,000 to 700,000 visitors yearly.

Those numbers dropped in 2020 and 2021 but are now again picking up. While Japan has maintained its “strong determination” to firmly uphold the NPT, many have criticized Tokyo for its dependence on US nuclear deterrence for protection.

In 2001, when Japan observed the 56th anniversary of the bombings, an anti-war organization donated a “peace clock” that counts the number of days since the world’s last nuclear test, in hopes of reducing the number of nuclear tests.

The management of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum last April reset the clock after the city learned that the US conducted two nuclear tests the previous year.

According to SIPRI, the global nuclear stockpile is likely to grow in the coming decade for the first time since the Cold War since nuclear-armed nations are looking to modernize and expand their arsenals at a rate that will likely increase in the next decade, the institute said in a recent report.

It said Russia and the US together possess more than 90% of the 12,705 nuclear weapons in the world. As of last January, Russia had 5,997 and the US 5,428 warheads, followed by China with 350, France with 290, the UK with 225, Pakistan with 165, India with 156, Israel with 90, and North Korea with 20, according to the institute. (Anadolu)