Dispatches from Nagasaki No.23

The Reaction in Atomic-bombed Cities to the Trump Administration Nuclear Posture Review

The United States Department of Defense released the Trump administration Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in February 2018. In line with the concerns shared by many people, the content was in direct contrast with that of the Obama administration NPR which had been based on reducing the role of nuclear weapons. Instead the Trump administration seeks to strengthen America’s nuclear strategies. In particular, the administration agrees with the use of nuclear weapons against conventional weapons and its proposal to pursue development of small-sized nuclear weapons for that purpose came as a shock to many people.

Harsh criticism of the Trump administration NPR was also voiced in Nagasaki, after it was released. Nagasaki City Mayor Tomihisa Taue said that the review runs counter to efforts by the international community and atomic-bombed cities to abolish nuclear weapons, such as adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Nagasaki Shimbun, February 4, 2018 edition). Likewise, Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui also commented that the NPR is contrary to moves in the international community and that he urges President Trump to visit the atomic-bombed cities and to aim for a world free of nuclear weapons (Nagasaki Shimbun, February 4 edition). Toyoichi Ihara, President of the Society of Hibakusha Certificate Holders of Nagasaki Prefecture, said he thought that the NPR seemed to be discouraging efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and that it was contrary to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as well as opposing the organization which received the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating to abolish nuclear weapons (Nishi Nihon Shimbun, February 4 edition). These comments represent the candid opinions of many of the citizens of Nagasaki.

With regard to the Trump administration NPR, even though the US Department of Defense is pitching it as “strengthening deterrence,” Tatsujiro Suzuki, Director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA), says it has increased the risk of using nuclear weapons and expanded that role, and that China and Russia may end up following the United States down the path to expanded nuclear armament (Nagasaki Shimbun, February 4 edition). Severe criticism continued with remarks from Dr. Masakatsu Ota, senior editorial writer at Kyodo News and Visiting Professor at RECNA, who said that China and Russia may both react to this movement by the Trump administration resulting in a risk that the nuclear arms race could flare up again, while North Korea will probably attempt to justify its possession of nuclear arms even more (Nagasaki Shimbun, February 7 edition). The possibility of using nuclear weapons in the escalation of regional conflicts with conventional weapons was mentioned by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, with regard to the conflict in Ukraine in 2015. This provoked a strong reaction from Japan and the international community at large. However, the Trump administration’s NPR means that the United States is following along the same lines as Russia and may use nuclear weapons in the future. The logic behind the United States showing the possible use of nuclear weapons in attacks aimed at regional conflicts or limited nuclear war is that it will strengthen deterrence. However, the new development of small-sized nuclear weapons for dealing with such a situation means that the United States is advancing preparations to deal with limited nuclear war and the possibility has arisen again of limited nuclear war on a regional level that will not impact upon the mainland, the type of war which Europe was fearful of during the Cold War era. To be honest, it is extremely difficult to understand how this results in reducing the risk of using nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration NPR has been favorably received by the Japanese government which has shown a supportive stance to the United States. Mayor Taue urged Japan, as the only country which experienced atomic bombing during the war, not to follow in the footsteps of the United States (Nagasaki Shimbun, February 4 edition). Dr. Masao Tomonaga, Honorary Director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku Hospital and Visiting Professor at RECNA, remarked that he was appalled more than angry, and that if things continue like this, the relations between countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not, will not get closer (Nishi Nippon Shimbun, February 4 edition). He also expressed concerns that as the Japanese government showed such swift support for this NPR, Japan’s position as a mediator between countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not will be damaged.

The former Obama administration touted “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” and even if it was not quite satisfactory, that administration showed a positive attitude towards advancing nuclear disarmament. However, directly after Trump’s inauguration there was talk in Nagasaki of worries that nuclear disarmament would undergo a setback in light of the Trump administration’s frequent statements which attached a great deal of importance to military power. Unfortunately, the content of this NPR has shown those worries have become a reality.

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