Dispatches from Nagasaki No.19

The 26th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues: Reactions from Nagasaki

On December 12th and 13th, 2016, the 26th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues was held in Nagasaki. It marked the third time that United Nations Conferences on Disarmament Issues have been held in Nagasaki. The conference was attended by Kim Won-soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs as well as approximately 30 overseas guests from more than 20 countries. Attendees from within Japan numbered more than one hundred including approximately 70 students from local high schools.

The purpose of this Conference is not for diplomatic negotiations but to provide a forum for foreign diplomats, government officials, and United Nations officials, as well as researchers and representatives of NGOs to engage in frank and open discussion on disarmament issues. However, many foreign diplomats and government officials attended this conference and some sessions seemed like a continuation of diplomatic meetings. At sessions regarding the current situation of nuclear disarmament negotiations and sessions regarding NPT, government officials from the United States and Russia were highly critical of the commencement of negotiations at the United Nations towards a nuclear weapons convention. In other sessions which handled regional issues, participants from Arab countries and participants from Israel fiercely opposed each other over the Middle East’s denuclearization. Such scenes as these, which have been repeated dozens of times at United Nations meetings, the NPT Review Conferences, the Conference on Disarmament, and so on, were repeated again in Nagasaki.

Nagasaki citizens who were listening to the proceedings seemed to be quite shocked by such scenes. Of course, up until now the citizens of Nagasaki have had many opportunities to listen to opinions expressed by foreign experts on nuclear disarmament at the many international conferences held in Nagasaki regarding nuclear disarmament, including those conferences held by RECNA. However, nearly all occasions were from the standpoint of actively promoting nuclear disarmament. This time many Nagasaki citizens expressed confusion after having been bombarded by views expressed by government officials from various countries favoring policies based on a realistic theory that gives priority to security from nuclear deterrents rather than the abolition of nuclear weapons. At this conference was Yoshiro Yamawaki, a survivor of the atomic bombing who spoke in English to the conference participants about his experiences. Mr. Yamawaki candidly expressed his doubts about the outcome of the conference, telling the Nagasaki Shimbun that: “The clash of opinion between nuclear powers, such as the United States and Russia, and non-nuclear powers, such as Austria, was very noticeable at this conference. What exactly were the outcomes of the conference this time? Was it a conference for each country to assert their own standpoint? The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida, said in a video message that ‘reminding everyone of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons should be the starting point ,’ but was this really the outcome of the conference? I very much doubt it.” (December 19, 2016). It appeared that many of those who were in the audience at the conference shared similar feelings of doubt and skepticism about the contents of the conference. Of course, the purpose of this conference is only to have an exchange of opinions and not to meet any kind of accord. Even so, the discussions actually conducted at the conference poured cold water on the fervent hopes of the citizens of Nagasaki for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

However, when pondering as to whether holding this United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues was a negative thing for Nagasaki, most likely it was a positive thing. One person who was in the audience said that in regard to the assertions of participants from countries promoting nuclear deterrents, they felt the need to be even greater for the abolition of nuclear weapons to be accomplished with the power of civil society. A Nagasaki high school student who was in the audience remarked that aside from the content of the conference, they were very impressed by Japanese participants who could carry out a discussion in English on a level footing with foreign participants. The student also said that the dignified manner in which Dr. Masao Tomonaga, Visiting Professor at RECNA and also Honorary Director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Hospital, gave a presentation in English about Nagasaki was stylish and deeply impressive. Takashi Yuguchi, principal of Kwassui Senior High School, listened in the audience together with his students. He said that by being in the audience at the conference, his students were able to see Japanese people who fulfil active roles in international society, and this has provided them with a concrete goal to aim for. Mr. Yuguchi said he hoped that this experience would provide some motivation for the students to work hard in their studies, especially English studies.

To be honest, most of those in the audience at the conference held this time in Nagasaki were dissatisfied with the content. However, one favorable outcome was that some present renewed their resolve toward nuclear disarmament by seeing for themselves the real state of the international community regarding the issue. It is to be hoped that the experience of being in the audience of the conference proved to be a good stimulus for the younger generation.

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