Dispatches from Nagasaki No.22

Japan’s UNGA Resolution on Nuclear Disarmament

This year the Japanese government once again submitted to the UN General Assembly its Draft Resolution on Nuclear Disarmament, which was duly adopted. This marks the 24th consecutive year that Japan has submitted such a draft resolution. The draft resolution gained overwhelming support, including even the nuclear states of the US and UK, with 156 nations in favor, 4 against and 24 abstentions. Compared to last year’s result (167 in favor, 4 against and 16 abstentions), while those nations against the motion remained unchanged those in favor declined, their votes switching the abstainers. Looking back at the votes over the past decade, out of the ten votes the support of 170 or more nations was obtained on six occasions, and the number did not once fall behind the 160-vote mark. Neither did the number of abstainers exceed 20 nations. Little surprise then that the Nagasaki Shimbun carried the headline “Support for nuclear abolition proposal drops” in the October 28, 2017 edition.

Citing the reasons for this decline the Nagasaki Shimbun quoted from the interpretation made by the Kyodo Press Agency that the failure of the Japanese government’s resolution to mention the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed in July, and the watering down of the wording of the text related to the inhumanity of nuclear weapons had created an impression that Japan’s stance on nuclear disarmament has receded (Nagasaki Shimbun, October 28 edition). In fact, nations such as Austria, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Nigeria, that supported the resolution last year and also signed the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, decided to abstain.

The Japanese government has long proudly insisted that it should bridge the gap between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations. However, this year’s draft resolution was considerably watered down compared to last year’s. In particular, the removal of the word “any” from the text that last year read “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” hints that, although the use of nuclear weapons still raises humanitarian concerns, it could be open to the interpretation that exceptional use of nuclear weapons could be tolerated on humanitarian grounds. It was thus that RECNA director Tatsujiro Suzuki fiercely criticized the government in the October 20 edition of the Nagasaki Shimbun, saying: “It would hardly be surprising if the right of the Japanese government to talk about the abolition of nuclear weapons is called into question.”

Speaking of the decision to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Japan’s Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, issued a statement saying that: “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that ICAN has supported is a different approach from that of the Japanese government, but we share the same goal of nuclear abolition. We will rebuild a relationship of trust between the nuclear and non-nuclear states and non-nuclear states in different security environments, and resolutely stick to the task of gaining the involvement of the nuclear states in a realistic and practical manner.” However, this year’s Japanese draft resolution contains no new concrete suggestions towards the disarmament or abolition of nuclear weapons, and it would be extremely difficult to describe it as offering an alternative approach to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that the government is rejecting. Indeed, it is perfectly natural that nations calling for the same abolition of nuclear weapons have turned against Japan, which feebly calls for a “realistic approach” without even trying to show a persuasive alternative course of action, and is utterly uncooperative in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament on the grounds of a difficult security environment and its perceived need for nuclear deterrence. Meanwhile, fierce criticism of the Japanese government is being voiced in the atomic bombing site of Nagasaki.

However, there is still a large number of nations that support both the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Japanese government’s draft resolution. While Japan still maintains the trust of these nations, if it is unable to put forward specific proposals for nuclear disarmament instead of listing all the issues in East Asia and emphasizing how they currently make nuclear disarmament impossible, Japan will inevitably be told that is no longer a nation “bridging” between the nuclear and non-nuclear states.

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