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G7 is Japan’s opportunity to advocate for a world without nuclear weapons

Hiroshima G7 Summit

On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; Nagasaki suffered a similar fate three days later. The death toll is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands1. Today, Japan remains the only country to have suffered atomic bombings during wartime.

“That gives it a unique moral authority to keep the terrible memory alive, and ensure nothing similar ever happens again,” says Gustavo Zlauvinen, an Argentinian diplomat and key figure in arms control negotiations.

Under Japan’s current prime minister Kishida Fumio, a Hiroshima native who represents a constituency in the city, Japan’s focus on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues has only intensified. Mr Kishida reportedly2 heard harrowing stories of the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima from his grandmother. Upon his appointment as foreign minister in 2012, he made it clear that working for nuclear disarmament was a personal as well as a
national mission.

When Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima in 20163, it was Mr Kishida who explained to him the significance of the Peace Memorial Park, where the ruined Genbaku Dome–a potent reminder of the atomic bomb’s destructive potential–stands.

An increasingly dangerous security environment

Seven years on, with attention once again shifting to Hiroshima in May for the G7, the difficult international security environment, exacerbated by Russia’s nuclear threats, makes this a particularly opportune moment for Mr Kishida to gather global momentum towards his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

"I call for all UN member states to take advantage of the current dynamics... as an important opportunity to get back on the agenda and start acting to avoid a catastrophic outcome"

Nakamitsu Izumi
Undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the security picture was becoming more complicated, according to Nakamitsu Izumi, undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations. Among some key negative trends she lists: increased competition between nuclear-weapon states; opacity over nuclear stockpiles; the modernisation and possible expansion of nuclear arsenals; inflammatory nuclear rhetoric; and regional tensions, such as North Korea’s frequent missile launches.

Add to that China’s increasing military build-up and the invasion of Ukraine, and everything has accelerated.

“The risk of nuclear weapons being used is at the highest level since the depth of the cold war,” says Ms Nakamitsu. “There is an urgent need to reduce the risk.”

She hopes the very extremity of the situation and the anxieties it provokes may inspire the world to take countermeasures. “I call for all UN member states to take advantage of the current dynamics4, where people are once again worried about nuclear weapons, as an important opportunity to get back on the agenda and start acting to avoid a catastrophic outcome,” she adds.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) seeks:

  • Nuclear disarmament

  • The prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons

  • The promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy

Cornerstone disarmament and non-proliferation treaty

Core to the global disarmament agenda is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Described as “the cornerstone5” of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, the NPT6 seeks nuclear disarmament, and the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons and promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Mr Zlauvinen, who presided over the 2022 NPT review conference, says the NPT is unique because it is the only treaty under which the five nuclear-weapon states have committed themselves to nuclear disarmament.

Now this linchpin of global nuclear security is being threatened. NPT signatories failed to reach a consensus7 on the outcome document at the review conference in 2022.

In its defense, Ms Nakamitsu points out that the final draft contained “a good package of ideas” that no one openly disagreed with. Mr Zlauvinen also strikes an encouraging note. He points out that the NPT has survived the stress of complex security environments before over its 53-year history. And with the next NPT review conference scheduled for 2026, he says, “as long as the delegations keep talking, there is hope that they will reach a consensus.”

Mr Zlauvinen has high hopes of what Japan, always active in NPT dialogues and possessing strong relationships with both nuclear-weapon states—including with close ally America, and its largest trading partner China—and non-nuclear-weapon states, can achieve. “I believe Japan can and will play an important role as a bridge builder,” he says.

Hiroshima Action Plan

In August 2022, Mr Kishida became the first Japanese prime minister to attend the NPT review conference in New York8. His presence, says Mr Zlauvinen, had “strong political symbolism” and showed Japan’s commitment to
nuclear disarmament.

During his speech at the conference opening, Mr Kishida unveiled what he termed the Hiroshima Action Plan, a “first step towards a practical roadmap for a world without nuclear weapons.” The plan, which Mr Zlauvinen describes as “a tremendous contribution to the ongoing engagement among states parties”, lays out five immediate actions the prime minister hopes to see, including enhancing nuclear transparency and decreasing
global stockpiles.

Of the five, the UN’s Ms Nakamitsu singles out the establishment of a $10 million, eight-year Youth Leader Fund for a World Without Nuclear Weapons as a particularly “important contribution.” The fund supports a multi-year programme of UN disarmament education workshops culminating in visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ms Nakamitsu points out that nuclear weapons were a front-of-mind issue in the past. People demonstrated against them in large numbers, and experts with relevant skillsets were trained. “The international community lost that because the peace and security challenges of the post-cold war period were different,” says Ms Nakamitsu. There is a need now for young people who understand the issues, she adds.

Other practical steps in Mr Kishida’s drive to build momentum include his attendance at the Tenth Meeting of the Friends of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty9; establishing and holding two meetings of IGEP10, a rolling forum where experts including Mr Zlauvinen can have candid discussions on steps for disarmament in the run up to the next NPT review; and the submission of a draft resolution on the elimination of nuclear weapons to the UN General Assembly, which saw the support of 147 countries11 in
December 2022.

Actions in a place of symbolic significance

The G7 offers Mr Kishida his most visible platform yet. “Being in the chair is an opportunity for Japan to further strengthen its disarmament leadership,” says Ms Nakamitsu. “Hiroshima carries a lot of symbolic significance; I hope it will become a really important opportunity for the G7 states to recommit to the accelerated pursuit of the shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

"It’s good that the government of Japan will remind people how dangerous nuclear weapons are and how dangerously close we are to a potential use of nuclear weapons."

Gustavo Zlauvinen
President of the Tenth Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

Mr Zlauvinen, who says he was moved to tears when he first visited Hiroshima in 2022, echoes her sentiments. “It’s good that the government of Japan will remind people how dangerous nuclear weapons are and how dangerously close we are to a potential use of nuclear weapons.”

With Japan as host, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation will be an important issue at the G7 summit. Ahead of the meeting, G7 foreign ministers in April12 stood united calling for disarmament and non-proliferation, and welcomed Mr Kishida’s Hiroshima Action Plan as a pragmatic approach to this goal.

Equally, Mr Kishida has made it clear and unequivocal that the G7 will reject any “unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force or the threat of nuclear weapons, as Russia has done, let alone the use of nuclear weapons”. Member countries, he wrote in an article in March13, will continue to uphold the international order based on the rule
of law.

All eyes now will be on what progress can be made by the world’s most advanced economies—three of which are nuclear-weapon states—towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in Hiroshima.

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