Japan, the only country to be the target of atom bombs, and the U.S., the only country to drop them, firmly committed themselves to working towards a nuclear weapons free world, when President Barack Obama visited Japan during his first presidential tour of Asia.
The combination of these two nations in this endeavour gives their commitment special relevance and strength. It also offers the lesson to others that reaching out to the future is more creative than wallowing in the past.
Nuclear disarmament was high up on the agenda during Obama’s state visit, and a ‘Joint Statement toward a world without nuclear weapons’ embodied the views and hopes of both governments. Both governments also welcomed current international interest in nuclear disarmament and reaffirmed their “determination to realize such a world”.
For Obama, the joint statement confirmed his belief that nuclear disarmament can serve as the foundation of global peace and security. His approach to nuclear disarmament was endorsed by the Nobel Committee whose official statement announcing the award of the Peace Prize to Obama said that the committee “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”.
For Japan, the emphasis on nuclear disarmament was a reminder of its unique experience, and reaffirmed its insistence that never again should such a human tragedy be visited on any country.
In this context, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Obama welcomed the support received for recent nuclear disarmament initiatives at the UN in which Japan and the U.S. played leading roles. They pledged to take practical steps that would create conditions in which the challenge of nuclear disarmament might be met. Some of the steps described in the joint statement are summarized below.
Nuclear Disarmament: The U.S. will continue to seek early conclusion of a START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) follow-on treaty through negotiations with the Russian Federation. The U.S. and Japan urge all states that hold nuclear weapons to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national security strategy. They also called on states that hold nuclear weapons to respect the principles of transparency, verifiability and irreversibility in the process of nuclear disarmament.
**Nuclear Non-Proliferation:** Both countries reaffirmed the importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). They will cooperate on matters connected with the 2010 NPT Review Conference so that the treaty may be strengthened, and its central role in international non-proliferation efforts renewed. They expect the review conference to recommend realistic and achievable goals to strengthen each of the NPT’s three pillars — nuclear non-proliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and nuclear disarmament.
**Test Ban Treaty:** Japan welcomed the Obama administration’s intention to push for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Japan and the U.S. will work together to achieve the early entry into force of the CTBT. They are also determined to pursue the immediate commencement of negotiations on, and early conclusion of, a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.
**North Korea:** In the view of both countries, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons remains a major threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the entire international community. Japan and the U.S. remain committed to the irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. They stress that the Six Party Talks remain the most effective framework to achieve these goals and they urge North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks without preconditions.
**Iran:** Iran’s nuclear activities, in particular the recent disclosure of Iran’s construction of a new facility near Qom, have reinforced the international community’s concern regarding the nature of its nuclear program. Japan and the U.S. will continue to seek a comprehensive, long-term resolution of these issues, based on UN Security Council resolutions.
**Nuclear Security:** Both countries will cooperate in efforts to ensure the success of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit that will be hosted by the U.S., and will as well promote regional efforts to strengthen nuclear security. Japan will host a nuclear security conference for Asian countries in Tokyo in January 2010. The U.S. welcomes this initiative, as well as Japan’s decision to host the next preparatory meeting in December for the Nuclear Security Summit.
**Nuclear Terrorism:** Recognizing the continuing threat of nuclear terrorism, the two governments are committed to ensuring that civil nuclear materials and facilities receive the highest levels of physical protection. They also pledge their support for efforts to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
**IAEA:** The two countries expressed support for the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and welcomed the election of the new director general, Ambassador Yukiya Amano, who is due to assume office shortly. They will continue to back all measures that will give the agency the resources, authority, and verification capabilities necessary to carry out its essential mandate.
Peaceful uses of nuclear power: Japan and the U.S. intend to work together and with other countries to explore ways to enhance a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including assurances of fuel supply, so that countries can access peaceful nuclear power without increasing the risks of proliferation.
Some years ago, an Asian foreign minister said that if the international community was honest with itself, it would build a monument to the atom bomb outside UN headquarters in New York. This would be a reminder of the reality, he argued, that it is the existence of nuclear power in the world and its capability to wreak global destruction, that is the best guarantee of international peace.
Headlines are born of sentiments such as these, of course. In a violence prone world, however, where wars are fought on flimsy pretexts and countries are invaded without a semblance of rational justification, to depend on the potential of nuclear destruction as a guarantee of peace is, at the very least, a gamble.
The inevitability of nuclear power has been taken for granted over the years but, gradually, the case for nuclear disarmament has received a strong hearing. The agitation of civil society has contributed toward this trend; so has advocacy within international institutions. The recommitment of the U.S. and Japan to this objective is one more step forward.
Their joint leadership could be a lasting contribution to peace and security down the years. Obama and Hatoyama deserve to be commended for this new beginning.