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15:48 25 September 2014

OPINION: Japan's nuclear duplicity

By Richard Lennane
CANBERRA, Sept. 25, Kyodo

Sept. 26 is the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Much attention will naturally be focused on Japan, and many will refer to the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they call for renewed efforts to rid the world of these terrible weapons. Japan's government will be at the forefront of such calls, highlighting its own initiatives such as the "Youth Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons" and its hosting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) ministerial conference in Hiroshima last April.

But if you look behind these worthy gestures, you will find a disturbing fact: Japan relies on nuclear weapons for its security, and has no plans to change this. Its calls for nuclear disarmament are at best disingenuous and manipulative, and at worst could be viewed as dishonest.

At the United Nations General Assembly in October 2013, Japan joined 124 other nations in a statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, affirming that "it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances." Yet in June, as Japan's ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva was proudly introducing the Youth Communicators initiative, his government colleagues were preparing to depart for the United States. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, they held a "bilateral Extended Deterrence Dialogue" with their U.S. colleagues, discussing "how to secure alliance deterrence as part of their security and defense cooperation" and visiting U.S. nuclear weapon facilities to "deepen understanding of the nuclear weapons systems that support U.S. extended deterrence guarantees." No mention was made of any disarmament aspect of these talks.

In other words, while Japan's government is busy promoting nuclear disarmament, it also appears to be working hard on the completely incompatible goal of ensuring it continues to benefit from the "protection" of U.S. nuclear weapons. Strangely, this stark contradiction attracts little attention, either in Japan or abroad.

As host of the NPDI ministerial meeting in Hiroshima in April, Japan joined the final statement which called on states "who have not done so to start reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies and military doctrines." Not only has Japan not announced plans to start any such reduction, its participation in the U.S. talks suggests it has no intention of even considering it. And although it is a prominent advocate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan has also apparently ignored the requirement of the Action Plan agreed by NPT members in 2010 to "pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons."

Security concerns cannot simply be dismissed; nobody would expect Japan to reverse decades of strategic policy overnight. But blithely pretending that there is no contradiction in its policy is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather than continuing to feature the hibakusha in hollow public relations exercises, Japan's government should begin a sincere national dialogue on practical steps that could be taken to reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons and allow it to join a global ban. This would be a far greater contribution to their total elimination.

(Richard Lennane is a former United Nations disarmament official and Australian diplomat.)




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