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Kishida to call for nuke-free world in historic address at U.N. treaty conference

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets with Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (center, left) in Tokyo on Wednesday.

July 31, 2022

In a year in which nuclear disarmament hopes have been dented by not-so-subtle references by Russia to its own arsenal following its invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to make history as the first Japanese leader to address the United Nations’ nuclear nonproliferation treaty review conference, which begins in New York on Monday.

Kishida, who represents a district in Hiroshima, is expected to call for a world without nuclear weapons and for greater transparency among nuclear powers regarding their stockpiles and capabilities. His message will refer to Japan’s experience as the only country to have been attacked with an atomic bomb. The leader will also stress that all countries should neither use nuclear weapons nor threaten to use them.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Friday, the prime minister said it was important to link the treaty’s ideals with current geopolitical realities.

“The debate on nuclear disarmament is atrophying,” Kishida said, and he announced he would present a plan at the conference that would hopefully serve as a roadmap toward reaching a world without nuclear weapons.

The prime minister sees Japan’s role at the nearly monthlong conference, which will focus on keeping the buildup of nuclear weapons under control, as one of helping to bridge the differences between nuclear powers and nonnuclear states. Kishida is hoping to promote talks between China and the United States on nuclear disarmament and arms control. He’s also expected to call on the international community to work toward North Korea’s denuclearization.

In addition, Kishida will attend a side meeting of foreign ministers of 12 nonnuclear states that make up the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI).

Co-founded by Japan and nine other nations in September 2010, the NPDI works within the framework of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on steps to increase transparency efforts on nuclear disarmament.

But the last NPT review conference in 2015 ended in failure. And the establishment of a separate treaty banning nuclear weapons is supported by nonnuclear weapons states frustrated with the lack of progress at the NPT toward the disarmament goal. In that context, reaching a final agreement among the 191 NPDI member states will be a challenge.

Long-held objectives

The NPT entered into force in 1970 with the objective of preventing the buildup of nuclear weapons and related technology. It also supported the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and had the goal of eventually achieving complete disarmament. Treaty signatories include five declared nuclear weapons states — United States, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia — all of which are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates there were 12,705 nuclear warheads in existence worldwide as of January, of which about 9,440 were in military stockpiles available for potential use. An estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2,000 — nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the U.S. — were kept in a state of high operational alert. China had 350 warheads, Pakistan had 165 and India had 160.

India and Pakistan, which have declared their nuclear weapons programs, have not joined the NPT. Israel maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity on its nuclear weapons’ program and has not joined either, although it reportedly has 90 warheads. North Korea, believed to have at least 20 nuclear warheads, withdrew from the pact in 2003.

The tenth review conference is expected to consider a number of issues: universality of the Treaty; nuclear disarmament, including specific practical measures; nuclear non-proliferation, including the promoting and strengthening of safeguards; measures to advance the peaceful use of nuclear energy, safety and security; regional disarmament and non-proliferation.

NPT member states meet every five years, with this year’s conference having been postponed since 2020 due to the pandemic.

A shift in focus?

The 2015 conference failed to produce a substantial outcome due to differences over a proposal to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The U.S. criticized the Arab League over the lack of progress, while Egypt and Russia blamed the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.

Differences over a deadline for the process and individual requirements for reaching that goal sunk the deal, which would commit 27 Arab League members and observers, plus Iran and Israel, to ban nuclear weapons. Discussions on the issue may resume this year, but it’s likely that the Middle East will take a back seat amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We have to deal openly and honestly with threats to the treaty, in particular the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its reckless behaviors that impact each of the treaty’s central tenets. I have no doubt that Russia’s actions will affect the climate at the conference,” said Adam Scheinman, U.S. special representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, at a news conference on July 26.

Marianne Hanson, an international security and arms control expert at the University of Queensland, said that one way conference participants could deal with fears about nuclear warfare in Ukraine is to issue “no first use” statements. But she is pessimistic about that coming to fruition.

“Members should issue no first-use statements — China is the only one of the treaty’s nuclear weapons’ states to do so. It would be a concession that would please the nonnuclear weapons’ states. But former U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempt to issue a no first use statement was halted by Japanese and South Korean objections. I don’t expect we will see any more NFU statements at this conference,” she said. The two U.S. allies were concerned such a statement would lead to a weakening of the nuclear deterrence provided by the U.S.

Japanese lawmakers and citizens will also be watching to see how NPT members handle the Russia issue and the role the prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party will play at the conference.

“Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. It’s important to forge a path toward agreement (on the principle of no first use) after the joint statement is confirmed — an agreement that includes Russia,” Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, said at a news conference July 26. “I hope that Prime Minister Kishida will play a leading role in this process.”

‘Rival’ treaties

Another main issue the NPT conference will have to deal with is how to reach agreement in the context of the newer United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a separate agreement which went into force in January 2021.

Member states of the 2021 treaty have agreed to not develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The treaty prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and the provision of assistance to any state in the conduct of prohibited activities. Sixty-six states have ratified the treaty so far, while another 23 have signed but not ratified it. All, however, are nonnuclear states.

The nuclear power states all refused to join the prohibition treaty, calling it incompatible with the current security environment realities.

“As a final step on the long path to eventual nuclear disarmament, the world will need a verifiable, enforceable treaty, one that is consistent with security conditions in the world and helps generate the security necessary to prevent war,” Scheinman said. “That’s not how I would characterize the TPNW. We’ll either have an NPT-based system for reducing nuclear risks or we’ll have no treaty-based system at all,” he added.

Japan’s position on the TPNW is that, while it is an important step toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, it is weakened by the fact that no nuclear weapons state is a member. Given the current international situation and Japan’s reliance on the U.S. nuclear security umbrella, Tokyo believes a more realistic approach like the NPT, which includes nuclear weapons states, is still needed.

Hanson noted, however, that while nuclear weapons states have only derided the TPNW, the fact that members met in June for the first time since the treaty went into force might push them to tone down their remarks about it at the NPT review conference.

While none of the nuclear weapons states were at the June meeting, NATO allies Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as Australia, participated as observers.

“I suspect that the nuclear weapons states, especially the U.S., the U.K. and France, will acknowledge that the TPNW exists and that it is ‘useful,’ even though they’ll continue to prioritize the NPT. But at least that would be better than the previous hostile statements about it,” Hanson said.


August 4, 2022 - Posted by | Japan | , , ,

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