In a reversal of its longstanding policy toward nuclear weapons, Japan, the only nation that has experienced the devastation of atomic bombings, will sign a joint statement by the United Nations calling for their abolition.
Japan had steadfastly abstained from voting since the United Nations began adopting resolutions in 1995 urging the start of negotiations toward concluding a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. It had maintained a position over the years that supporting such a call will conflict with the nation’s defense policy, which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
The Japanese government announced on Oct. 11 its intention to sign the joint statement expected from the U.N. General Assembly First Committee next week.
The statement, supported by Switzerland, New Zealand and 14 other countries, calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying they could create a catastrophe in terms of a humanitarian viewpoint, the sources said.
The policy reversal comes after Japanese government officials came under heavy fire for not signing a joint statement adopted in Geneva in April at the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
More than 70 countries, including Switzerland, endorsed the document.
Japan initially sought to find a way to back the statement, but gave up its effort.
The sticking point was the wording, which stated: “it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”
The Japanese government concluded that ruling out the use of nuclear weapons would run counter to its longtime national security policy.
But it has since reviewed its position after the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were devastated by atomic bombs near the end of World War II, as well as civic groups, blasted Japan’s refusal to sign.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the Foreign Ministry to work with relevant nations over the forthcoming joint statement.
“I want to explore the possibility of signing (a joint statement) concerning a similar theme,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga quoted Abe as saying.
Although the document effectively stated that nuclear weapons should not be used under any circumstances, sources said the Japanese government decided to sign it as it concluded the overall wording reflected consideration for Tokyo’s position.
A joint statement underscoring the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons was suggested for the first time at the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT last year.