Opinion: Japan's Betrayal Of The Hibakusha

OPINION: Japan's betrayal of the hibakusha

One hundred and twenty-two nations voted on July 7 to adopt the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons -- a historic agreement to outlaw, for all time, the very worst weapons of mass destruction. Regrettably, Japan was not among them. It has so far refused to support this crucial new treaty.

Its stance is a betrayal of the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- the hibakusha -- whose suffering the treaty acknowledges in its preamble. For decades, they have warned of the horrors of nuclear war and appealed for disarmament. The government, shamefully, has ignored their pleas.

Its attitude toward nuclear weapons has long been conflicted. But the negotiation of this treaty has thrown the contradictions and shortcomings of its position into sharp relief, causing great consternation for Japanese leaders, who would rather be viewed as disarmament advocates.

In truth, the government's commitment to disarmament is merely rhetorical. Its many initiatives aimed at advancing this cause have been shallow and fruitless, their primary purpose to distract attention from, and mask, the government's enduring belief in the fundamental legitimacy of nuclear weapons.

Despite the widespread and long-term humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons, Japan still insists that, in certain circumstances, such use might be justified. It is on this basis -- and this basis alone -- that the government shunned the recent treaty negotiations.

Of course, it would prefer not to admit as much. It would like the public to believe that the treaty is simply not a "realistic" measure for achieving disarmament, given that nuclear-armed nations oppose it. The government paints itself as a sensible "bridge-builder" between those nations and supporters of the ban.

But Japan is not a bridge-builder, as it has lost all credibility in disarmament diplomacy. By rejecting this treaty, Japan has sided with the small group of nations that recklessly cling to these abhorrent, immoral weapons. It has revealed itself as a significant part of the problem that we face as a global community.

If we are to succeed in eliminating nuclear weapons, nations must first accept that these are illegitimate and illegal weapons. They can demonstrate this by joining the new treaty. Any nation that refuses to do so is ignoring the dire warnings of the hibakusha and discounting their suffering.

(Tim Wright is Asia Pacific director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.)