G7 Leaders Falter Over Nuclear Disarmament In Hiroshima – OpEd

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When leaders of the Group of 7 (G7) countries met in Hiroshima May 19-21, one of the issues on the agenda was nuclear disarmament.

The venue of the summit was symbolically stark because the US atomic bombings in 1945 killed over 226,000 people in the twin Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the heaviest toll in Hiroshima.

But the seven leaders—from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the European Union (EU)—failed to produce anything singularly significant towards “a world without nuclear weapons”.

The failure was even more disappointing because three of the G7 countries—France, UK and US—are not only major nuclear powers (along with Russia and China) but also permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Asked at a press briefing in Hiroshima May 21, about the G7 “Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament”, which implicitly justified nuclear weapons for defensive purposes, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Well, I’m not a commentator of documents. (But) I think it’s important to say what I believe should be done. I don’t think we can give up on our main objective, which is to have a world free of nuclear weapons.”

“And one thing that disturbs me is that disarmament that was moving forward quite positively during the last decades of the 20th century has completely stopped. And we are even seeing a new race to armaments,” he noted.

“I think it is absolutely essential to re-introduce disarmament discussions about nuclear weapons, and I think it is (also) absolutely necessary that countries that own nuclear weapons commit not to do the first use of those weapons—and I would say commit not to use them in any circumstance.”

“And so, I think we need to be ambitious in relation to the capacity of one day, I hope still in my lifetime, to see this world without nuclear weapons,” Guterres declared.

In a statement released May 19, G7 leaders laid out their “Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament”. Excerpts:

“We, the Leaders of the G7, met at a historical juncture in Hiroshima, which together with Nagasaki offers a reminder of the unprecedented devastation and immense human suffering the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced as a result of the atomic bombings of 1945. In a solemn and reflective moment, we reaffirm, in this first G7 Leaders’ document with a particular focus on nuclear disarmament, our commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.”

“We underscore the importance of the 77-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, undermining of arms control regimes, and stated intent to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are dangerous and unacceptable. We recall the statement in Bali of all G20 leaders, including Russia.”

“In this context, we reiterate our position that threats by Russia of nuclear weapon use, let alone any use of nuclear weapons by Russia, in the context of its aggression against Ukraine are inadmissible.”

“We recall the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States issued on January 3, 2022, on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races, and affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“We call on Russia to recommit—in words and deeds—to the principles enshrined in that Statement. Our security policies are based on the understanding that nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war and coercion.”

[Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/05/19/g7-leaders-hiroshima-vision-on-nuclear-disarmament/]

Alice Slater, Board Member, World Beyond War, posed the question: “Was the G7 Vision on Nuclear Disarmament blind arrogance? “

She told IDN that in the shadows of the bombing of Hiroshima, nuclear-armed and nuclear “umbrella” states, relying on the US to use its nuclear weapons on their behalf, met at the Hiroshima Memorial Park, heard the painful testimony of the Hibakusha, survivors of that catastrophic day, August 6, 1945.

“And they delivered the most tone-deaf remarks, hypocritically espousing the awful nature of nuclear weapons and how Russia was endangering the whole planet with its nuclear threats, tossing in North Korea as well, and calling merely for transparency going forward, as if by merely revealing our terrifying arsenals and activities related to rebuilding, refurbishing redesigning and testing would prevent a nuclear cataclysm.”

While condemning Russia’s decision to “undermine the New START Treaty”, not one word was uttered about how the US walked out of the ABM Treaty with Russia as well as the INF Treaty, and has not returned to the nuclear deal that (former US President Barack) Obama negotiated with Iran, Slater pointed out. 

She said the US also rejected requests, many times, from Russia and China, it’s latest target for war, to negotiate treaties to ban weapons in space and cyberwar, which would have created the conditions for “strategic stability” called for by Russia to negotiate for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

“US allies in nuclear crime, include five NATO countries with US nuclear bombs on their territory—Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Turkey—and Japan of all nations, ironically, under its nuclear umbrella which is abandoning its Peace Constitution under US pressure and will become a NATO affiliate instead of urging that all the G7 nations join the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which they have all boycotted and rejected,” she said. 

“The US leads the way in dishonoring its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation for “good faith efforts” for nuclear disarmament and has never acted in “good faith”. From the time Truman rejected Stalin’s plea to put the bomb under the UN’s control, newly established to end the scourge of war—its first resolution for nuclear disarmament—to Obama’s commitment to a trillion-dollar program over 30 years for two new bomb factories, warheads, missiles, planes and submarines to deliver them, the US has been the leading nuclear offender and proliferator.”

The latest hypocritical language messaging in a pretense of trying to eliminate nuclear weapons is taking “steps”. “We have been taking endless steps to nowhere under the rubric of “arms control”, she noted.

The G7 meeting was just another futile step to nowhere and resembles M. C. Escher’s drawing, Ascending and Descending, where grim men march endlessly up and down a staircase in circles and never arrive at the top, said Slater. [https://www.sartle.com/artwork/ascending-and-descending-m.-c.-escher]

Daniel Högsta, interim Executive Director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said: “This is more than a missed moment. With the world facing the stark risk nuclear weapons could be used for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, this is a gross failure of global leadership.”

“Simply pointing fingers at Russia, China and North Korea is insufficient. We need the G7 countries, which all either possess, host or endorse the use of nuclear weapons, to step up and engage the other nuclear powers in disarmament talks if we are to reach their professed goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” he declared.

In a press release from Hiroshima May 19, the 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate ICAN said leaders of the G7 have failed to come up with any concrete proposals that would take forward their stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

With the danger of nuclear conflict at its highest level since the Cold War due to Russia’s and North Korea’s threatening nuclear rhetoric, Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, chose to host the summit in the first city ever to be attacked with a nuclear weapon in order to put nuclear disarmament high on the agenda.

The leaders started the day with a visit to Hiroshima peace memorial park and museum where they met a survivor of the atomic bombing in 1945. ICAN welcomes this meeting, but the leaders appear not to have listened to what the survivors, whose average age is now nearly 85, want —real progress towards the elimination of nuclear weapons in their lifetimes.

“What we got in the leaders’ statement today fails to present a credible alternative vision involving new steps to actual disarmament,” ICAN said.

The G7 leaders urged all states “to take their responsibilities seriously” but they are evading their own responsibility for the current threat nuclear weapons pose to everyone, said ICAN.

“They say nuclear weapons should only serve “defensive purposes”, but these weapons are indiscriminate and disproportionate, designed as they are to kill and injure on a massive scale, so under international humanitarian law cannot be used for defensive purposes”.

The three nuclear-armed states in the G7, ICAN said, are spending billions on modernizing their nuclear capabilities. Today’s statement calls on all nuclear-armed states to release data on their arsenals and continue to reduce their size, yet not all G7 countries are transparent about the number of weapons they have, or that they host them on their territory, while some of them are increasing their stockpiles.

The G7 praises Prime Minister Kishida’s “Hiroshima Action Plan”, but this is a rehash of old non-proliferation measures that don’t reflect the urgency of the moment and don’t go nearly far enough.

“What’s required from the G7 to meet the security challenges the world is facing is a concrete, actionable plan to engage all nuclear-armed states in disarmament talks under the international legal framework established by the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” ICAN declared.

Akira Kawasaki of Peace Boat, an ICAN partner, said: “Japanese citizens and particularly the survivors of the atomic bomb attacks have been let down by Prime Minister Kishida – by hosting the summit in Hiroshima he raised expectations, but has not delivered any substantive progress on getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

Footnotes from ICAN:

  1. All the G7 states have nuclear weapons in their security policies, either as nuclear-armed states (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) or as host (Germany and Italy) or umbrella (Canada and Japan) states.
  2. Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, represents a district of Hiroshima and some of his relatives were killed when the United States used an atomic bomb to attack the city in 1945. He decided to host this year’s G7 summit in Hiroshima and to put nuclear disarmament and proliferation on the leaders’ agenda due to the growing risk that nuclear weapons could be used for the first time since 1945 that has followed Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s continued testing of short and long range nuclear-capable missiles.
  3. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) currently has 92 signatories and 68 states parties.
  4. Article VI of the NPT commits all states parties, which include all G7 countries, to pursue nuclear disarmament: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen, author of the book “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” is Editor-at-Large at the Berlin-based IDN, an ex-UN staffer and a former member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he shared the gold medal twice (2012-2013) for excellence in UN reporting awarded by the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).

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