By Yoko Iwama*
This year will be a watershed year in the 21st century. Russia’s integration into the liberal international order has ended in disaster. China has stood by Russia since the invasion of Ukraine and their strategic and diplomatic coordination has increased. Russia and China performed joint patrols during US President Joe Biden’s Asia tour to signal their partnership. The Russia–Ukraine war has renewed calls for the G7 to help ensure peace and security amid an increasingly unstable environment.
At the G7 Summit in June 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasised the economic and social impact of the Ukraine crisis. Germany reacted strongly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pivoting its security policy. Germany pledged to commit 2 per cent of its GDP annually to defence and to spend €100 billion (US$101 billion) in 2022 to upgrade German armed forces. This upgrade includes 35 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets to replace the ageing Panavia Tornado jets. Germany renewed its commitment to the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangements.
The G7 Summit renewed the West’s commitment to supporting Ukraine, but concerns about energy and food prices were high on the agenda. For the German government, the biggest challenge they faced post-election was tackling climate change. The war in Ukraine has complicated the focus on climate change, but at the G7 Summit it was back on the top of the agenda.
After the Russia–Ukraine war begun, Russia has turned to direct energy blackmail against Germany. The German government has fallen back on coal and is under pressure to extend the exit from nuclear power which was planned for the end of 2022. The German government insists that the energy crisis reveals an urgent need for climate change action. It is increasingly important to push forward technological innovations that would lift countries out of fossil fuel dependency and in turn, Russia dependency.
The transition to clean energy involves decision-making about what place, if any, nuclear energy should have. There is now an urgent need for this debate because of the huge concerns over the Russian threat to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. The peaceful use of nuclear power should never be weaponised, but the safety of nuclear power plants needs to be improved to prevent disaster should conflict arise.
The next G7 Summit is being held in Hiroshima for the first time. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has chosen Hiroshima to show his commitment to nuclear disarmament and attended the opening of the 2022 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to reaffirm his dedication.
But the road towards nuclear disarmament has not been as distant as it is now since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s sabre-rattling of tactical nuclear weapons is an attack on the fundamental values that once sustained the global nuclear order. China is also challenging this order by committing itself to the ranks of the nuclear superpowers.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was struck between nuclear-weapon states who wanted to limit access to the military use of atomic power and non-nuclear-weapon states who wanted access to atomic energy technology for peaceful purposes.
But the threat to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants — evidenced by the battles for Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia — has renewed safety concerns. Nuclear power plants and spent fuels now need to be safeguarded during conflict. International institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency need to be strengthened to be able to work under conditions of war.
Although Germany refuses to accept nuclear power as their domestic energy source, it is not condemning its use elsewhere. Nuclear energy should have a place in the energy mix of the future and it should form part of the technology offers made to the developing world through the G7’s new Climate Club. But it needs to be safer. We live in a post-Fukushima and post-Ukraine world. Civilian nuclear technology must safe-guard against proliferation, accidents and conflicts.
Powers with nuclear weapons must be reminded of their obligations and responsibilities to reduce reliance on nuclear options. China is increasing its warhead inventory and constructing new nuclear missile silos, but that does not mean the rest of the world should follow. The Western defence front needs to reconstruct nuclear deterrence to involve a combination of conventional, nuclear and missile defence capabilities.
The G7 Hiroshima Summit is a chance to start new dialogues. The West needs to strengthen its security efforts. But this should be combined with an offer for nuclear disarmament and arms control. This could be achieved through a Global Second Track Proposal, where NATO and its four Indo-Pacific partners pledge to strengthen intermediate-range missile launchers, coupled with arms control talks with Russia and China. China is unlikely to respond to this for the foreseeable future, but it is worth remembering that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty became possible because of the second-track design of the initial NATO decision.
As the G7 arrives in Hiroshima in May 2023, it needs to convey a message of peace not just in terms of ‘never again’ but also in terms of a better future made possible through the combined efforts of the G7 and its partner democracies.
*About the author: Yoko Iwama is Professor of International Relations at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo.