By Ramesh Jaura
Despite President Barack Obama’s call for a “world without nuclear weapons” during his ‘historic’ visit to Hiroshima, the city where the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, causing over 140,000 casualties, the United States is nowhere close to prohibiting nuclear weapons.
This was also underlined by ‘Leaders’ Declaration’ emerging from the two-day summit of the Group of Seven (G 7) major industrial nations that concluded on May 27 on Kashiko Island located in Ise-Shima area of Mie Prefecture in Japan.
The Summit’s host, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, chose the venue for its rich culture, beautiful scenery and close proximity to one of the country’s most honoured historical sites: the Ise Jingu, or the Grand Shrine, built nearly 2,000 years ago.
Leaders’ journey into a spiritual land surrounding Ise Jingu seems to have sparsely influenced G7 decisions: While the Group’s three nuclear powers – USA, France and Britain – and the non-nuclear Japan, Canada, Germany and Italy vowed that “non-proliferation and disarmament issues” are among their “top priorities”, the 32-page Declaration devoted only nine lines to the issue.
The G7’s three nuclear powers possess one-third of the world’s atomic arsenal, estimated at a total number of 15,350 atomic warheads. Notwithstanding a stockpile of 5,185 weapons of mass destruction at the command of the Three nuclear haves, the Seven declared: “We reaffirm our commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability.”
In this context, the ‘Leaders’ Declaration’ endorsed the G7 Foreign Ministers’ ‘Hiroshima Declaration’ on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation and the Statement of the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors’ Group on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.
The Hiroshima Declaration resulted from discussions at the April 10-11 meeting of Foreign Ministers in a city that along with Nagasaki suffered atomic bombings more than 70 years ago.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, explained that the rift between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states had grown deeper and that the prevailing conditions surrounding nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts had become increasingly severe.
Kishida therefore stressed the necessity at precisely such a point in time for the G7 to send a strong message from Hiroshima toward the realization of a world without nuclear weapons. Following discussions, the Ministers agreed to subsequently issue the Hiroshima Declaration.
For the first time ever, the G7 Foreign Ministers also visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, laid a wreath at the Cenotaph for the atomic bomb victims, and visited the Atomic Bomb Dome, coming into contact with the realities of atomic bombings.
President Barack Obama followed suit on May 27 visiting Hiroshima as the first sitting president of the U.S. “to honour the memory of all who were lost during World War Two”.
“Seventy-one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said. “The memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945 must never fail. Since that fateful day we have made choices that have given us hope. The United States and Japan forged not only an alliance but a friendship.”
While this gesture was appreciated by many, ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) said, Washington was embarking on a massive nuclear weapons modernization programme of $1 trillion – “ensuring that the the U.S. would be nuclear-armed for decades to come”, ICAN said.
In run-up to Obama’s Hiroshima visit, ICAN’s Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said: “Over the past seven years, the U.S. nuclear policy has been nothing but disappointing for those who believed that Obama could make real change on nuclear weapons – in particular its boycott of a promising new process to ban nuclear weapons.”
Obama’s call from Prague in 2009 to “put an end to the cold war thinking” and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and its allies’ security strategies has not been matched by action, she said. “All nuclear-armed states and states under the U.S. nuclear umbrella continue to rely heavily on nuclear weapons in their security strategies despite numerous commitments to disarm.”
In Hiroshima Obama was accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Abe, who is also facing harsh criticism at home for his “hypocritical stance” on nuclear weapons, calling for nuclear disarmament while continuing to rely on U.S. nuclear weapons and opposing progress on a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
ICAN added: The Obama administration has failed to engage with the growing movement of non-nuclear weapon states pushing for a prohibition of nuclear weapons, the so-called Humanitarian Pledge. The U.S. in fact boycotted a UN working group set up by the UN General Assembly to discuss new legal measures for nuclear disarmament.
For its part, Japan participated in the UN talks from May 2 to 13 in Geneva, only to oppose the start of a process to negotiate a ban, claiming reliance on nuclear weapons is necessary for its national security. However, despite the boycott by the U.S. and other nuclear-armed states, ICAN insisted, the majority of states in the world are ready to start negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
“Given their absence or negative participation in the UN talks in Geneva in May, their symbolic call for a nuclear-free world is ironical,” said Akira Kawasaki of Peace Boat. “If the two leaders are serious about nuclear disarmament, why don’t they join the global movement calling for a process to ban nuclear weapons?” he asked.
“A visit to Hiroshima is not enough. The real test to evaluate their commitment will be whether they will support a global process of negotiation for a new instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.”
Finh said: “After the Prague speech, Obama lost a chance to lead the world towards nuclear disarmament. Despite this first visit to Hiroshima by a U.S. president, leadership on this issue is instead emerging from the broad coalition of over 120 non-nuclear weapon states that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge.”
The Ise-Shima Declaration came two weeks after the second session of the United Nations Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) for nuclear disarmament in Geneva. While the Group’s two sessions – February 22-26 and May 2-13 – failed to agree on a draft plan, the final three-day session in August was slated to negotiate a final report with recommendations for the United Nations General Assembly.
ICAN played a decisive role galvanising the support of the civil society, including faith-based organizations. An interfaith joint statement issued on May 2 highlighted the moral and ethical imperatives for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The statement, endorsed by nearly 35 faith groups and individuals, was presented to OEWG Chair, Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi of Thailand on May 3.
Underlining the civil society’s key role, UNFOLD ZERO stated: “There is now strong momentum for the start in 2017 of multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament – something which has been blocked for nearly 20 years.”
UNFOLD ZERO partner organisations include Mayors for Peace, Peace Depot, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Basel Peace Office, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) and Middle Powers Initiative mobilized critical support.
The proposal was spelt out in the OEWG working paper 34 – Perspectives from nuclear weapon free zones by a group of countries that have already prohibited nuclear weapons in their regions through nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs). 115 countries are part of NWFZs covering Latin America, the South Pacific, Antarctica, South East Asia, Africa and Central Asia.