Sunday, March 5, 2017

NUCLEAR WEAPONS BAN TALKS: With Japan at the Table (Hopefully)

Ground Zero, Hiroshima --  . . . photo taken during
World Nuclear Victims Forum -- November, 2015

Ever since the vote last October on holding nuclear weapons ban negotiations, I have been particularly puzzled by Japan's vote against the resolution. I posed a general question -- who would possibly vote "NO" to banning nuclear weapons? -- and this question applied to no country more than it did to Japan.

I realize now that a "no" vote on resolution L.41 doesn't preclude participating in the negotiations themselves. And the more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense that Japan would vote "no" on the resolution, but will likely participate in the negotiations.

The country's failure to show up for the preparatory meeting for the nuclear
weapons ban negotiations raised eyebrows in Japan. (Source: FNN)

The US pressured its allies to vote "no" and boycott the negotiations. By voting "no" on the resolution, Japan respected the request of the US (without changing the outcome of the vote).

Japan has a unique position in the world vis-a-vis nuclear weapons. As I think about it, it feels very likely that the leaders of Japan would feel an obligation -- bound by honor, in fact -- to be present at the table.

When I looked closely at the statement by Japan following the vote, I saw several things that were consistent with this view.  The statement begins by asserting: "as the only country to have ever suffered atomic bombings, Japan has been devoted tireless efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons."

Second, it identified a fairly narrow rationale for its "no" vote: Japan "repeatedly pressed to have consensus-based decision making in the resolution, however it is regrettable that our basic position has not been reflected."

Third, it gave a nod to the US position: "we are concerned about the fact that this recommendation of the disarmament community would undermine the progress of effective nuclear disarmament."

Account (with illustration) by
survivor of Hiroshima bombing
Taken together, these elements -- Japan's unique position, its preference for consensus, its concern about undermining other efforts -- seem to me to point toward eventual participation in the negotiations themselves. The first issue is paramount. The second is not a deal-breaker. The third leaves maximum wiggle room -- especially as the failure of the nuclear weapons states to honor their NPT Article VI obligations is more and more openly talked about. ("Effective nuclear disarmament" is a coded phrase that has, in fact, become eviscerated.)

The statement by the Japan's foreign minister is suggestive: "Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida suggested willingness to participate, saying Japan should assert its stance towards 'a world without nuclear weapons.' But he said the decision will be made by the government." ("Japan remains cautious on UN nuclear ban talks")

See also: "136 Japanese legislators join global nuclear disarmament statement" and "EDITORIAL: Progress toward a nuclear-free world must keep moving forward."

Meanwhile, an important moment is coming up Saturday: the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The intensifying pressure on the government of Japan over its handling of nuclear issues can be expected to contribute to a feeling that Japan must be at the table for the UN nuclear weapons ban negotiations.

China has said it will participate in the talks. It would be difficult for Japan to justify allowing talks to go forward with China at the table while Japan, itself, sat on the sidelines.

In the last few days, there have been new flareups over North Korean missile tests. It's important to remember that this is part of an ongoing conflict involving the US, South Korea, and North Korea. Japan surely wants the problem to be resolved. That simply adds motivation for Japan to be at the table for the nuclear weapons ban negotiations (negotiations which North Korea voted in favor of, it should be remembered).

February, 2016 at Mar a Lago: Prime Minister Abe
experiences diplomacy, Donald Trump style
A wildcard in all this is what Prime Minister Abe thinks about Donald Trump. My best guess is that Abe (and his colleagues) are not reassured by the Trump record to date. This is a reason for Japan to explore every possible option to reach solutions jointly with all available counterparts.

Assuming Japan does participate in the negotiations, it has consequences for other countries who did not support the original resolution. How will it be possible for a country like Canada, or Germany, or France to refuse to participate if Japan is at the table? If Canada participates, it suddenly makes Australia's refusal to participate that much more conspicuous. If Germany participates . . . . And on and on . . . .

The nuclear weapons ban negotiations at the UN will be greatly enhanced by Japan's participation. I hope I'm right in believing Japan will be at the table.

UPDATE March 15, 2017: "Austrian foreign minister calls on Japan to join nuclear ban negotiations" - "Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has expressed hope that Japan will join negotiations later this month on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. . . . 'Japan, as the world’s sole atomic-bombed nation, has a moral voice and can give an invaluable opinion on the issue of nuclear disarmament,' Kurz said in a written interview ahead of the first round of negotiations that begin March 27 in New York."


Who would possibly vote "NO" to banning nuclear weapons???

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