75 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where do we stand on the question of nuclear weapons?
Every year in August, Hiroshima Day is observed across the world in memory of those who lost their lives due to the atomic bombing on Hiroshima. After a moment of silence exactly at 8:15am on August 6, 2020, the time of the bombing, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged the international community to unite against serious threats to humanity, be it nuclear, or pandemics like Covid-19.
The same expectation was resonated in the voice of Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of the city Nagasaki on August 9 during the observance of Nagasaki Day.
On August 6, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his cautious speech, pledged to gradually work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons for the realization of a world free of them.
Seventy-five years ago on August 6, 1945, the world witnessed the catastrophe of the first-ever atomic bombing on humanity. Now, post-WWII Japanese PM Shigeru Yoshida established the basic parameters of Japan’s foreign policy and its international role popularly known as the “Yoshida Doctrine.”
Yoshida adopted a basic strategic deal with the US to negotiate the peace settlement and agreed to sign a bilateral security pact. He instructed Japan to concentrate all its efforts on economic reconstruction and maintaining a minimal defense policy and relying on the US for its national security under the Japanese-US Security Treaty, 1952.
The post-war miracle
The “Yoshida guidelines” helped Japan’s economy recover soon, and the country evolved into an industrial and technological powerhouse within the shortest possible time which is popularly dubbed as “Japan’s post-war economic miracle.”
Japan’s post-war constitution came into force in 1947. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution provides that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
For that purpose, “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” This has labelled the Japanese constitution as a “peace constitution.” Throughout the post-war years, Japan limited its defense budget to less than 1% of its gross national product and adhered to a strictly protective defense posture.
Nonetheless, in the post-Cold War era, Japanese policy-makers began to realize that unprecedented domestic economic success and mere monetary contribution to international crises were not sufficient for widespread global recognition.
Japan began to face new security challenges in its own neighbourhood which persuaded Japan to perform pro-actively towards regional as well as international peace and security. To this end, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in July 2014, put forward a proposal to reinterpret Article 9 with an aim to allow the Japanese forces to exercise the right to collective self-defense including, for the first time, the right to defend allies if they are under attack.
Finally, in September 2015, the Japanese National Diet approved the “Legislation for Peace and Security” enabling Japan to respond seamlessly to any situation and to contribute even more to the peace and stability of the international community.
Japan has long been making significant contributions to international peace and security by participating in the United Nations (UN) Peace Keeping Operations (PKO).
Japan can now participate actively in a broader range of peace activities including protecting the local population in specific circumstances, protecting individuals related to operations in response to an urgent request, and dealing with tasks at mission headquarters.
Japan also can carry out cooperation and support activities including supply and transportation, search and rescue activities, and ship inspection operations under certain conditions in situations that threaten the peace and security of the international community.
More importantly, Japan can carry out the “use of force” as a measure of self-defense to ensure its own survival and to protect its people.
According to the new law, Japan also can carry out expanded logistics-support activities including ammunition, lodging, storage, use of facilities, training services, etc, for the armed forces of the US and other foreign countries which engage in activities contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the UN Charter.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan’s immediate security threat comes from North Korea, the impoverished nuclear power. Its endless provocations raise grave security concerns for Japan.
Since August 2017, North Korea’s repeated launch of missiles over Japanese territory not only threatens the territorial sovereignty, it also raises serious security alarms among the Japanese people reminding them of their missile defense vulnerabilities.
How should Japan respond to the rapidly advancing nuclear program of North Korea? Japan can increase its own defense capabilities to assure its people about the defense preparedness of the nation.
In doing so, Japan needs to reassure its neighbours that strengthening its defense capabilities does not aim to instigate an arms race in the region, but for its self-defense. Japan also can engage its own diplomatic resources to resume the “six-party talks” to bring North Korea to the discussion table.
Both Japan and its key security ally the US should realize that only sanctions and military threats cannot prevent the reclusive nation’s nuclear program. Experience shows that UN sanctions since 2006 have proved to be less effective in the north.
Another option for Japan would be to resume direct dialogue with North Korea. As a compatible successor of former PM Junichiro Koizumi, present Japanese PM Shinzo Abe may follow the landmark efforts of Koizumi or appoint a special envoy to initiate direct talks.
As the only country in the world to have experienced nuclear devastation, Japan has long been maintaining the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” of “not possessing, not producing, and not permitting” the introduction of nuclear weapons strictly to address any sort of security threat at home or abroad.
Should Japan sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a million-dollar question at this moment. We earnestly hope that 75 years since the last atomic bombing, let Nagasaki be the last place on Earth to suffer such catastrophe.
SM Ali Reza is a Professor of Political Science, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and has a PhD from Japan. He can be reached at [email protected]