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By Monzurul Huq*

TOKYO (IDN) - The mere fact that the two-day foreign ministerial meeting of the 12-nation coalition of non-nuclear states took place in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, gives the clue to its symbolic significance. Being the first city in the world to witness the horrors of atomic destruction, Hiroshima, from that very fateful day almost 70 years ago, remains at the forefront of global efforts to learn about the devastating impact weapons of mass destruction can cause and also serves as a reminder of the necessity of eliminating nuclear weapons. That symbolic gesture of holding the meeting in Hiroshima on April 11-12, 2014 received added value as the ministers listened to the stories of atomic bomb survivors before starting their formal discussion.

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) is a coalition of states that came into being in 2010 with the aim of leading the international efforts in nuclear disarmament. Composed of Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, the NPDI, through its regular meetings and declarations and statements, focuses on ways to accelerate the process of nuclear disarmament. The Hiroshima conference was the eighth NPDI meeting since the group was formed.

All of it sounds pretty good

Prior to the start of the Hiroshima conference, Fumio Kishida, the Japanese Foreign Minister, published an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal Asia where he stressed the importance of adopting a multilateral approach to nuclear disarmament and also outlined the priorities that the global community needs to work out for achieving the desired goal of a nuclear free world. He expressed concern over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and reiterated Japan’s commitment in tackling the Iranian nuclear issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister also did not fail to mention about the lessons his country had learned from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011. Since nuclear power generation is an issue linked closely to nuclear safety, Kishida pledged Japan’s continued support for countries that are building up their capacities in the field of nuclear security, and vowed to share the lessons learned from Fukushima nuclear accident.

The Hiroshima conference touched upon most of the issues that the Japanese foreign minister raised in his Wall Street Journal article and a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting outlined the priorities and actions that the global community needs to take for fostering further momentum for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. The statement underlined the need of extending forever the nearly 69 years record of non-use of nuclear weapons and encouraged all states to contribute actively and constructively to pursue practical and effective measures that will strengthen the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime based on NPT.

While condemning strongly North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs by mentioning that they “undermine NPT and the global non-proliferation regime as well as pose a great threat to regional and global peace and stability”, the statement also welcomed the start of the implementation in Iran of the first-steps under the Joint Plan of Action and expressed hope that the on-going negotiations with the country will lead to the final and comprehensive resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue. It further said that to remove international concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, Iran needs to implement swiftly and steadily measures such as the ratification, and implementation of its Additional Protocol.

The NPDI member states also recognized the importance of the role played by the civil society and underlined the need to enhance disarmament and non-proliferation education. The joint statement welcomed the opportunity to engage with civil society, including NGOs, students, academics and the media.

The loopholes

However, the International Campaign to abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which is a coalition of NGOs and civil society organizations advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons, expressed disappointment with the outcome of Hiroshima meeting. In a statement issued immediately after the ministerial meeting, ICAN pointed out that “the foreign ministers were unable to agree that the world needs to close the legal loopholes on weapons of mass destruction, and outlaw nuclear weapons.”

ICAN is strongly in favor of starting a negotiation process that would lead to a framework for a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons and the organisation feels that an absence of any binding prohibition would not bring any tangible outcome. The anti-nuclear group suggests that a legal prohibition “would fulfill and strengthen the NPT and create conditions for disarmament by establishing a clear room against possession of nuclear weapons; challenge the assertion that nuclear weapons provide security; and provide a strong moral incentive for nuclear possessor States to eliminate their arsenals; and reinforce non-proliferation efforts worldwide.”

The group has also pointed out a few conflicting positions on nuclear issues being pursued by the 12 NPDI states. As seven of the twelve NPDI governments rely on nuclear weapons in their security strategies, ICAN feels that they bear a particular responsibility in removing the threat to the world posed by nuclear weapons. A more convincing step taken by those governments would rationally be the one that would first address the conflicting position by revising their security strategies to bring them in line with the NPDI’s declared position on nuclear weapons.

Moreover, Japan and Australia, the two leading countries of the NPDI, are also taking a number of steps that run contrary to what NPDI policy statements are calling for. Japan now looks set for continuing the process that would result in accumulating large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium; and Australia sells uranium, the raw material for nuclear weapons, to all the NPT nuclear weapons states.

Which way to go now?

Despite such criticisms and drawbacks; discussions that had taken place at the Hiroshima meeting clearly point out the significance of such initiatives at a time when the community of nations is getting ready for the next round of NPT Review Conference in 2015. As the Hiroshima joint statement rightfully mentions that with the 2015 NPT Review Conference fast approaching, it is necessary that all the state parties fully comply with the obligations and commitments, particularly with the full and prompt implementation of all the actions in the 2010 Action Plan. It should be noted that the nuclear-weapons states made an unequivocal undertaking in the 2000 NPT Review Conference to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, a pledge that was reconfirmed at the 2010 conference. However, the world has moved no further in achieving that long cherished desire of the majority of human being.

“Declarations and statements being issued periodically by the NPDI concerning the pace of NPT negotiations and the need to move swiftly on non-proliferation and disarmament reminds us not only of the necessity of taking steps towards the right direction, but also warns us of the serious consequences the global community might face in case we fail to take timely action,” noted an informed observer.

“So, to end with, we can once again go back to what the Japanese foreign minister said in his Wall Street Journal article, which is: ‘increased cooperation, transparency, rule of law and other cornerstones of 21st century diplomacy led global stockpiles (of nuclear weapons) to fall around 17,000 (from the Cold War era height of 70,000). While this is a significant decrease, our progress must not stop there’.”

*Monzurul Huq is a Bangladesh journalist, who has authored three books in Bengali on Japan and other subjects. He moved to Japan in 1994 after working at the United Nations Information Center in Dhaka and BBC World Service in London. He represents two leading national dailies of Bangladesh – Prothom Alo and the Daily Star – and contributes regularly to a number of other important publications in Bangladesh. He has written extensively both in English and Bengali on matters related to Japan and East Asia. He is also a visiting professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Yokohama National University and Keisen University, teaching subjects related to Japanese politics, Japanese media, the developing world and world affairs. He also works as a radio broadcaster for NHK. A member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan since 2000, he has served at the Board of Directors of the Club for two consecutive terms before being elected president of the Club. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 17, 2014]

Top left picture: Hiroshima lanterns | Credit: ICAN

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