Can Japan change? New government, civil society and the region

Can Japan change? New government, civil society and the region

Akira Kawasaki: Thank you. Thank you, Richard, and thank you to the organizers for this opportunity. In the morning session, it was pointed out that Japan has a very self-contradictory status, in terms of its nuclear policy, and also in this session already, Jimbo-san made a remark about the dual-structured situation of Japan’s nuclear policy.

Yes, it is true that Japan is calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, but on the other hand, it heavily depends on the US nuclear weapons, or so-called nuclear umbrella, in its security policy. So, in the series of the discussions sponsored by the Nautilus Institute, we’ll be discussing about the issue of extended nuclear deterrence, academic terminology to express the nuclear umbrella. This serious contradiction should be carefully reexamined by the civil society, both Japan and Australia, because the two countries have the same problem.

Actually, these two countries have two serious problems in nuclear policy. One is that our security is heavily dependent on the US nuclear weapons. The second is that Australia is exporting uranium, which means it can fuel production of nuclear weapons, or nuclear proliferation, in the world. And Japan is producing plutonium, and is planning to start to operate the major scale plutonium production facility in the northern part of Japan, which means the very back end of the nuclear fuel cycle is a very Japan-connected big problem.

So now we see that President Obama and the new US Administration is gearing up to pose disarmament, this problem is getting clearer than ever. Actually, in many occasions at the international negotiations, increasingly the Japanese government is trying to slow down the pace of disarmament, saying that we need nuclear deterrence for Japan’s security, pointing out the North Korean threat and the Chinese threat. That is very sad to see our country constituted as an obstacle to the whole of the global disarmament process.

When Japan emphasizes the utility of nuclear weapons in Japan’s security, at the same time it is giving the excuse for our neighbors to have nuclear weapons, or to increase nuclear weapons. North Korea can see, and can point out Japan claiming for nuclear utility, and they claim we have the right to self-defense, and we are surrounded by the heavy nuclear and military threat of the US-Japan alliance. Why can’t we stop going nuclear? That’s the logic, very clear logic of North Korea.

The same thing can apply to China. The people in the leadership are increasingly worrying about Chinese modernization, the increase of nuclear and military power. But, it is partly because of the increase of nuclear readiness or military power on the side of the US-Japan military alliance.

So the point is, how can we reverse this vicious cycle? There is a cycle of nuclear proliferation and arms race in East Asia. So, how we can create another cycle of peace and disarmament, that is the question.

When people talk about the nuclear umbrella, sometimes it is pointed out the nuclear umbrella has a utility in preventing nuclear proliferation. But I would like to emphasize the very central element in reasons why Japan has not developed nuclear weapons to date, is not that the US nuclear umbrella capped any Japanese nuclear aspiration, but that the Japanese people’s conviction was strong enough that the tragedy and devastation of the nuclear catastrophe must not be repeated anywhere in the world, never. This conviction is very widely, overwhelmingly, shared among Japanese civil society.

So, the question is, how can we bring life into this belief, you know? And Japan has created so many tools and mechanisms after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the post-war Japan, we established various legal frameworks not to repeat that tragedy. One is that Japan adopted, right after the war, a peace constitution, including the Article Nine at its center, and renounced war as a means to settle international disputes forever, and also it prohibited Japan to maintain any war potential, any capability to wage war.

And also, Japan has maintained known nuclear free principles, and also Japan very uniquely adopted principles to prohibit arms export in principle. So, I think it is a time now to reactivate these mechanisms for Japan’s security policy, and also those mechanisms should be shared by the people in Asia, and also globally.

So now, as you know, after the lower house elections last month, the new government took power just last week. This new government is composed of three parties: Democratic Party in the center, the Social Democrats, and also the New People’s Party joined the coalition. Early this month, the three parties had a meeting and formed an agreed policy for various issues.

For the foreign and security policy part, that agreed document wrote like this on the nuclear issue: Japan would take a leading role in the international community in nuclear disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons, including through efforts for early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), early realization of a fissile material treaty, and playing an important role at the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference.

Now the new government formally sets nuclear disarmament as one of its top agenda. It’s a very encouraging sign. And also, the newly appointed foreign minister, Mr. Katsuya Okada, publicly announced that he has a strong belief that Japan should take no first use policy of nuclear weapons. Although it is not yet fully formulated as Japanese government official policy, after his appointment, he declared that its his own belief to do so. So, now I believe the new foreign minister is having a discussion with the Foreign Ministry bureaucrats on that point, because no first use becomes a very important first step towards disarmament.

But at the same time, we cannot be too optimistic on that. So it is high time for the civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to inject energies and ideas and create momentum for the new government to advance the real nuclear disarmament policy. And already, dozens of Japanese NGOs formed a network in order to influence the international commission held by the Australian and Japanese governments. And we are having a dialogue–maybe it works–and also discussions with policy makers.

And also the Hibakusha organization, the atomic bombing sufferer’s organization, is intensifying its effort to talk to the two policy makers and the people in the world, to share their own testimonies, and to let the people know about the reality of nuclear weapon effects.

My organization, Peace Boat, also worked with the Hibakushas’ organizations by having a hundred Hibakushas to go around the world, including this country, Australia. By doing so, we are promoting awareness of the horrible effects of nuclear weapons. Also, many proposals like the nuclear weapons free zone idea, which Michael mentioned earlier.

The wider peace movement is also gaining momentum, because if we really seriously talk about the reduction of nuclear weapons’ roles in our security, then we have to seriously think of how to replace that. What is the alternative to that nuclear hegemony? Maybe some military experts or realists would argue, “Hey, we can increase conventional weapons capability to replace nuclear weapons’ deterrent function.” It could work as short-term, but fundamentally, we have to think of a more lasting, sustainable way of peace making in the Asia-Pacific region.

So now Peace Boat and many other groups are calling to universalize the idea of Article Nine of the Japanese constitution. Actually we held a major international conference, where 30,000 people got together from more than 40 countries in Tokyo, in the name of the Global Article Nine Conference to Abolish War. The idea is that we have to aim at no-nuclear security, and also less military dependent security, to be lasting. So, in Northeast Asia, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Mongolians, many, many civil society organizations, are united working together to diminish the nuclear hegemony which prevails in the Asia-Pacific, and offer a peaceful mechanism based on dialogue and confidence and cooperation of the peoples.

So I’d like to invite all of you, their Australian friends here, to join our efforts. Thank you very much.

About Kawasaki Akira

Kawasaki Akira is the Japanese NGO advisor to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

He presented this speech at a public forum on nuclear disarmament, Who Will Stop Nuclear Next Use? The forum was organized by the Nautilus Institute at RMIT. It was held on Sunday 20 September 2009 at RMIT Storey Hall.