Nagasaki Mayor versus Chinese reporter over nuclear deterrence Is a world without nuclear weapons really possible?

By Kosuke Takahashi

By Kosuke Takahashi

Around this hot, humid summer season, people across Japan offer prayers for the war victims of World War II, including those who lost their lives by the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Peace memorial ceremonies held by the two cities on August 6 and 9, coupled with the national memorial service for all the war dead on August 15, have become a feature of summer in Japan every year.

With Japan continuing to send a message of peace to the world every summer, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe falls in a catch-22 situation: Although he has called for “a world free of nuclear weapons” repeatedly as the only country to have come under nuclear attack, he has so far flatly refused to sign and ratify a landmark United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) adopted in July 2017.

Abe vowed again to continue efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony held on August 6 this year. But he did not mention anything about the TPNW for the second straight year, much to the dismay of the hibakusha’s wish.

Abe just said, "We are determined to serve as a bridge between nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear-armed states, persistently urge dialogue by winning cooperation from both sides, and lead the efforts made by the global community."

He is very circumspect about the treaty apparently due to Japan’s reliance on U.S. nuclear deterrence, or the so-called American nuclear umbrella.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki mayors urge government to sign the treaty

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, have strongly called on the central government to sign the treaty.

“I call on the government of the only country to experience a nuclear weapon in war to accede to the hibakusha’s request that the TPNW be signed and ratified,” Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said in the 2019 Hiroshima Peace Declaration on August 6.

“I urge Japan’s leaders to manifest the pacifism of the Japanese Constitution by displaying leadership in taking the next step toward a world free from nuclear weapons,” the mayor added.

Still, one big question remains: Is a nuclear-weapon-free world feasible?

To think about this question, there was a very interesting, perfect argument between Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue and a China Daily reporter at the mayor’s press conference held at the city hall on July 17, where this writer also attended.

Here is the excerpt of their argument.

China Daily reporter: My first question is that Nagasaki City has been calling for nuclear weapon free world. I want to ask what the exact meaning of the nuclear free world is. Does this only mean no other countries will have nuclear weapons from now on? Or does this mean the countries that already have nuclear weapons have to give up their weapons and destroy them all? What is the meaning of this promotion?

Nagasaki Mayor: It clearly mean those nations which now possesses nuclear weapons give up all of those weapons. To pursue a world without nuclear weapons is the atomic-bombed Nagasaki’s stance

China Daily reporter: Do you think that's possible?

Nagasaki Mayor: Of course, I think it’s possible. As long as those countries have nuclear weapons, there is always a possibility that they will use it. This risk is not small at all. In this sense, there is no way but to abolish nuclear weapons in order to protect security.

China Daily reporter: But there are also people saying because of nuclear weapons that all these countries have, there has been no World War Ⅲ for more than 70 years. It’s because we avoid the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) during a nuclear war. That’s why we don’t have big wars. There are people saying that. How do you feel about that?

Nagasaki Mayor: That’s exactly the theory of nuclear deterrence. But in reality, there have been many perilous times when nuclear weapons might have been used. We have been just lucky. But just because we have been lucky so far, we cannot say that we will continue to be lucky. Nobody can guarantee it. Our goal of abolishing nuclear weapons has not changed in the least. It is very dangerous to believe such lucky streak will continue.

China Daily reporter: I can understand your point that as long as they have nuclear weapons, there is some possibility they are going to use it in the future. But as Mayor of Nagasaki, do you have any specific plan to persuade those countries to give up their nuclear weapons? Because I don't think it's possible. You have to have some specific plan. Or do you any suggestions how we are going to do to make these countries give up nuclear weapons?

Nagasaki Mayor: Mayors for Peace, a conference of about 7800 member cities worldwide, has advocated the 2020 Vision Campaign, which is an international campaign pushing for a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020. But realistically speaking, we cannot achieve this by next year, despite the fact that Secretary General of the United Nations has hailed it as a landmark.

In the first place, Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty requires nuclear-armed states to achieve nuclear disarmament faithfully. This treaty is a very unequal treaty. Why can nuclear-armed states keep possessing nukes while non-nuclear-weapon state cannot have? This treaty can be worked out on the condition that nuclear-armed states will surely promote nuclear disarmament. In this sense, nuclear-armed states should present any specific plans to realize a nuclear-free world at first. Nuclear-armed states have the primary responsibility to act for a nuclear-free world.

Risks of a nuclear catastrophe

The argument by Nagasaki Mayor Taue and the China Daily reporter was intriguing enough as it represents a long-standing famous debate between Ken Waltz and Scott Sagan in their noted book “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons.”

Waltz argues the fear of the spread of nuclear weapons is exaggerated and claims “More may be better” since new nuclear-armed states will use their weapons to deter other countries from attacking them. Meanwhile, Sagan argues the spread of nuclear weapons will make the world less stable and claims “More will be worse” since some new nuclear-armed states will engage in preventive wars, fail to build survivable forces, or have serious nuclear weapons accidents.

Nagasaki Mayor Taue specifically mentioned four risks of a nuclear catastrophe caused by such as terrorist attack, by accident or miscalculation, which a former Pentagon chief William Perry had cautioned about before. Perry has long emphasized the risks of a nuclear war is greater than it was during the cold war and keep rising.

Nagasaki City has also advocated that Japan should work toward the realization of a Northeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone. Under this concept, Japan and the two Koreas would establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone while China, Russia, and the U.S. would extend negative security assurances to the region’s non-nuclear states.

In any case, we need a solid feasibility of achieving a nuclear-free world without destroying worldwide stability and prosperity. So what is to be done? There seems no cut-and-dry practical answer to this question yet.

Statue in Memory of Schoolchildren and Teachers (Photo by Kosuke Takahashi)

© Kosuke Takahashi