The month of August in Japan is a time for collective reflection on the merits of “war and peace.” It was in August of 1945 that Japan suffered the unprecedented devastation of two atomic bombs dropped on its people, and finally surrendered, bringing an end to World War II. The entire nation goes into mourning as it commemorates these painful historic events in large gatherings, and renews the national pledge never to allow their repeat.
This August, I watched these solemn ceremonies from Washington, DC, via international television and internet. I also read the press reports and transcripts of official statements, much as I have done for the past few dozen years. As the contents of the “Peace Declarations” were read by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on their respective atomic bomb anniversaries, it was the call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons that caught my attention and prompted a sense of puzzlement. My unease intensified when I took the time to read thoroughly the full texts of the declarations.
These days in the American capital, discussion of the North Korean nuclear issue dominates the political and academic environment and the national news media literally day and night. One will hear, see, and read the statements of numerous public figures as they discuss the threat of North Korean nuclear armament, and propose measures to make that isolated nation abandon its nuclear weapon program.
North Korean nuclear weapons are now perceived as an imminent danger to the United States itself. Clearly, among all the issues related to nuclear weapons, the North Korean adventure is the most serious and pressing, not just to the US but also to the entire world. Any uncertainty about its preeminent status among international concerns was clarified when China and Russia joined the United Nations Security Council’s move this August to adopt tougher sanctions against North Korea.
Without question, Pyongyang’s nuclear development poses a grave threat to Japan, one that could shake the very foundations of its national security. With its lack of independent defense capabilities and its geographic proximity to North Korea, Japan faces a far graver and imminent nuclear threat than does the US. Yet, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anti-nuclear declarations make absolutely no mention of North Korea. That makes me very uncomfortable.
I will elaborate to avoid creating an opportunity for misunderstanding. I recognize that the annual ceremonies held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki aim primarily to mourn the victims of the atomic bombs. As a Japanese citizen, I have deep compassion for the victims and believe that the dropping of the bombs was inhumane and unnecessary. In fact, I publicly criticized the United States’ action from the humanitarian viewpoint on the CNN debate program Crossfire in 1994.
The debate panel included retired General Charles W. Sweeney, who had participated in the bombing missions against both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and John H. Sununu, a former chief of staff for President George H. W. Bush who strongly advocated the position that dropping the atomic bombs was necessary to shorten the war and thus reduce the casualties. Against the views expressed by the American representatives, I stressed the point that an imminent Japanese surrender was so obvious at the time that using the nuclear bombs could only be viewed as unnecessary and inhumane. Though this TV debate was more than 20 years ago, it remains vividly relevant today.
The anti-nuclear movement in Japan is naturally closely connected to the annual ceremonies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but unfortunately the movement has been used for political purposes by anti-government forces and pro-communist camps. I still strongly believe that we must respect the human sentiments of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were so cruelly affected by the ultimate deadly weapon. At the same time, I cannot help but notice that the denouncement of all nuclear weapons is accompanied by complete silence on the threat presented by the growing North Korean nuclear arsenal.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki declarations lash out against the Japanese government for not voting for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was signed by about 60% of United Nations member countries in July. Those statements make absolutely no sense when they call for the abolition of nuclear weapons while remaining silent on the nuclear development activities of a lawless, authoritarian state.
There is also a strong international consensus that mutual nuclear deterrence prevented actual warfare between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era and helped maintain peace. The newly adopted UN nuclear ban treaty does not face up to this reality and, as such, lack effectiveness.
The mayor of Nagasaki, in his statement, very specifically demands that the Japanese government abandon the protection provided under the “nuclear umbrella” of the US military’s extended nuclear deterrence. He uses the declaration to argue that Japan must wholeheartedly support the UN treaty by abandoning the same extended deterrence that provides its own national security.
Meanwhile, North Korea is showing no hesitation about threatening to mount a nuclear attack on Japan territory. The US nuclear umbrella, which is aimed at deterring such hostility and aggression, has never been needed more. What would happen to Japan’s self-defense and independence if Japan did as the Nagasaki mayor demands?
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided not to sign the nuclear ban treaty in favor of maintaining Japan’s national security, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun ran a critical story with no mention of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, using the headline “A-bomb survivor asks Abe, ‘What country’s leader are you?’” To such media, I must ask: “What country’s newspaper are you?”
Yoshihisa Komori is Sankei Shimbun’s Associate Correspondent in Washington, DC and a professor at Reitaku University. He is also a Special Advisor to JAPAN Forward. Mr. Komori began his career as a reporter with the Mainichi Shimbun and served as its Saigon bureau chief and Washington correpondent. Subsequently he joined the Sankei Shimbun, for which he served as bureau chief in London, Washington, and Beijing. He is a recipient of the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association Award, the Japan National Press Club Award for International Reporting, and the U.P.I. Vaughn Prize for International Reporting.
Mr. Komori is also the author of more than forty books. His past academic experience includes an affiliation with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a Senior Associate and Akita International University as a visiting professor.