By Rodney Reynolds
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – When the world’s major nuclear powers express their support for nuclear disarmament, their political rhetoric usually fails to match their actions – even as they continue to modernize their arsenals. Undeterred, the UN’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security (also known as the First Committee) traditionally adopts a cluster of over 15-20 resolutions every year – mostly on arms control and nuclear disarmament. [P40] CHINESE TEXT VERSION PDF | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | KOREAN TEXT VERSION PDF | NORWEGIAN
This year there was one significant exception: the U.S., Britain and France, three of the world’s major nuclear powers, opted to abstain on a resolution, spearheaded by Japan every year, on united action towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. All three countries voted in favour of the resolution last year, with U.S. and Britain as co-sponsors. But this year both countries were missing in action – much to the disappointment of Japan, a key Western ally.
The speculation at the UN is that the abstentions were triggered largely by the fact that the resolution included the term hibakushas, or survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago, underlying the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.
The resolution was adopted on November 2 by a vote of 156 to 3, with 17 abstentions.
The three negative votes came from Russia and China, the other two major nuclear powers, plus North Korea.
Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said: “I think this is shameful behavior on the part of the nuclear weapon states, if they cannot even support a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons because it mentions the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapon use.”
The horrendous effects of a nuclear explosion are well known, and the reluctance of the nuclear weapon states to countenance that reality can only mean that they have dealt so long with nuclear weapons in the abstract that any discussion of what these weapons do is unpalatable to them, he added.
“Military planners and diplomats must be constantly reminded by civil society and activists that what they are dealing with are instruments of mass murder,” said Dr Ramana, author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India and a former member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.
The U.S. abstention was also a surprise considering President Barack Obama’s call for a nuclear weapons-free world, in a historic speech he made in Prague in 2009.
Speaking from Nagasaki, where she has been attending meetings of Pugwash scientists and religious leaders, Dr Rebecca Johnson, a nuclear analyst on the steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said: "Japan is caught between a rock and a hard place.”
This result shows the perils of the Japanese government trying to bridge between incompatible positions, when what is necessary is a decision on where to stand and commit to nuclear disarmament, she noted.
Rock, stuck in the 20th century
The U.S. is at present a rock, stuck in the 20th century, with its continuing dependence on maintaining and modernizing nuclear arsenals. So Japan cannot please Washington unless it reduces its position to empty rhetoric, she added.
In this situation, said Dr Johnson, the Abe government should stand with the Hibakusha and the Japanese people, who are in the hard place of advocating the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.
“Seventy years after atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese people are tired of hearing their government try to bridge the difference between nuclear disarmament and nuclear modernization by uttering sentimental platitudes and relying on the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in Japan's name, which is what the nuclear alliance requires.”
Dr Johnson also said Japan can be commended for supporting resolutions raising concern about humanitarian consequences.
Now that Mexico's resolution for an Open-ended working group next year has been overwhelmingly adopted by the First Committee, Japan should engage constructively to "substantively address effective legal measures".
The Hibakusha and Japanese people will expect their government to stop pandering to the P5 (in the UN Security Council) who want to keep nuclear weapons, and to work for a legally binding instrument to prohibit the use, deployment and possession of nuclear weapons, and require their total elimination," declared Dr Johnson.
Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament, who writes on chemical and nuclear weapons-related issues and on U.S. foreign policy, said although Japan was the victim of two devastating U.S. atomic attacks at the end of World War II, subsequent conservative Japanese governments have, ironically enough, tried to benefit strategically from the American nuclear umbrella by playing down this issue.
In return for this, he said, the Washington has been only too willing to support bland Japanese resolutions paying lip service to nuclear disarmament in very general terms.
The decision of the U.S., the UK, and France to abstain from Japan's First Committee resolution can only be attributed to their disquiet with the growing wave of international impatience with their implacable opposition to anything that could even be interpreted as a tentative commitment to practical steps towards nuclear disarmament, said Rigg.
“Although Russia and China frequently allow the U.S. to take the flak for not supporting disarmament, on this occasion they came out of the closet and voted against the Japanese resolution.”
All nuclear possessors have the bomb, and are hell-bent on hanging on to it. The non-possessors can neither persuade nor force the possessors to disarm, said Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
He said President Obama’s Prague speech of April 2009 was over-hyped by international media and quietly ignored by the U.S. military/industrial establishment.
“The very same Obama collapsed like a pricked balloon, and is now increasing expenditure on upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal, to improve its strike capability.”
In the current run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he pointed out, not a single candidate has dared to advocate reduced military expenditure, let alone steps towards nuclear disarmament.
“The UN Conference on Disarmament and the UN First Committee have degenerated into graveyards where the hopes of the people of Japan, who are not represented by their own government, and of a war-weary world are buried beneath mountains of repetitive, redundant resolutions, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 November 2015]
Photo: UN First Committee