Monday, August 7, 2017

Japan: trying to build bridges between nuclear and non-nuclear powers

 A global treaty to ban nuclear bombs was endorsed by 122 countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday July 7 after months of talks in the face of strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies. Only the Netherlands, which took part in the discussion, despite having US nuclear weapons on its territory, voted against the treaty.
All of the countries that bear nuclear arms and many others that either come under their protection or host weapons on their soil boycotted the negotiations. The most vocal critic of the discussions, the US, pointed to the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme as one reason to retain its nuclear capability. The UK did not attend the talks despite government claims to support multilateral disarmament.  (from The Guardian)

72 years after the devastating bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in thousands of deaths and even more long-term health defects, Japan is not one of those signatories, preferring to walk a middle road between nuclear powers and non-nuclear, while holding firm to its commitment not to develop nuclear weapons itself.

This highly nuanced position evokes some disappointment from victims’ families of those singular acts. Naturally, they want their country to take a leading position in any initiative to ban nuclear weapons. However, there is a reasoned argument for the government’ position, especially given the current conditions in south-east Asia, especially on the Korean peninsula.

The even more recent unanimous decision by the Security Council to impose rather severe sanctions on North Korea, in a determined attempt to halt that country’s persistent determination to continue to test ICBM’s and to continue their march to equipping those missiles with nuclear warheads, capable of reaching North America.
While the volume of the news chatter about the North Korean threat comes from two sides of an apparent echo chamber, the U.S. and Peyonyang, Canada, for anyone caring to notice, is in the direct line of fire of any missile strike from North Korea to any U.S. city. This small detail has been almost completely absent from news coverage of the nuclear threat on Canadian airwaves.

And while any self-respecting thoughtful person would support the spirit of banning nuclear weapons, just as biological weapons were banned in 1945, there are and likely always will be those rogue leaders and states, like North Korea, and perhaps Iran, who continue to flaunt the ban, undermining what presents as “global opinion”. It is “global opinion” that is reported to be confronting Peyongang at the conference of Asian countries, including the United States, this week in the Philippines. Whether the weight of the shared view of some 26 countries, and the weight of the Security Council’s unanimous decision on sanctions taken together will influence Kim Jung Un’s stubborn determination to continue his and his country’s march to real and effective nuclear weapons status remains an open question.

Naturally the world seems to be ‘holding its collective breath’ given the combined cacophony of loud noises coming from both Washington and Kim Jung Un, given the unpredictability of both the American and North Korean leaders. Japan, along with South Korea, would be inevitably and deeply impacted should all-out military action begin between the U.S. and North Korea break out. So, trying to walk a fine line, a potentially and idealistically bridge-building and sustaining stance, could provide the kind of balanced, reasoned, moderate and highly mature voice at a table of potential bully wannabees.

Some Japanese, however, worry that the memory, and thereby the historic impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seems to be waning and giving way to more bellicose geopolitical shouting by intransigent enemies. And there is an obvious and disturbing similarity to the verbal and missile-testing rhetoric coming from Washington and Peyongang, respectively.

Both Kim Jung Un and trump seem to have a Manichean, immoveable and ultimately unsustainable fossil-like position that posits two “prize-fighters” posed to out-duel each other, first in diplomatic and ultimately, if needed, in military terms. Only through a reasoned walking back by both parties, a process that neither leader seems to welcome and certainly not embrace, can a de-escalation occur. The fact that both Russia and China voted for the Security Council sanctions is a welcome piece of evidence for all observers of the melodrama that has been projecting missile testing by both Peyongang and Washington. (No one even moderately engaged in geopolitical developments has missed the increased military “exercises” by both NATO and Russia in Europe that provide another potential theatre for accidental or strategic engagement.)

Voices like Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, and one hopes’ Macron from France, Merkel in Germany, and even China’s Xi Jinping are needed to defuse the Korean enigma. For, although Secretary of State Tillerson has been sounding reasonable at this conference, in the back of everyone’s mind (both at the conference and around the world) looms the egomaniacal, neurotic, power-hungry, unpredictable, opportunistic chief executive in the Washington.

Reining in those like Kim Jung Un and trump, not to mention Putin and some of the far right voices like those in Poland, is a task made more complicated by the pursuit and acquisition of nuclear weapons. “Nuclear states” have already amassed more than enough lethal power to devastate millions and leave imponderable death and suffering and  waste in their path. And whether the kind of nuanced, almost imperceptibly confident and deeply and profoundly steeped in the harsh experience voice of Japan will be heard in the many discussion and debate rooms is an open question. The ravages of those two nuclear bombs, the first, ironically dubbed ‘Little Boy’* and the second, “Fat Man”#, continue to haunt the Japanese people, and the rest of the world, especially world leaders, would do well to follow President Obama’s example and visit ground zero, as part of their “research” before expressing a single opinion on the expansion/retraction of the nuclear club.

Nuclear codes, in the hands of men whose regard for human life is dwarfed by their sick and misguided pursuit of personal power and historic recognition, make for a very dangerous linkage. And the voices of modesty and moderation are needed on this file now more than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And there is no John F. Kennedy or Bobby Kennedy, or Secretary  Robert McNamara in the situation room these days.

*In this gun-type device, the critical mass is achieved when a uranium projectile which is sub-critical is fired through a gun barrel at a uranium target which is also sub-critical.  The resulting uranium mass comprised of both projectile and target becomes critical and the chain reaction begins. Dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it was the first nuclear weapon used in a war. (Atomic Heritage Foundation) 


#"Fat Man" was the name given to the plutonium implosion-type atomic bomb and was the second bomb to be dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. It replaced the inefficient gun-type bomb "Little Boy". (Atomic Heritage Foundation)

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