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Making President Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Abolition Speech a Turning Point of History

Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (JALANA) Executive Committee
 On April 5 in Prague, US President Barack Obama made reference to the "moral responsibility" of the only country to have used nuclear weapons, and declared that the US would play a leading role in abolishing them. Until now the US has justified the atomic bombings with reasons such as "ending the war quickly," "minimizing damage," or "quickly liberating colonies," and it had continued to adopt a nuclear first-use strategy based on the "doctrine of nuclear deterrence." Judging by the US attitude to date, this speech signifies that a major change is underway in US nuclear policy. JALANA, which seeks the abolition of nuclear weapons, welcomes President Obama's declaration of nuclear weapons abolition, and has hopes that his pledge will be fulfilled.
  But JALANA does not wholeheartedly approve of President Obama's speech because it reveals problems that must still be overcome.
  First, his motive for abolishing nuclear weapons is not the criminality and inhumanness of their use; rather it is the fear of nuclear proliferation, especially the fear of their proliferation among international terrorists and to states that do not cooperate with the US. JALANA's view is that the use of nuclear weapons is not just a moral issue, but also the worst criminal act, which violates international law and is a crime against humanity. That point is missing from Obama's speech. Additionally, a characteristic of emphasizing nuclear proliferation deterrence is that it defers nuclear disarmament. That is quite evident in the statement, "As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies." To President Obama, nuclear weapons continue to be an instrument for carrying out national policy. We must not forget that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is the primary reason why the abolition of nuclear weapons has been rejected. If one is held captive by the foolish belief that "the devil's weapon" is the trump card for national security, the abolition of nuclear weapons will be forever beyond our reach. Obama must know the truth of the atomic bombings in order to be freed from the spell of "nuclear deterrence" instead of limiting the atomic bombings to a realization of "moral responsibility." He should visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and hear the testimony of bombing victims. By doing so, his determination to abolish nuclear weapons will be strengthened.
  Second, his plan does not include a proposal for realizing the Nuclear Weapons Convention, which would ban not only the use and threat of nuclear weapons, but also their development, testing, possession, transfer, and other actions. Already the governments of Costa Rica and Malaysia have submitted the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention in the UN as an official discussion document. If the world is to build an irreversible system for abolishing nuclear weapons, governments cannot stop at a mere political accord by political leaders; humanity must enact an international convention for that purpose. This consideration is missing from his speech. If Obama were truly serious about abolishing nuclear weapons, he would have to put forth a plan for the Nuclear Weapons Convention, and would have to make mention of using the existing plan.
  Third, Obama makes no reservations about the "peaceful use" of nuclear power. In fact, he proposes a "fuel bank" for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. One should not be so quick to say that nuclear energy is clean energy. Because humanity has so far not been able to control nuclear technology, we cannot concur with his attitude of having no reservations at all about the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
  As the above discussion shows, JALANA finds a number of serious problems in President Obama's speech.
  However, we do think that this first pledge by a US president to abolish nuclear weapons could be a major turning point in history. A pledge to abolish nuclear weapons by the political leader of the world's biggest nuclear power represents a big step along the path toward nuclear weapons abolition, notwithstanding the lukewarm motive, the residue of "nuclear deterrence," the inadequate process, and vagueness about the peaceful use of nuclear energy. That much is clear if we compare Obama's pledge with the words and actions of successive previous presidents, who tried so hard to carry out the United States' political will that they even kept the first use of nuclear weapons as an option.
  JALANA asks that President Obama gain knowledge about the reality of the atomic bombings, and that he (1) deepen his understanding about the criminality and inhumaneness of using nuclear weapons, (2) become aware of the stupidity of nuclear deterrence, (3) take the initiative on enacting the Nuclear Weapons Convention, (4) choose an energy policy that does not depend on nuclear energy, and take other such actions. At the same time, we hope that he makes concrete efforts toward the nuclear weapons abolition that he advocates, in particular lending his sincere cooperation to achieve success in the 2010 NPT Review Conference.
  Whether or not it is possible to make President Obama's Prague speech pledging the abolition of nuclear weapons into a turning point of history depends also on the efforts we choose to make.
  JALANA resolves to make its maximum effort toward the enactment of the Nuclear Weapons Convention with a definite deadline.