At the Hiroshima Summit, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are in sharp focus as the G7 leaders resolve to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
The current security environment for nuclear weapons is terrible. First, Russia attacks Ukraine and threatens to use nuclear weapons, which violates the principal rules of international law including the Charter of the United Nations. Second, the legal restraints on strategic nuclear arms established after the adoption of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968 will be lost unless a new START Treaty is overtaken by a successor treaty by February 2026.
Historically, G7 summits have not focused strongly on nuclear issues. However, in the G7 Ise-Shima Leaders’ Declaration, under Japan’s 2016 G7 presidency, G7 leaders stated that “we reaffirm that non-proliferation and disarmament issues are among our top priorities. We reaffirm our commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability. In this context, we endorse the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Hiroshima Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.”
Just after that summit, US president Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. This was the first visit by a sitting US president. President Obama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, laid wreaths at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, delivered powerful messages on realising a world free of nuclear weapons and met with atomic bombing survivors.
A life’s work
The G7 Leaders’ Communiqué at Elmau under Germany’s 2022 presidency also stated that the G7 leaders “are united in our resolve to comprehensively strengthen the NPT” and that they “underline the authority and primacy of the NPT as the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear technology”. The declaration said that “the G7 reaffirms its commitment to the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons”.
The G7 Hiroshima Summit will emphasise the importance of nuclear disarmament. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who will chair the meeting, is a very strong promoter of nuclear disarmament, especially as he is the elected representative from Hiroshima. He has always said that nuclear disarmament is his life’s work.
Prime Minister Kishida was the first Japanese leader to attend the NPT Review Conference, doing so in August 2022. In his speech on the first day of the conference, he said, “I believe that we must take every realistic measure towards a world without nuclear weapons step by step, however difficult the path may be.” He proposed the Hiroshima Action Plan, which includes the following five actions: the importance of continuing the non-use of nuclear weapons, enhancing transparency, maintaining the decreasing trend of global nuclear stockpiles, securing nuclear non-proliferation, and encouraging visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by international leaders.
Six actions to take
At the Hiroshima Summit, we should expect the G7 leaders to take six actions on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
First, they should declare, in the strongest words possible, their criticism of Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine as well as its threat to use nuclear weapons. As this is the most acute current global security crisis, it is imperative to send a clear message to Russia.
Second, they should issue a strong message against activities that promote nuclear proliferation such as North Korea’s recent aggressive activities including the launch of many missiles, which destabilise the world, as well as Iran’s strong pursuit of making nuclear weapons, which directly diminishes the non-proliferation regime.
Third, they should strengthen the norms that strictly prohibit attacks on peaceful nuclear facilities, including nuclear power plants, which severely damage the surrounding environment.
Fourth, they should encourage the United States and Russia to return to negotiations or engage in a dialogue on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, and possibly reducing non-strategic nuclear weapons, as soon as possible.
Fifth, they should repeat their determination to pursue nuclear disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Sixth, they should start negotiations or a dialogue for reducing nuclear risks, to prevent the unintentional use of nuclear weapons caused by miscalculation, misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Hiroshima, as the site of this year’s G7 summit, is the very best place to discuss nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Prime Minister Kishida is strongly encouraging international leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, US president Joe Biden is expected to visit Nagasaki.