Sixty Years After the Nuclear Devastation, Japan’s Role in the NPT

Sixty Years After the Nuclear Devastation, Japan’s Role in the NPT

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Masako Toki

Project Manager and Research Associate, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


Japan's commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and its support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has remained unchanged since it acceded to the treaty in 1976. Based on this basic stance, Tokyo has been further intensifying its efforts toward strengthening multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament regimes since the early 1990s. These efforts reflect a shift in its foreign policy after the Cold War where Tokyo has been increasingly emphasizing the importance of international cooperation on disarmament and nonproliferation and has engaged in active participation in international peace and security. Especially after the 2000 NPT Review Conference, given that Japan was not able to contribute as prominently to the successful final document as it had wished–although satisfied with the outcome in substance–Tokyo further increased its activities in strengthening the nonproliferation regimes including the NPT, IAEA safeguards system, and export controls. The Japanese government has striven to be a leader in the nonproliferation and disarmament regimes, especially in the NPT regime, and it is now one of the key players in this field. As the only country to have been attacked by nuclear weapons, coupled with its highly developed technology and economy which enables it to commit resources to international nonproliferation and disarmament efforts, Japan is uniquely placed to uphold and promote the principles of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

Even with its nonproliferation and disarmament credentials, Tokyo's policy has been complicated by its relationship with the United States. Japan has remained protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella even though the Cold War has long ended. Despite its increased efforts since the 1990s in the field of nonproliferation and disarmament, Tokyo's two seemingly contradictory nuclear weapon-related policies have made being the champion of the NPT regime a challenge.

Further complicating Tokyo's policy, Japan's ongoing "nuclearization" debate has been a hot topic among security specialists and policy makers. The general public interest in this debate has at times appeared to outweigh Japan's clearly stated non-nuclear weapon policy and a largely anti-nuclear sentiment in the Japanese population.

Given the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, preserving and strengthening the effectiveness and authority of the NPT regime is one of the most urgent tasks for international peace and security among the states parties. As one of the major players in the NPT, Japan is facing challenges to restore the treaty.

This paper attempts to outline Japan's ongoing efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime with a focus on the NPT regime. Further the paper will look at a number of difficult and controversial issues that Tokyo needs to tackle in order to become a real champion of the NPT and how Japan can play a more effective role in the context of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Japan's Disarmament and Nonproliferation Policy and Its Evolution

Tokyo's basic security policy is derived from several factors: Japan's peace constitution, which results in Japan's exclusively defensive posture; the Japan-U.S. security alliance; and Tokyo's adherence to international nonproliferation and disarmament regimes. Japan's nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policy reflects these factors. Its nuclear policy also includes the U.S. extended deterrence that often causes debates over the credibility of Japan's disarmament initiatives. In addition, Japan's huge excess plutonium stockpile and Tokyo's plan to start operating the Rokkasho Plutonium Reprocessing Plant has generated controversy among the general public and some other countries, Japan's neighbors in particular. Thus, Japan's nuclear policies present multifaceted aspects: Japan, as the sole victim of nuclear attacks, is a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament, a staunch U.S. ally protected by the nuclear umbrella, a possessor of highly advanced civilian nuclear energy technology, and a leader in enhancing the international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regimes. In this section, these various phases of Japan's nuclear policy and its evolution are examined.

Japan's nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation policy is comprised of three pillars: 1) The Atomic Energy Basic Law of 1955[2]–which restricts Japan's nuclear energy use exclusively to peaceful purposes; 2) The "Three Non-Nuclear Principles" adopted in 1968 by the Japanese Diet, in which Japan pledges not to manufacture, possess, or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons onto Japanese soil, and 3) Tokyo's compliance with the NPT and its active participation in strengthening the NPT regime. Although currently a strong supporter of the NPT, Japan, like a number of non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) at the time, was reluctant at first to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state, when the NPT was opened for signature in 1968. While Japan signed the NPT in 1970, it was only in 1976 that Tokyo actually ratified the treaty. Japan's hesitation was in large part due to strong opposition to the treaty's discriminatory nature, along with a limited internal debate over whether Japan would want to acquire nuclear weapons in the future. Also at issue were Japan's concerns over nuclear energy. As a country with no fossil fuel resources, securing energy sources domestically was a crucial issue for Japan. Therefore, Japan would not sign the NPT until the United States "promised not to interfere with Tokyo's pursuit of independent reprocessing capabilities in its civilian nuclear power program."[3]

Upon its accession to the NPT in 1976, Tokyo stated that "Japan, as the only nation to have suffered atomic bombings, declares anew to the world its fundamental policy of forsaking nuclear armament."[4] Japan's basic stance on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and its support for the NPT has remained unchanged since it acceded to the treaty. In addition to Japan's basic stance on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, Japan's initiative to strengthen international nonproliferation and disarmament regimes with an aim to be a leader in this arena have become remarkable in early 1990. With its highly advanced technology and economic power, Japan contributes to assisting other countries, especially in the Asia Pacific region. Tokyo's disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives are evident at many international fora, including the following:

Disarmament Efforts[5]

Japan's enhanced efforts toward promoting nuclear disarmament have included a push for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Since 1995, Japan has offered global seismological observation training courses in developing countries to promote the early entry into force of the CTBT. In addition, Japan is taking the initiative in establishing its verification system through its contribution to the development of the International Monitoring System. On the diplomatic level, Japan is co-hosting the Friends of the CTBT Foreign Ministers meetings with Australia, and other like-minded countries.

However, it is unlikely that the CTBT will enter into force in the foreseeable future because of Washington's refusal to ratify the treaty, and because others–including China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan–whose ratification is required for entry into force have not yet ratified it. (India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not even signed the treaty.) Nevertheless, Tokyo remains undeterred in its effort to ultimately bring the CTBT into force and is using its diplomatic and technical skills to that end.

Between 1994 and 1999, Japan submitted multiple draft resolutions to the United Nations General Assembly entitled Nuclear Disarmament with a View to the Ultimate Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Given the clear unpopularity of the term "ultimate elimination" among nuclear disarmament advocating states parties because of its implication that nuclear disarmament cannot be achieved in the foreseeable future, in 2000, Japan changed the title of its UN disarmament resolution to A Path to the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. In this new resolution, the Japanese government has included a number of concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament, such as deep reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia, and the early entry into force of the CTBT.

While Japan's efforts at the 2000 NPT Review Conference were noteworthy (Tokyo and Canberra submitted an eight-point proposal on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and the Japanese foreign minister delivered an urgent message on conciliation among the states parties) it was clear that the most important driving force behind the success of the conference was the New Agenda Coalition (NAC)[6], not Japan. Japan wanted to be a bridge builder between nuclear weapon state (NWS) and non-aligned movement (NAM) countries by creating a reliable relationship between Tokyo and NWS. Japan perceived that it was important for the conference successfully to produce a final document through conciliation efforts with NWS, and not through confrontation. At the same time, Japan aimed to stress its leadership in disarmament. However, the NWS negotiated directly with the NAC, which led the conference to agree on the final document including the unprecedented 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, with other U.S. allies such as Japan and Germany excluded from much of the discussions.[7] Thus, while the substance of the final document–illuminated by the 13 Practical Steps–satisfied Japan, Tokyo lost a diplomatic opportunity at the conference from some perspective.

Through these lessons learned, Tokyo's efforts to strengthen the NPT regime and to be a more outstanding player were further increased and Japan has become more active in both disarmament and nonproliferation undertakings at the Preparatory Committee sessions for the 2005 Review Conference starting in 2002. Furthermore, Tokyo strengthened its determination to reinvigorate the NPT regime after the failure of the 2005 Conference. This renewed determination can be seen in Japan's new disarmament draft resolution to the United Nations General Assembly, titled Renewed Determination toward the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.[8] The resolution, which was overwhelmingly approved at the UN General Assembly in December 2005, emphasizes the importance of enhancing the effectiveness of the NPT.[9]

Nonproliferation Efforts

As a means to reinforce nonproliferation efforts, Japan has promoted the strengthening of IAEA safeguards in a variety of ways. As one of its activities in this area, Japan is taking the lead in promoting the Additional Protocol (link to Glossary), and advocating its universalization. Japan itself concluded its own additional protocol with the IAEA in 1999.

Japan is an active participant in all five export control regimes. As part of its activities under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540–a resolution adopted in April 2004 that mandates UN member states to create and implement domestic regulations to prevent the proliferation of WMD-related materials to non-state actors–Japan is assisting other Asian countries to fulfill their obligations to the resolution. Because of its resources and technology, Japan has been in a position to assist other countries, especially countries in the Asia Pacific region, to strengthen their own export control systems. As one of the contributions to strengthen regional export controls, Japan has hosted the Asia Export Control Seminar annually since 1993. In addition, Japan inaugurated the Asia Senior-level Talks on Nonproliferation (ASTOP) in Tokyo in November 2003 with the aim of enhancing regional security and nonproliferation efforts. Furthermore, Japan has recently become more active in the field of counterproliferation efforts in cooperation with the United States, including active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which also correlates well with Japan's ASTOP initiative. In the multilateral nonproliferation cooperation arena, Japan is contributing to the G-8 Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

The 2005 Review Conference: How did Japan Rate?

Japan's increasing efforts in both nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation were also observed at the 2005 NPT Review Conference. Despite evident conflicts between NWS and NNWS at the gathering, Tokyo had ambitious goals for the conference. Japan's stated objective at the conference seemed the most comprehensive of all the states parties, covering all three pillars of the NPT: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. In his opening statement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura emphasized the role of Japan in strengthening the NPT regime, touching upon the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's Three Non-Nuclear Principles, and the Security Council reform.[10]

Among many working papers submitted by the Japanese delegation, Further measures to be taken for strengthening the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Twenty-one Measures for the Twenty-first Century outlined comprehensive measures covering the NPT's three pillars.[11] The top priorities of Japan for this conference included: the DPRK nuclear issue; early entry into force of the CTBT; universalization of IAEA Additional Protocols; and enhancement of compliance and enforcement mechanism of nonproliferation obligations. Japan pushed for inclusion of strong language condemning the DPRK's nuclear weapons program and withdrawal from the NPT in the final document. However, since the conference failed to agree on any substantive issues, no language on any substantive issues was included in the final document.

Toward the end of the conference, Japan alone tried to escalate the negotiations to the ministerial level by enlisting its foreign minister to urge states parties to cooperate and press for a productive outcome. Unfortunately, Japan's efforts and attempts to steer the conference to a successful outcome were to no avail. Because of the excessively divergent perceptions of the threat of nuclear weapons between NWS and some NAM countries, Japan was not able to play a role to bridge these two opposing parties.

Extended deterrence and disarmament initiative:

As a contrast to the above-mentioned disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives, Japan's dependence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella is often perceived as contradicting Japan's strong disarmament stance. While Tokyo has taken practical and progressive approaches toward nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, it always takes into account the undeniable possibility that nuclear weapons will continue to exist in the foreseeable future. Therefore Japan has not tended to support proposals for the elimination of nuclear weapons within a time bound framework –such as the proposals voiced by NAM countries calling for a "Nuclear Weapons Convention."[12] This hesitation frustrates many in Japan because of the expectation by the Japanese general public that Tokyo should be in the forefront of nuclear disarmament. While the majority of the Japanese public strongly supports the total elimination of nuclear weapons, if possible with a time bound framework, many Japanese people also recognize a need for remaining protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This represents the ultimate dilemma faced by the Japanese government.

According to official policy, the Japanese government recognizes the role of nuclear weapons in the current world. The 1976 National Defense Program Outline (Bouei Keikaku no taikou) stipulated Japan's basic security policy during the Cold War. According to the Outline, Japan maintains an exclusively defense-oriented security policy. The Outline states that: "Against the threat of nuclear weapons, rely on the U.S. nuclear deterrent, while working actively on international efforts for realistic and steady nuclear disarmament aiming at a world free from nuclear weapons."[13] Therefore, in following with the Outline's logic, as long as a nuclear weapons threat exists, Japan will continue to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

In 1995, Japan's New National Defense Program Outline (shin bouei taikou) was issued first after the end of the Cold War. According to the 1995 document, extended deterrence remained the core of Japan's security policy. However, in contrast to the earlier document, the adversary whom Japan should deter is no longer the Soviet Union, but terrorist groups and rogue states.[14] Maintaining the core principle of Japan's security policy, the most recent Outline corresponds to the new international security challenges. The Outline issued in December 2004 states that "Japan's future defense capabilities should be multi-functional, flexible, and effective while at the same time, we will have to rationalize and streamline them." It also indicates that the three principles on arms export and their related provisions could be modified according to the necessity of deployment of ballistic missile defense systems. In addition, it clearly states that China's military modernization is a threat to Japan and the region.[15]

The dilemma between disarmament initiatives and dependence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella continues to haunt Japanese nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation policy. Under the current regional security situation, Japan's official stance acknowledges that both disarmament and extended deterrence are necessary to enhance Japan's national security. Thus, these two issues do not contradict each other in Japan's official security policy.

Concern over nuclear energy policy

Apart from the conflict embodied in Tokyo's nuclear policy, Japan's nuclear energy program has also caused significant controversy and caused problems with its image as a champion of nonproliferation. The most controversial issue is Japan's plan to start operating the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which is the first industrial-scale reprocessing plant in a NNWS. Japan's plan has increased concerns in the international community and goes against the current trend in many countries with highly-advanced technology, such as Germany and Switzerland, of discontinuing the separation of plutonium from spent fuel.[16] While all of Japan's facilities are strictly limited to civilian use under the IAEA safeguards system, some in the region speculate that a latent nuclear weapons program could exist, especially given the massive amount of excess plutonium Japan possesses.[17] Japan has been defensive about maintaining its access to nuclear fuel.

Tokyo has been highly suspicious of proposals for Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle[18] commissioned by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. ElBaradei suggested that widespread dissemination of the most proliferation sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle could be the "Achilles' heel" of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The report on multilateral nuclear approaches (MNA) issued by an expert group includes five approaches to possible multilateral oversight arrangements of the nuclear fuel cycle in order to increase nonproliferation assurances regarding the civilian nuclear fuel cycles without hampering the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. At the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Japan questioned how the MNA would actually contribute to solving the issues of countries that have already violated their international obligations on nonproliferation or of countries of proliferation concern. Concern over the restriction of peaceful uses of nuclear energy was also expressed.[19]

Indefinite extension of the NPT and nuclear crisis thereafter

Furthermore, Japan's nuclearization debate, in which the nuclearization advocates are definitely outnumbered by their opponents, has occasionally irritated the Japanese general public and government, and provoked its neighbors. The nuclearization debate resurfaced when the NPT states parties negotiated in the 1990s whether or not to keep the treaty in force indefinitely or extend it for an additional fixed period or periods.[20] Although Tokyo ultimately supported the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the Japanese government expressed some reservations about agreeing to the extension.[21] According to a Japanese official, "We thought it was better for us not to declare that we will give up our nuclear option forever and ever."[22] In this way, Japan could maintain diplomatic leverage against both NWS and a potentially belligerent North Korea. The regional security environment including North Korea's missile and nuclear program, fueled the debates regarding Japan's nuclearization. In response to some of these issues–particularly the volatile security situation in Northeast Asia–the Japanese Defense Agency (JDA) in 1995 conducted an internal study and investigated the possibility of Japan developing a nuclear weapons program. The JDA study concluded that a decision to "go nuclear" would only have negative impacts on Japan's national security including an arms race with China.[23]

In 1998, two significant events affected Japanese nuclear policy. The first was the nuclear weapon tests by India and Pakistan, followed by North Korea's Taepodong missile test launch over Japan. Shocked by India and Pakistan's tests in May 1998, Japan tried to demonstrate its leadership in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Tokyo froze its Official Development Assistance (ODA ) toward India and Pakistan, and cosponsored the UN Security Council Resolution that condemned the actions of the two South Asian rivals. On the other hand, the North Korean missile test gave momentum to conservative Japanese nuclearization debates. In addition to these two events in Asia, the U.S. Senate's rejection of the CTBT also had a significant negative impact on Japan's initiative on the early entry into force of the CTBT.

Responding mainly to India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons tests, and sending a strong signal of Japan's consistent political will to support the NPT regime, the Japanese government convened the Tokyo Forum on Nuclear disarmament and Nonproliferation in July 1999 and issued a final report, titled, Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the 21st Century containing a comprehensive nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation agenda. [24]

The recent nuclearization debates

The advent of the new millennium witnessed a new trend in Japan's nuclearization debates, such as high ranking officials' comments on the possibility of amending the Three Non-Nuclear Principles. It was considered taboo for Japanese politicians to argue for the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan. However, the threshold of Japan's nuclearization debate taboo seems to have been lowered when then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, renowned for his nationalist-right stance, stated at Waseda University in Tokyo on May 13, 2002, that Japan's acquisition of a small and defensive nuclear arsenal does not contradict the Japanese constitution. Then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda's comments on Abe's remarks suggested the possibility of amending the Three Non-Nuclear Principles if there was support from the Japanese public. Although Japanese public opinion and media severely criticized both officials, neither was forced to resign.[25]

Thus, each aspect of Japan's nuclear related policy is generating different perspectives from Japan's neighbors and its own general public. Tokyo's efforts to represent Japan as a champion of the NPT regime is often diluted by it's dependence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and its nuclear energy policy including its plan to build a plutonium reprocessing facility. Moreover, Japan's occasional nuclearization debates could exacerbate the already volatile security situation in the region.

Next Steps: What are Tokyo's Options?

Given the dichotomy between Tokyo's disarmament goals and its reliance on the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence, Japan has found it difficult to deflect this criticism against Tokyo's ambiguous nuclear disarmament policy. Moreover, Japan's increasingly close ties with the United States with its emphasis on counterproliferation and its decision to deploy missile defense systems could potentially diminish its credibility on disarmament.[26] In order to mitigate this criticism and clear doubts on nuclearization, Japan should continue to seek ways in which it can be a more credible state party to strengthen the NPT regime and reduce the roles of nuclear weapons in international security even though Japan is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The frequent criticism of Japan's ambiguous attitude toward nuclear disarmament may decrease as Japan increases its credibility in nuclear disarmament efforts and strengthens the nonproliferation compliance mechanisms.

There are a number of steps that Japan could take to strengthen its credibility. While it has substantially increased its international cooperation in the field of nonproliferation and disarmament, Japan could further enhance its efforts to expand and solidify its network to work together with other countries in order to strengthen the NPT. On an international level, Japan could cooperate more closely with the EU member states and non-nuclear NATO countries. Since all EU members support the CTBT, Japan, the EU, and other countries, such as Australia and Canada, may be able to collectively apply pressure (or some form of gentle persuasion) on the United States to rethink its current opposition to the treaty. A combined effort by these U.S. allies could help create the momentum toward the entry into force of the CTBT.

International and regional cooperation can be also applied to Japan's efforts in strengthening the IAEA safeguards system. Japan has hosted symposia and conferences in both international and regional levels to reinforce the IAEA safeguards system. The ASTOP, one of Japan's regional initiatives to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, also emphasized the importance of universalization of the Additional Protocol. Through increasing regional and international cooperation, Japan needs to continue to provide both financial and technical support to other countries' efforts to conclude the Additional Protocol. In addition, Japan should strive to ensure that all states, especially countries in the Asia Pacific region, take steps to implement UN Security Council resolution 1540. Japan has submitted its report on implementation as called for in the resolution and it stands ready to assist others in doing the same. Japan's expertise and resources should be further utilized to facilitate achieving the goal of effective national export control systems.

More disarmament cooperation can be done through the Track II level initiatives – unofficial non-governmental diplomacy – or cooperation between government and non-governmental organizations similar to the Tokyo Forum held in 1999. While it could be symbolic, issuing a final document in collaboration with both government and non-governmental organizations, containing more assertive practical steps toward nuclear disarmament could create new momentum for disarmament among the general public.

As one of the Track II initiatives, several ideas on establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in Northeast Asia have been proposed. However, the political feasibility of doing so seems improbable. One way to make the concept of establishing a NWFZ in Northeast Asia more realistic would be to solidify the status of current NNWS in the region. There is also the argument that Japan's Three Non-Nuclear Principles should be transformed into a legally binding national law instead of merely being a national policy. The Three Non-Nuclear Principles is clearly stated in the National Defense Program Outline as one of the pillars of Japan's nuclear policy. Nevertheless, movements toward turning the Three Non-Nuclear Principles into national law have not been elevated to the national movement while strong anti-nuclear-weapon sentiment is almost universal among the Japanese public.

Nuclear disarmament should also be considered in the context of enhancing regional and global peace and security. In this regard, it is essential for Japan to increase its efforts to enhance regional security in Northeast Asia. North Korea's continued pursuit and possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, uncertainty of the effectiveness of the Six-Party Talks, and ongoing tension between China and Taiwan continue to pose significant threats to the region. Confidence building in Asia is one of the most important measures that Japan should continue to take. One of the most difficult challenges for Japan is to improve its relationship with countries in East Asia, especially, with China. There are various social and historical issues involved in the relationship between Japan and China in addition to the security issues. If it does not overcome its acrimonious relationship with China, Japan's efforts in nonproliferation and disarmament could be hampered. The Japanese government and its people should also raise their awareness to the historical fact that among the atomic bomb victims in Japan, there were a considerable number of Korean people who had been forcibly brought to the country by Japanese forces. Continuing dialogue between Japan and Asian countries based on correct understanding of historical facts could help the next generation to establish more amicable ties among countries in the region.

One positive instance of progress seen in the recent past is that Japan has been taking the initiative to promote disarmament and nonproliferation education, especially since the adoption of the UN study on disarmament and nonproliferation education at the UN General Assembly in 2002. In addition to disarmament and peace education derived from experiences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, further efforts should be made by the Japanese government in cooperation with academic and educational institutes both inside and outside of the country to promote and develop more systematic disarmament and nonproliferation education at all educational levels. Especially in view of roles of education and training in strengthening the NPT regime, the Japanese government should suggest more practical proposals to develop and design educational and training activities to suit the different needs of NPT states parties and international and regional organizations associated with the treaty with the aim of solving many of the current difficulties related to the treaty's full and effective implementation.


The NPT is an inherently discriminatory treaty. Only when all the obligations are implemented–including the disarmament obligations–will the treaty be fulfilled. Unfortunately, the 2005 NPT Review Conference demonstrated that divergent interpretations regarding treaty obligations are contributing to a weakening of the treaty. Nonproliferation and disarmament are two sides of the same coin. While the U.S arms control policy is often criticized due to its emphasis only on the nonproliferation side, by the same analogy, disarmament advocacy groups could also be too one-track minded. In general, the majority of Japanese people focus their attention on the disarmament aspect of nuclear weapons. Although this is understandable, placing emphasis only on disarmament goals without paying enough attention to nonproliferation measures may not be so convincing because of its improbability.

Around the time of the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bombing, numerous special reports and articles were carried in several Japanese newspapers. One newspaper editorial severely criticized the proposal by the mayor of Hiroshima advocating elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020, arguing that this showed a disregard for the current international security situation.[27] This type of argument might be a reflection of Japan's shifting policy from an emphasis on nuclear disarmament to a balanced approach that includes both disarmament and nonproliferation efforts, and potentially, more emphasis on nonproliferation rather than disarmament, going beyond the point of a well-balanced approach. Given the recent proliferation threats in the Asia Pacific region, there seems to be no other alternative for Japan, as a staunch ally of the United States–the country that possesses the greatest capacity and resources regarding nonproliferation efforts, than taking the initiative along with the United States. While proposals without concrete steps to tackle new threats of nuclear weapons may sound empty, the importance and impact of consistent messages from those representing the victims of the world's only nuclear attacks that call for the elimination of nuclear weapons cannot be underestimated or minimized. With the recent passing of the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 2005 NPT Review Conference was particularly important for the people in these cities. Japanese anti-nuclear NGOs sent a large group of Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) to New York. For many of the Hibakushas, their greatest wish is to see a world free of nuclear weapons–or at least a world moving in the direction of nuclear disarmament.

Without marginalizing its unique roles in nuclear disarmament, Japan should increase its efforts to enhance both disarmament and nonproliferation obligations. Establishing more systematic nonproliferation and disarmament education and disseminating more accurate information is one of the surest ways to enhance international disarmament and the nonproliferation regime. Spreading the concept that disarmament and nonproliferation have an inextricable connection, which is the core principle of the NPT, is Japan's quintessential mission. At the same time, Japan should be more vocal in insisting on the inhumanity and immorality of nuclear weapons, and the common threats to all human beings. The Japanese government should further promote its support of efforts by civil society as well as enhance governmental undertakings for this purpose. The year of the 60th anniversary is a good opportunity to renew its determination to do so.


[1] The author would like to express her gratitude to Stephanie Lieggi, Dr. Lawrence Scheinman, and Dr. Jing-dong Yuan, for their comments and suggestions during the drafting of this article.
[2] The Atomic Energy Basic Law represents a principle of Japan's right to pursue research, development and use of nuclear energy strictly for peaceful purposes, and encourages the country to promote research, development and use of nuclear energy to secure energy resources in the future as well as to pursue the progress in science and industries. Full text of the Atomic Energy Basic Law,
[3] Campbell, Kurt M., and Tsuyoshi Sonohara, "Japan: Thinking the Unthinkabl", in Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einorn, and Mitchell B; Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004)
[4] Japan's Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Policy, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
[5] For more details on Japan's disarmament and nonproliferation efforts, see "Japan's Disarmament and Nonproliferation Policy" by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
[6] NAC consists of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden.
[7] Rebecca Johnson, "The 2000 NPT Review Conference: A Delicate, Hard-Won Compromise," Disarmament Diplomacy, May 2000,
[8] Japan's draft resolution to the First Committee of the 60th UN General Assembly,
[9] Only India and the United States voted against the resolution, while seven states including China, North Korea and Pakistan abstained.
[10] Opening Statement by Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura at the 2005 NPT Review Conference,
[11] NPT/CONF.2005/WP.21, Working paper submitted by Japan,
[12] Yukiya Aamano, "A Japanese View on Nuclear Disarmament," Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2002,
[13] Japan's Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Policy, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
[14] National Defense Program Outline in and after FY1996,
[15] National Defense Program Guideline, FY2005-,
[16] A Call on Japan to Strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty by Indefinitely Postponing Operation of the Rokkasho Spent Fuel Reprocessing Plant Union of Concerned Scientists,
[17] David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, "Plutonium Watch: Tracking Plutonium Inventories, July 2005, Revised August 2005,
[19] Statement by the Japanese Delegation at Main Committee III at the 2005 NPT Review Conference,
[20] Article X.2 of the NPT states that 25 years after entry into force, states parties to the NPT would decide at the Review Conference whether or not to keep the treaty in force indefinitely or extend it for an additional fixed period or periods.
[21] Campbell, Kurt M., and Tsuyoshi Sonohara, "Japan: Thinking the Unthinkabl", in Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einorn, and Mitchell B; Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004)
[22] Campbell, Kurt M., and Tsuyoshi Sonohara, "Japan: Thinking the Unthinkabl", in Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einorn, and Mitchell B; Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004)
[23] The 1995 report was obtained by the Asahi Shimbun, and revealed its findings. The report listed negative impacts of Japan's nuclearization, saying, "Japan would effectively destroy the basis for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella would be undermined and Japan would be viewed as distrustful of its military alliance with the United States; and neighbors would fear that Japan was taking a more independent defense policy stance."
[24] Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the 21st Century. July 1999,
[25] Campbell, Kurt M., and Tsuyoshi Sonohara, "Japan: Thinking the Unthinkabl", in Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einorn, and Mitchell B; Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004).
[26] "Japan Approves Deployment of Missile Defense Systems" Jiji Press Dec. 19, 2003
[27] "Anti Nuclear Weapon Campaign should reflect reality" Yomiuri Shimbun Aug. 5, 2005

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