On Aug. 6, Hiroshima marked the 67th anniversary of the city's atomic bombing. Nagasaki will hold its own observances on Aug. 9.
No nuclear conflagration has taken place since the 1945 events that ushered in the nuclear age.
There is a widespread belief the world has managed to avoid nuclear Armageddon because of deterrence strategies put in place after World War II.
In fact, the world came to the brink of nuclear conflict more than once.
One such a situation occurred in 1983, when the nuclear early warning system of the former Soviet Union's military detected a launch of five nuclear missiles by the United States.
The duty officer at the command center for the Soviet warning system thought it was probably a false alarm because the United States would have fired hundreds of missiles in an all-out blitz against the Soviet Union.
After agonizing over what to do, the officer decided to trust his judgment and didn’t report the matter to his superiors. Later, it turned out to be a false alarm, as he had thought.
Since it was during the Cold War era, when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a tense standoff, the Kremlin might have pressed the nuclear button if the officer had failed to trust his instincts.
The disaster that struck the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year, triggering a massive release of radiation into the environment, occurred in part because of a complacent assumption that no really severe nuclear accident would ever occur at Japanese power plants.
A similar disastrous mistake could be made with regard to nuclear weapons. Making light of the risk posed by them could lead to catastrophe.
That's why Japan, which has experienced both atomic bombings and an unprecedented nuclear disaster, has to take up a historic mission.
As the only country with first-hand experience of the two kinds of devastation due to nuclear energy, Japan should play a key role in eliminating the risk of nuclear winter in the world.
'SAFETY MYTH' OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE
We need to take a fresh, hard look at the hidden danger posed by the "safety myth" of nuclear deterrence, which would have people believe that nuclear arms make the world safer.
The danger is not limited to the risk of making a bad call.
The possibility that nuclear arms could be used in regional conflicts is growing due to nuclear proliferation.
In South Asia, India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons. They are in conflict over territorial and terrorism-related issues. In addition, the political situation in Pakistan is unstable.
In the Middle East, Israel is a virtual nuclear power. If Iran, which has vowed to destroy Israel, develops nuclear weapons, the risk of a nuclear war in the region could dwarf the threat that exists in South Asia.
In Northeast Asia, reclusive North Korea has conducted underground nuclear tests. There are fears North Korea could detonate an atomic bomb out of despair or as a result of a reckless act by the military if it is hit with a crisis like the collapse of the autocratic regime.
There is, undoubtedly, growing concern about nuclear warfare, and experts in nuclear deterrence are beginning to pay close attention to the voices of people in the Japanese cities that suffered nuclear devastation.
They are beginning to heed the message that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been sending out to the world for years: The only way to get rid of the fear of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.
Global Zero, an international nongovernmental organization comprising former senior government officials and retired military officers in various parts of the world, is advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2030.
As a step to achieve this goal, a group of advocates of a nuclear-free world, including a former commander of a U.S. nuclear-armed unit, has called on the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles by 80 percent over the next 10 years.
Their call is based on the notion that the risks posed by nuclear arms are bigger than the security benefits they offer.
LIMITS OF NPT ARE OBVIOUS
Another "safety myth"--the belief that nuclear power generation can be promoted without causing nuclear proliferation--also looks increasingly doubtful.
The world has been taking steps based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to prevent an increase in the number of nuclear-armed countries.
The basic principle of the nonproliferation regime requires nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals while prohibiting other countries from acquiring nuclear arms.
Countries without nuclear arms that commit to this principle reap the benefit of being able to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes, such as nuclear power generation.
To be fair, the NPT has played an important role in international efforts to prevent proliferation.
But progress toward nuclear disarmament has been much slower than expected.
While nuclear powers are adhering to their deterrence strategies, a growing number of countries have been embarking on the path toward joining the nuclear club.
Under the NPT, the right by nations to use nuclear power peacefully has been stressed.
The risk of nuclear proliferation has risen because facilities to enrich uranium and extract plutonium to produce nuclear fuel can also be used to manufacture atomic bombs.
Symbolizing this problem is Iran. By taking advantage of its status as an NPT signatory country, Iran has been pursuing a uranium enrichment program that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.
International efforts to reduce nuclear arms and prevent nuclear proliferation under the NPT have not proved particularly effective.
With the limits of the treaty becoming increasingly clear, the question that must be asked now is whether it is really a wise policy to increase the number of countries using atomic energy to generate electricity.
If things work out badly, the treaty could end up being used only as a justification for using nuclear power.
NEW VISION FOR PEACE AND PROSPERITY
More attention should be given to the fact that efforts to create a global trend toward ending nuclear power generation can also contribute to both nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.
This is clearly a time for new thinking.
Countries that don’t have nuclear arms and choose to go without nuclear power generation should get help from the international community to develop renewable energy sources and use natural gas efficiently.
The idea is to turn the advantage of being a non-nuclear power into national development powered by energy sources other than atomic energy. This approach can be used to pursue the two goals of eliminating nuclear arms and stemming global warming.
Restricting the use of nuclear power by non-nuclear countries inevitably increases the responsibility of nuclear powers to accelerate their efforts to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.
Countries that produce a lot of electricity with atomic energy should move faster toward departing from their dependence on nuclear power generation.
By eliminating its reliance on nuclear energy, be it in military or civilian areas, the world can move toward a peaceful and prosperous future without nuclear risks.
As a nation that has experienced nuclear devastation, Japan can only claim the attention of the world by sending out such a future vision.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 6
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