Deterrence dividing the Land of the Rising Sun
BY SAIDA ALIMDJANOVA
The act of charring, flaying alive, lethally ailing, and sterilising around 200,000 civilians in a matter of days in 1945 fell stupefyingly short of discouraging nuclear arsenals from sprouting up and growing; of discouraging state officials from out bragging one another about ready-to-launch warheads, and deterrence policies from continuously littering military alliances’ agendas, where deterrence policies are the notion that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter one’s enemy from deploying them, through the threat of retaliation. 78 years have passed since innumerable corpses were scattered across the streets and drifting in the rivers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see Sueko Sumimoto’s drawing of this scene). For the 76th time as of 1947, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony attempted to deliver one straightforward message to the entire globe: bring about a world without nuclear weapons and abolish means of immediate and incremental mass extermination. This time, however, this very message seemed somewhat obliterated…
After the Peace Bell had rung seven times from 8:15 am on 6 August (the exact moment of detonation), the Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, declared nuclear deterrence a “folly” and discredited the theory thereof. Following two Hiroshima sixth graders’ Pledge for Peace, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida, for his part, took a less definitive stance on deterrence and the current trend of nuclear rearmament, causing dismay among the survivors of the bombings, the Hibakusha. Whilst commemorating the deceased and underlining the importance of a nuke-free world, he touched upon the G7 Leaders’ Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament, issued within the 47th G7 Summit 2023 hosted by Japan. Among others, the following line particularly distraught both the Hibakusha and nuclear abolitionists the most: “Our security policies are based on the understanding that nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war and coercion.”
Perceived as a justification for the existence and use of these means of destruction for purposes of deterrence, the document is thus strongly disfavoured by the survivors according to Shigemitsu Tanaka, Head of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, who had already been calling out these problems during the drafting stage. The summit’s venue also displayed the disproportionate treatment of Nagasaki bombing survivors versus Hiroshima ones: Chiyoko Iwanaga, head of an atomic bomb survivors group, pinpointed the neglection of Hibaku Taikensha - victims ineligible for recognition as official Hibakusha due to their location outside of designated relief areas in 1945 in Nagasaki - and demanded that the two cities be paid tribute to equally. And she is right: why not standardise medical treatment for all “black rain” victims such as the estimated 6,000 Nagasaki people who suffer from radioactive fallout? Why not name the Vision on Nuclear Disarmament after both cities? Why not invite world leaders along with or without the actually engaged health ministers to the G7 Summit in Nagasaki, too?
Beyond the Hiroshima Vision, another document splits Japan into two groups: the updated National Security Strategy 2023, initiated due to mounting concerns about the US’ continued commitment to Japan's defence. Reflecting the evolving nature of threats to the country by North Korea and China, the new strategy will place greater emphasis on the Japan-US Alliance for nuclear deterrence, highlighting the need for closer cooperation (with other like-minded countries as well) in areas such as missile defence, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises, optimising Japan’s counter strike capabilities.
In light of these strengthened ties, there is a growing debate in Japan about the need to develop an independent nuclear deterrent in order to ensure its security in an increasingly uncertain geopolitical climate. But of course, this view is not shared by the majority of the Japanese public, who remain deeply opposed to nuclear weapons. Also, pursuing an independent nuclear deterrent would almost certainly undermine Japan's credibility as a proponent of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, given already that the country has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – a huge detraction from the persuasiveness of its denuclearisation efforts among the public.
Now, back to Kishida. What he pursues in this dilemma is the establishment of a nuclear free world via the use of deterrence, and the pursuit of military advancements so long as the international order is confronting events of potential nuclear deployment. The Hibakusha, Hibaku Taikensha and their offspring, suffering just as much from atomic bomb diseases, fear that they will not get to see the moment when Kishida’s vision will be realised. Honestly, me too.
Image: PICRYL/Library of Congress