A United Nations working group on nuclear disarmament that has been meeting in Switzerland has adopted a report recommending that negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty should be launched next year.

Twenty years have passed since the International Court of Justice in 1996 delivered its advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. The World Court said the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the principles and rules of humanitarian law.

But the world has yet to have any international law that clearly bans nuclear arms.

An international move to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear arms would be a big step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Japan’s stance in the talks at the open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament, however, was really regrettable.

During the group’s discussions, Japan repeatedly argued that given the current security environment, it is premature to start negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty. Tokyo abstained from voting on the report.

This is an unacceptably backward-looking stance for a country that knows the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons more than any other.

Japan should lead the efforts to map out a plan to start talks on a nuclear ban treaty while persuading the nuclear powers, which have boycotted the working group meetings, to join in.

As many as about 100 non-nuclear-weapon states have supported a nuclear ban treaty because of their frustration that there is no prospect for progress toward a nuclear-free world as long as talks on the issue are led by nuclear powers.

Nuclear arms reduction talks between the United States and Russia remain stalled. Meanwhile, the United States, Russia and China are spending huge amounts of money to upgrade their nuclear arsenals.

North Korea is developing nuclear arms and missiles.

Japan, Europe and other countries protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella have been resisting a nuclear ban treaty, claiming that it will upset the balance of power in security based on nuclear deterrence and destabilize the entire world.

As for the goal of eliminating nuclear arms, they have only said it should be pursued through a gradual approach.

At the U.N. General Assembly, all the nuclear powers are expected to oppose the start of negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty.

Japan, which once suffered nuclear devastation, would greatly disappoint the international community if it supports the nuclear powers’ move to block the talks.

The human race will never be free from risk of annihilation as long as it continues relying on nuclear deterrence.

Eventually imposing a legal ban on nuclear arms is indispensable for ensuring the true safety of the world.

Various proposals have been made about the treaty.

Some non-nuclear-weapon states and international nongovernmental organizations are supporting the radical proposal to establish a legal ban on nuclear weapons even without the endorsement of the nuclear powers.

Another proposal calls for a framework treaty under which countries would first agree to make it a legal obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons but allow concrete plans for achieving the goal to be gradually negotiated over the years.

Some experts say this proposal would be acceptable for countries dependent on the nuclear umbrella because it would allow for a certain period of continued reliance on nuclear deterrence.

It could be a major option for Japan.

What is needed now is an effective formula that would prevent a decisive division in the international community over a nuclear ban treaty.

Japan should provide solid leadership for the efforts to devise such a formula.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 23