Photo/IllutrationIzumi Nakamitsu, right, and Hiroko Kuniya stand together while the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima looms in the background. (Shinnosuke Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor's note: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 outlines 17 goals toward which nations of the world should work on and seek a solution.

These sustainable development goals (SDGs) include achieving gender equality, ending poverty in all forms and taking action to combat climate change.

The Asahi Shimbun supports the global effort to achieve these SDGs and has reported on efforts being made in Japan and abroad toward those goals.

The following is one in a series of articles on SDGs to appear on the AJW website.

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Until the summer of 2017, Japan appeared to have the perfect opportunities to play a leading role in discussions on nuclear disarmament.

In May, Izumi Nakamitsu became the first Japanese woman to be appointed U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs.

In July, 122 nations voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but Japan shunned the proceedings and did not even participate in those discussions due mainly to its reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The recent provocations by North Korea, including the nuclear test and the launching of ballistic missiles, have cast an even gloomier outlook on the trend toward nuclear disarmament.

However, in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Nakamitsu said, "Momentum for disarmament heightens during times of national security crisis."

She also revealed the possibility of a special session of the U.N. General Assembly devoted to disarmament in 2018.

Hiroko Kuniya, who once served as a presenter for public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), interviewed Nakamitsu in Hiroshima in early August and asked her what has to be done to push forward talks on nuclear disarmament as well as the U.N.'s sustainable development goal (SDG) promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Kuniya: Seventy-two years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the thoughts of the hibakusha survivors have taken shape in the form of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. I believe their humanitarian message has finally reached the global community.

Nakamitsu: The hibakusha demonstrated tremendous courage in transmitting the experiences they likely did not want to recall to the world. That was accepted by 122 member nations of the U.N. and they approved the treaty.

I believe the humanitarian message was the largest factor behind approval of the treaty.

Kuniya: What did you think about the earnestness of civil society during the negotiations toward that treaty as well as at the venue where the vote was held?

Nakamitsu: In the past, the process was one of hearing as a reference point the views of civil society during the actual work of putting together a treaty in sessions attended by representatives of 193 governments.

This time, members of civil society were at that very session. In the future, we want to also include private-sector companies and researchers. There will be an even greater need to include such individuals to think about disarmament together.

Kuniya: Japan has always called for abolishing nuclear weapons as the only nation to be hit by such weapons during a war. Although the international community has viewed Japan as a nation with a high moral standing, it did not even participate in the discussions because of its opposition to the treaty. Won't that affect Japan's standing?

Nakamitsu: The Japanese government is thinking of various ways to serve as a bridge so that its "brand value" does not fall.

I hope it will produce specific results by seeking out measures that can be implemented immediately, such as heightening the transparency of nuclear disarmament.

I believe it should effectively utilize its position as an important ally of the United States.

Kuniya: Do you mean to work to bring together those nations, like Japan, that opposed the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty even though they believe abolishing nuclear weapons is necessary?

Nakamitsu: The Netherlands was the only nation covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella that took part in the treaty negotiations and cast a vote against the treaty.

During the vote, supporters of the treaty expressed their respect toward the Netherlands for taking part in the negotiations and explaining its position in an open and sincere manner.

Even if Japan did not take part in the initial stages of the treaty, it can still take part in future talks (as an observer to the conference of signatory states).

Kuniya: There has been very little progress in disarmament over the past 20 years. Amid a situation in which the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty has widened the gap, how will you go about finding an entrance toward dialogue?

Nakamitsu: While various nations may have felt until now that it would be problematic if a complete split emerged due to a continuation of a confrontational structure, the consensus among U.N. member nations, including the superpowers, is for holding a fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament.

If the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) cannot approve a concluding document in the same way as happened at the 2015 review conference, there is the possibility that the NPT structure itself will weaken. We have to hold discussions before we reach such a troubling stage.

Kuniya: The first special session was held in 1978 to provide impetus to disarmament discussions and the third session was held in 1988. An attempt to hold a fourth session in 1995 did not materialize. Are you saying such a special session devoted to disarmament will be held next year?

Nakamitsu: I believe it will happen next year.

I have begun to think about the process, such as whether there is a need for a preparatory session for the special session.

Saying disarmament is difficult because the national security environment has worsened goes against the facts. The NPT came about after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kuniya: You have worked on the refugee issue at the United Nations as well as issues related to peacekeeping operations and development. Now you are in charge of disarmament.

Nakamitsu: I believe disarmament involves prevention.

As is evident in Syria, military conflict today is difficult to end once it begins. A major reason is because the U.N. Security Council cannot work in a cooperative manner.

For that reason, prevention is vital to ensure that conflicts do not begin.

Kuniya: Now there are about 60 million refugees and displaced individuals in the world.

Regarding the fact that on average such individuals remain in that position for 17 years, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that situation goes beyond the ability of the U.N. to respond and that there is a need for the U.N. to think seriously about major change.

Nakamitsu: In terms of human dignity, it is clearly wrong to have people lead lives dependent on humanitarian assistance for 17 years. There is a need to fundamentally change our response.

For example, the World Bank and the U.N. Development Program cooperated with the Ugandan government to start a new fish farming industry. Both refugees and Ugandans were hired for the project and the fish raised on the farm was exported to neighboring Rwanda.

Once it became a viable business, there was no longer a need to provide assistance.

Kuniya: The SDGs approved by the U.N. in 2015 call for thinking comprehensively about the economy, society and environment. Does that mean conflict prevention is also possible through the SDGs?

Nakamitsu: That is correct.

I am trying to look at the whole picture in order to think about how such factors can be combined.

My role is to think about the larger picture by bringing together disarmament and development, or issues related to peace and security.

Kuniya: There is a very high affinity with the basic thinking of the SDGs of not leaving anyone behind, isn't there?

Nakamitsu: What is especially important is to always think about the interests of those in the weakest position in society.

I believe it is important to connect disarmament with the issues of refugee assistance and development that I had been involved in until now.

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Visit our other articles about SDGs.

Companies doing their part to cut down on food waste in Japan (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201709060017.html)

U.N. official hopes Japan plays leading role in SDGs (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708190012.html)

Pikotaro’s new U.N. ‘PPAP’ takes SDGs to global audience (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708190022.html)