Photo/IllutrationBeatrice Fihn, left, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, holds a news conference in Geneva along with its other staff members on Oct. 6 after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced its decision. (Ichiro Matsuo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Japanese government was clearly caught off-guard by the decision to award this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Despite Japan's decades-long campaign against nuclear weapons, the government found itself in a bind as it relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security and is, like the nuclear powers, not a party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted in July, for which ICAN is being honored.

Tokyo did not even release an official statement to mark the occasion, although some members of the government welcomed the Oct. 6 announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

ICAN, an international nongovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva, won the award for its decade-long push for the treaty to take effect.

One high-ranking Foreign Ministry official tried to explain the official quandary in terms of the perceived threat to Japan from North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs.

“The standpoints are different between countries (that are far from North Korea) and us, which is facing an actual threat.”

However, Fumio Kishida, who served as foreign minister when the treaty was adopted, told The Asahi Shimbun on Oct. 6: “People who are making efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons won the peace prize. We should welcome it.”

And yet, Kishida, now chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, explained the government's stance not to be a party to the treaty.

“The global community is divided between the nuclear powers and countries that do not have nuclear weapons. Japan should play the role of connecting them,” he said.

Current Foreign Minister Taro Kono posted a tweet on the issue, but avoided evaluating ICAN's achievement.

“In the same way as before, we will continue to work for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation along with the nuclear powers,” his post read.

With regard to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the Japanese government has said: “The purpose, which is the abolition of nuclear weapons, is the same. But how to approach that goal is different.”

It has noted that a sharp divide has emerged over the treaty, given that the nuclear powers refuse to be a party to it.

In September, more than 50 countries signed the treaty. It will probably come into force as early as 2018 after those countries ratify it.

The Japanese government, however, is not expected to change its position.

Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, was quick to fire a broadside at the Abe administration Oct. 6 over its stance on the treaty.

“ICAN has been working with ordinary citizens, including atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and received a strong endorsement for its work. We believe this is a good opportunity for the Japanese government to sign the treaty,” Shii said.

Terumi Tanaka, 85, a leading member of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, also took issue with the Japanese government's stance, saying it goes against growing calls to abolish nuclear weapons.

"We will urge the government more strongly to sign the treaty,” he said.

Akira Kawasaki, 48, a co-representative of Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO working to raise awareness for peace and human rights, among other issues, said that the decision to award ICAN the Nobel prize is "also for atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and those who suffered in nuclear tests around the world who had the courage to stand up and speak out."

Noting that Japan is the only country to have experienced atomic warfare, he voiced incredulity that Japan still refuses to sign the treaty.

"The decision (honoring ICAN) is clearly aimed at getting Japan to review its position,” said Kawasaki, who serves as a member of ICAN’s International Steering Group.