Photo/IllutrationSetsuko Thurlow, left, a victim of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, and Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, wave to citizens in Oslo on Dec. 10. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an alliance of nongovernmental organizations promoting a U.N. nuclear ban treaty, received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo.

The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would ban the use, development and possession of nuclear arms.

During the awards ceremony, a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, delivered a speech for the first time.

Setsuko Thurlow, 85, who was close to ground zero on Aug. 6, 1945, recounted what she experienced on that summer day as a 13-year-old girl.

“These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil,” she said, urging nuclear powers to “Listen to our testimony. Heed our warning.”

The leaders of all nuclear powers should pay serious and sincere attention to her message.

SENSE OF CRISIS BEHIND MOVEMENT

For the 72 years since the end of World War II, the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been trying hard to spread to the world the horrifying realities of the devastation caused by the bombs and the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to ICAN also represents an international recognition of the efforts by hibakusha to push a movement toward a world free from nuclear arms.

ICAN is a coalition of more than 450 NGOs of around 100 countries. Members in their 20s and 30s have been playing the leading roles in these organizations.

They have been communicating with each other through e-mails and social media to exchange ideas for their efforts to accomplish the common mission, which transcend national borders and racial boundaries. They have all been driven by the shared perception that nuclear weapons cannot coexist with the human race.

The world should applaud ICAN’s great performance as a new driver of the global efforts toward the elimination of nuclear arms.

The adoption of the nuclear ban treaty, of course, will not immediately free the world of the threat posed by nuclear arms.

But behind this movement is a strong sense of frustration about the glacial progress in nuclear arms reduction.

During the Cold War era, there were 70,000 nuclear warheads on Earth.

Under the United Nations Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), nuclear powers promised to reduce their nuclear arsenals in stages. But there has been little, if any, progress in the nuclear arms reduction talks between the United States and Russia, which together account for more than 90 percent of all the nuclear warheads that still exist, estimated at nearly 15,000.

In a speech delivered in Prague in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama called for moves toward “a world without nuclear weapons.”

Since it was a message from the leader of the nuclear-armed superpower, Obama’s call raised hopes among many people in the world for actual progress in the global anti-nuclear campaign.

But their hopes were dashed in 2015, when the five-yearly NPT Review Conference fell through, failing to adopt any final document.

The United States and Russia are even working to modernize their nuclear arsenals.

MOVING BEYOND DIVISION

There can be no significant progress in nuclear disarmament if the current situation continues.

Alarmed by this grim picture, anti-nuclear groups have decided to promote fresh efforts led by non-nuclear countries instead of waiting for nuclear powers to take steps to gradually reduce their arsenals. This sense of crisis has been the driving force of the new movement.

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to ICAN should be taken as a reflection of its desire to see the trend lead to a step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

But there are worrisome signs that a widening rift between the nuclear powers and the rest of the world is threatening to impede progress toward the goal.

The ambassadors to Norway of the five nuclear powers--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China--were reportedly absent from the prize-giving ceremony.

In a speech delivered at a U.N. disarmament conference in November in Hiroshima, Izumi Nakamitsu, the U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, said there must be ways to help the nuclear ban treaty and the NPT complement each other, instead of having them conflict each other.

With these words, Nakamitsu called for efforts to promote both treaties in a mutually reinforcing way.

Disagreements over the matter can and should be worked out through the sharing of opportunities to discuss related issues at forums for debate.

The process of signing and ratifying the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons started in September. It will come into force when 50 countries have ratified it.

Only three countries have ratified the treaty to date. ICAN has set a two-year time frame for the treaty to come into effect.

ICAN is facing the formidable challenge of how to widen the scope of international support for the treaty, which will test the organization’s relevance and strategic prowess.

As a first step, ICAN plans to establish a fund, partly financed by the prize money, to encourage municipal assemblies around the world to pass resolutions supporting the treaty.

Money from the fund will be used to support the activities of affiliated groups to appeal directly to the public in countries that possess nuclear arms and those dependent on a nuclear deterrent.

The success of ICAN’s campaign will hinge on whether it can win broad public support for its cause in many countries that is too powerful for the governments to ignore.

JAPAN’S DUTY AS NUCLEAR-BOMBED NATION

It is regrettable that the Japanese government has been acting in a way that signals its reluctance to support the new movement toward the abolition of nuclear arms.

In October last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution calling on countries to start negotiations for the nuclear ban treaty in 2017, but Japan voted against it.

In August this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Hiroshima that Japan will not sign or ratify the nuclear ban treaty.

Indeed, the security threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs cannot be ignored.

Some say Japan should recognize the reality that it needs to be protected by U.S. nuclear weapons under the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States in an emergency.

As the only country that has ever suffered nuclear attacks in war, however, Japan has assigned itself the role of serving as a bridge between nuclear powers and non-nuclear countries.

For years, Japan has annually submitted a draft resolution calling for the elimination of nuclear arms to the United Nations. The number of countries that supported this year’s draft resolution submitted by Tokyo fell sharply from last year.

Unless it changes its position, Japan could even end up being regarded as a voice for nuclear powers.

There are things Tokyo can do.

If the nuclear ban treaty comes into force, conferences of the parties to the treaty will be held. Countries that have not ratified the treaty are allowed to attend these conferences as observers.

Japan can, for instance, show its will to participate in these meetings to demonstrate its commitment to becoming involved in talks over the treaty from its unique historical position.

Countries wishing to see the world liberated from the menace of nuclear arms are waiting for Japan to step up to the plate.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 12