Photo/IllutrationPanelists discuss the abolition of nuclear weapons at the International Symposium for Peace in Hiroshima on July 27. From left: Masaru Sato, Bonnie Docherty, Haruka Katarao and Mitsuru Kurosawa. (Kenta Sujino)

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HIROSHIMA--With a treaty to ban medium-range, ground-based nuclear missiles ending in less than a week, an international symposium here on July 27 addressed stopping a new Cold War from breaking out.

The International Symposium for Peace: The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition was sponsored by the Hiroshima city government, the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and The Asahi Shimbun. The theme for this year’s event was “Stop the New Cold War.”

In his keynote speech, Masaru Sato, an author and former Foreign Ministry intelligence analyst, said that the high level of nationalism and realism demonstrated by leaders around the world in terms of nuclear weapons and defense policy represented a risk that had to be changed.

He explained that history often swung like a pendulum between realism and idealism as well as between nationalism and international cooperation.

“Military escalation usually occurs when the pendulums swing in the direction of realism and nationalism,” Sato said. “But such escalation eventually spreads a sense of crisis among the leaders of those nations that have been building up their military arsenals and have led to courageous efforts to stop a nuclear disaster.”

He cited as an example the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty agreed to in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to remove intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe.

In February, the United States formally announced it was withdrawing from the treaty because of Russian noncompliance. Russia said it would also withdraw, and the treaty will become invalid on Aug. 2.

Sato said that to push the pendulum of history back toward idealism and international cooperation “the leaders of the non-nuclear powers must encourage the leaders of the nuclear powers to enter into dialogue on issues that could lead to nuclear war if nothing is done. We as citizens must demand of our own leaders that they enter seriously into dialogue that leads to the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, the other participants in the panel discussion touched upon the importance of moving toward actual implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was passed in July 2017 with the approval of 122 nations, although none of the nuclear states as well as those protected by a nuclear umbrella, such as Japan, took part.

Bonnie Docherty, a lecturer at the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic who was actively involved in the TPNW, said the principles of humanitarian disarmament were the key in leading to the passage of the treaty after years of little, if any, progress on eliminating nuclear weapons.

“Emphasizing the humanitarian threat made nuclear weapons a matter of global concern and motivated countries to look beyond their national interests,” Docherty said about the treaty. “In so doing, it helped break down the barriers to diplomatic action that had stalled nuclear disarmament.”

She addressed the concerns of some that the TPNW appears to have provisions that do not make it compatible with other international obligations. In Japan’s case, that would be the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it is a party as well as the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States.

“By joining the TPNW, Japan would comply more fully with the NPT’s Article VI obligation (to work toward reducing nuclear weapons) and advance that treaty’s purported goal of general and complete disarmament,” she said.

She added that the treaty does not prohibit the alliance Japan has with the United States and noted that the Security Treaty between the two nations makes no mention of nuclear weapons.

Moreover, she said, Japan joining the TPNW would have a huge symbolic effect and place Japan in a leadership role in nuclear disarmament because it is the only nation that has been hit in war by atomic bombs. She added that as a nuclear umbrella state, Japan joining the treaty could have a domino effect on other nations that are also currently under a similar umbrella.

Mitsuru Kurosawa, a professor at Osaka Jogakuin University Graduate School, who has worked for many years on nuclear disarmament issues, was more pessimistic, saying the invalidation of the INF Treaty and the outlook for the NPT review conference next year places the state of “nuclear weapons abolition at its worst level ever.”

He also criticized Japan’s contradictory position on nuclear deterrence policy even with it being the only nation to be bombed by such weapons.

While the basic policy of nuclear powers is to only use such weapons when it has been attacked by similar weapons, Kurosawa explained that the Japanese government has repeatedly reminded the United States that it wants it to use nuclear weapons to defend Japan if it is attacked even with only conventional weapons. He said it was inconceivable for the United States to retaliate with a nuclear attack on North Korea, for example, if Pyongyang used conventional weapons against Japan.

He blamed that illogical stance on the lack of policy discussions within Japan about what is the appropriate deterrence policy.

Haruka Katarao, a native of Hiroshima city, worked in 2017 in the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs as a liaison officer for NPOs when the TPNW was approved. She said she still vividly remembers the emotionally charged atmosphere at the conference hall when the treaty was passed and said it was an example of what multilateral organizations could accomplish by involving civil society actors, such as NPOs.

Both Kurosawa and Sato urged audience members to lobby their lawmakers or write them letters asking that more action be done toward nuclear disarmament.

Sato said the most pressing issue facing the NPT on whether it remains a legitimate treaty is what happens with Iran. In that sense, he said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should use his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump to convince him to allow Abe to maintain a back channel of communications with Iran to defuse the tense situation over the international nuclear agreement that the United States withdrew from.

The importance of dialogue as well as actions by individuals was also highlighted in the opening part of the symposium that was a special dialogue titled “Let’s Build a Fortress of Peace” featuring movie director Nobuhiko Obayashi and actress Chizuru Azuma, who are both Hiroshima Prefecture natives.

Obayashi, who was born in Onomichi, was 7 when World War II ended.

He said that whenever he returned to Hiroshima, he would willingly talk about his war experiences and ask others what they thought.

He touched upon the ease with which people can now obtain information in the Internet age and said that made more people think they were analysts or commentators.

“I think people should have their own thoughts and opinions on matters such as war and peace rather than just present commentary,” he said, adding that one can only have such thoughts if they learned about and understood what occurred in the past.

He also mentioned working on his latest movie, which revolves around the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A crucial part of the movie, which comes out next year, “Umibe no Eigakan: Kinema no Tamatebako” (Seaside movie theater: jewel box of cinema), focuses on the real-life experience of members of Sakura-tai, a traveling theater group that just happened to be in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped, which killed them all.

Obayashi explained why a number of his movies have revolved around war.

“I want to pass on to future generations what I know about the foolish things Japan has done in the past,” he said. “We may not be able to change the past, but I feel we can change the future by passing on such knowledge through movies.”

Azuma said that the peace education that she was immersed in while growing up in Hiroshima played a large part in her later interest in such activities as the Peace Boat and a German NPO known as the Peace-Village International.

Azuma has escorted hibakusha on Peace Boat trips around the world to have them provide testimony about their experiences during the war. One of the co-leaders of Peace Boat is Akira Kawasaki, who serves on the international steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Peace-Village International provides medical care in Germany to children from war-torn countries. Azuma has often met with those children as well as their parents and when she asked the parents why the war had started, a common answer was, “We have no idea.”

But that may be a universal sentiment, according to Azuma, because when she mentioned that response to hibakusha, many also said they never really understood why Japan was at war and that they felt that the situation had just built toward war over the years.