Photo/Illutration Former U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a video message at the opening session of the International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons on Dec. 10. (Jun Ueda)

A world without nuclear weapons remains a distant goal embraced by the entire human race. There is no denying the fact that the theory of nuclear deterrence, mutually assured destruction (MAD) if an attack is staged, has delayed progress in international efforts toward the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

Russia, a leading nuclear power, invaded Ukraine and has threatened to use nuclear arms in the war. This has made it all the more important to devise a new road map to reach the zero weapons goal through innovative thinking that goes beyond the limits of deterrence.

The International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons, an expert panel set up by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to promote nuclear disarmament, which he has cast as his lifelong mission, held its first meeting over the course of two days in Hiroshima. The talks ended Dec. 11.

The panel is composed of 15 members, researchers and former U.N. or government officials from Japan and elsewhere, including nuclear powers the United States, Russia and China. They discussed ways to push the world toward a future without nuclear weapons.

During the meeting, the Russian delegate denied that Moscow’s threat to use nuclear arms is a fact. Instead of acting as representatives of their governments, the members could achieve more by discussing issues freely and offering constructive ideas based on their own expertise and achievements.

It has become far more difficult in recent years for the world to make strides toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the cornerstone of international rules concerning nuclear weapons since the Cold War, has failed to perform its expected role as the driving force for nuclear disarmament. That stems from the refusal of the nuclear powers to fulfill their obligation to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Some countries have even made moves that run counter to the cause. China, for instance, continues to beef up its military power, while North Korea has been developing nuclear arms and missiles in the face of strong international sanctions.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, many non-nuclear states and survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings took the initiative and staged a successful campaign to bring about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which came into force last year. In addition to the differences among the nuclear powers, a rift is growing between the camp comprising the nuclear powers as well as countries protected by their nuclear umbrellas and the bloc of non-nuclear states.

Due to the differences and rift, the latest NPT review conference, held this summer, failed to adopt a consensus document. It is hardly surprising that the eminent persons group expressed huge disappointment at the outcome of the review conference.

Given the unbridgeable gap in opinion over whether nuclear arms should be regarded as a necessary evil, international debate on the issue needs to go beyond the traditional theory of nuclear deterrence.

In a news conference after the end of the panel meeting, Takashi Shiraishi, the chairperson of the group and chancellor of Kumamoto Prefectural University, suggested that a partial review of nuclear deterrence and identification of flaws in the theory was needed. He also referred to the importance of broadening the definition of deterrence and exploring other possibilities. The panel should delve deeper into these issues and challenges through debate focused on how to move toward the ultimate goal of a nuclear-free world.

In his opening speech, Kishida stressed that maintaining and strengthening the NPT regime is the “only realistic path.” He reiterated his lukewarm position on the nuclear ban treaty, describing it as the end product of efforts to rid the world of nuclear arms.

If he wants to use this panel as a forum of discussions for finding ways to narrow the gap between the nuclear powers and non-nuclear states, Kishida should drop his obstinate refusal to heed the role the nuclear ban treaty could play.

Kishida appears to be intent on using the panel’s discussions to enliven the Group of Seven summit to be held in Hiroshima next year. Political calculations have no role to play in this initiative.

The goal is nuclear abolition, and the Japanese government should support free and candid debate on ways to achieve it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13