The horror and destruction that is brought on by nuclear weapons need not be explained to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens that perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where in August of 1945 nuclear bombs were dropped to bring about the end of World War II. The impact of those two bombs is still being felt today as generations of survivors suffer from its effects.
During a recent New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) webinar, hosted by the International Section, the real-world risks and consequences of nuclear weapons were discussed by domestic and international experts, as were ways the globe can achieve a nuclear-free world and how this issue can break through to the mainstream media.
Osamu Arakaki, professor of law at the International Christian University of Japan, began the webinar by sharing survivor stories describing the unimaginable horrors brought on by nuclear weapons and watching the bombed cities becoming “pictures of hell.” Arakaki’s sobering re-telling of survivor stores brings the discussion of nuclear weapons to a human level, one that is often forgotten when the issues of nuclear weapons are discussed by policymakers across the globe.
Arakaki described the view many inside and outside of Japan have regarding the nations’ response to these cataclysmic events.
“Despite the tragedy civilians experienced, Japan’s approach to nuclear weapons has been met with ambivalence by insiders and outsiders,” Arakaki said. “Japan is the only nation to have suffered an atomic bombing and showed a positive attitude to promote the elimination of nuclear weapons.”
Arakaki noted that Japan has continued to submit drafts of anti-nuclear weapons resolutions at the United Nations for the past 25 years.
The day-long conference, which attracted nearly 700 NYSBA members, featured a keynote address from Hon. Izumi Nakamitsu, the under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations and a one-on-one conversation with former California Governor Jerry Brown, who now serves as executive chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
In her keynote address, Nakamitsu discussed the nuclear disarmament regime within the United Nations and its roots in international law.
“Since its creation nearly 75 years ago, the United Nations has established a diverse international coalition to advance its goal of total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Nakamitsu said. “This coalition imposes a number of obligations on nations and also provides the foundation for discussion regarding nuclear disarmament.”
Despite the fact that these forums and systems exist, Nakamitsu acknowledges that the global community is not there yet in its efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. She notes that compared to other weapons of mass destruction, be it chemical or biological, there is still a long way to go when it comes to stigmatizing the use of nuclear weapons.
She notes that several of the negotiated treaties, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have been effective in preventing the nightmare scenario many predicted in the 1960s of dozens of nuclear-capable nations. But changes in the international landscape since the treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995 has stalled further negotiations.
According to Brown, the stigmatizing of nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War was effective in making the public believe that it would create a great disadvantage for the United States and has continued to corrupt the way Americans understand the true danger of nuclear weapons.
“We need to come to a general consensus that the proliferation and stockpiles of these weapons are indeed a problem,” Brown said. “How do we in the legal community get people to realize this and reduce the threat?”
The arms race between Russia and the United States, which has gone on for decades, has not been able to be curbed by sanctions, according to Brown. He is calling for the U.S. to look past the faults of other nuclear nations so that they can join together and defeat this global threat.
“During World War II, we dealt with the looming threat of Nazi Germany by partnering with Stalin,” Brown said. “We didn’t point out the human rights violations; rather we joined together to beat the Nazis. Now it’s time to join together to beat this threat.”