The ideas contained within this report are developed from a one-day roundtable on ‘nuclear responsibilities’ held on the 22nd January 2019, hosted by the Centre for the Promotion of Disarmament and NonProliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo, Japan. Held under the Chatham House Rule, the discussion included Japanese representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, think tanks, academia, civil society, and the military, and was facilitated by Sebastian Brixey-Williams (Programme Director, BASIC) and Paul Ingram (Executive Director, BASIC).
The purpose was to introduce the Japanese nuclear policy community to the ‘nuclear responsibilities’ framing and to canvass opinions on the concrete nuclear responsibilities of the NPT Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The roundtable was one of a series funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, itself part of a broader programme of work by BASIC and ICCS that intends to build international understanding, dialogue, and a shared culture of responsibilities around nuclear weapons.
Japan was identified as a high-priority NNWS to host a discussion on this agenda. The state and many citizens have a dualistic take on nuclear weapons: both shunning them for their horrific humanitarian consequences and reluctantly accepting them as an inevitable tool of deterrence and thereby contributing to their national and international security. It remains the only state to have suffered nuclear attacks, and retains a strong governmental and civil society commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, although a full understanding of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is fading among the younger generations.
Today, Japan continues to play an important leadership role in multilateral disarmament, issuing with others an annual United Nations General Assembly resolution, ‘United action with renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,’ and most recently convening the Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament to identify practical and achievable measures that can be taken towards disarmament. Nevertheless, Japan also relies upon US extended nuclear deterrence, which has taken on increasing importance for the country as China’s and North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have grown, and it has been accused of nuclear hedging when its large plutonium stockpile is considered alongside its world-class engineering capabilities.
- States have common but differentiated responsibilities around nuclear weapons, including for nuclear risk reduction, non-proliferation, and disarmament.
- Japanese officials and experts indicated that Japan has national nuclear responsibilities arising, among other things, from its ongoing memorialisation of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its present-day reliance on US extended deterrence to deter regional nuclear threats.
- Japanese participants responded positively to Japan being included in multilateral NWS-NNWS discussions on nuclear responsibilities.
The United Kingdom and Japan are more similar than might first be assumed. Both face strategic nuclear risks that causes them to rely for now on nuclear deterrence for their national security, but both also profess a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament over the long-term. Both have been called ‘threshold states,’ Japan for its high levels of nuclear weapons expertise, technologies and stock of fissile materials among the Non-Nuclear Weapon States, and the United Kingdom for being perceived to be the Nuclear Weapon State closest to disarmament. Both have active and longstanding civil society communities that are essential for keeping disarmament on the public agenda. And both are searching for practical frameworks and actions that can be taken to demonstrate that progress can be made on the reduction of nuclear weapons worldwide. While several participants initially expressed considerable surprise that Japan might have a productive or meaningful conversation ‘with a Nuclear Weapon State like the United Kingdom,’ by the end of the meeting there had been, as one participant put it, ‘a meeting of minds’ that demonstrated a ‘kind of affinity or closeness’ between the two countries. The prospect of future collaboration between Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as other NWS and NNWS, was warmly received.