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Overcoming Continuing Nuclear Dangers and Japan Prime Minister Abe’s Unconstitutional Coup

Despite the dangers of a great power nuclear war on display in Ukraine and the political coup in Japan that has shredded its Constitution, progress on abolishing nuclear weapons is being made.

Slightly edited address by Dr. Joseph Gerson to International Conference, Hiroshima, August 3, 2014.

Much has happened since we gathered here last year for the World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. In addition to the ongoing death and suffering in Ukraine, we have been starkly reminded that the dangers of great power nuclear war didn’t end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In May a “massive US nuclear arms drill” was followed by a similar drill by Russia – each designed to send “a message” of nuclear intimidation. Daniel Ellsberg, a senior nuclear war planner for three US presidents is certain that US and Russian nuclear forces were on high alert during the Ukraine crisis (1), which is still far from over.

The Ukraine crisis has deepened the reliance of both superpowers on their nuclear arsenals. NATO’s Secretary General Rasmussen has been clear that Russia’s occupation of Crimea “will also have an impact on . . . nuclear policies.” (2) Moscow has announced that “disarmament in the ‘classical’ sense is in many ways becoming a thing of the past,” and SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] has reported that, like the United States, Russia “is in the middle of a broad upgrade of its strategic nuclear forces.” (3)

The situation is no better here in East Asia, especially with Japan and China playing chicken over the Senkaku/Dioayu Islands. Former Governor Ishihara and Japan’s right-wing bear primary responsibility for initiating the crisis. And after Japan altered the status quo, Beijing upped the military ante by sending its naval and air forces to challenge Japanese military operations in the disputed area and by declaring its overlapping air defense identification zone. The Obama Administration compounded the situation by stating that if it comes to a military conflict over these uninhabited rocks, the US-Japan military alliance requires that the United States intervene on Japan’s behalf.

Japan has suffered a political coup. Abe has boasted that what he did was comparable to the Meiji revolution.

At a recent seminar at Harvard, we were shown a photograph of Japanese and Chinese warships and Taiwanese fishing vessels in such close proximity that it was impossible to distinguish which was which. Much the same is true for Japanese and Chinese war planes. In these circumstances, an incident is waiting to happen, and Ezra Vogel, formerly the State Department’s head of intelligence, warns that in the case of an incident, we can have no confidence that military escalation can be capped.

As we meet on this 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, although there are significant differences, there are also disturbing parallels to the situation that prevailed in Europe in the spring of 1914. We are again in a period of rising and declining great powers, arms races with new technologies, resurgent nationalism, territorial disputes, resource competition, complex alliance arrangements, economic integration and competition, and wild card actors – especially the Abe and Kim Jung Un governments

Abe’s Political Coup: Black is White

I have been asked to say a few words about the [Japan Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe government’s reinterpretation of the constitution. To put it bluntly, Japan has suffered a political coup. Abe has boasted that what he did was comparable to the Meiji revolution. Even Asahi Shimbun editorialized that black is now officially white. A constitution that clearly and forever renounced war and preparations for war is now said to mean that the Japanese military can join Washington in its wars for oil and natural gas in the Middle East or in the South China Sea under the guise of protecting Japan’s essential energy supplies. Japanese military operations need not be limited to collaborations – termed collective security – with the US. Japanese military operations can also now be launched with nations with which Japan is deemed to close relations, for example the Philippines, Vietnam or India – independent of the United States. And the Cabinet decision also indicates that the way for first-strike Japanese attacks against China or North Korea has been opened. Further, we now read that Abe plans to seek the right to dispatch Japanese military forces anywhere in the world without consulting the Diet.

Friends, it is painful to say that Japan appears no longer to be a constitutional democracy. The “reinterpretation” reflects total disregard not only for the Constitution, but for democracy itself. The Constitution was functionally amended by fiat, rather than by the democratic process required by Article 96 – and it is being imposed despite the opposition of the majority of Japanese people. In addition to its further opening the way for Japanese militarism, this autocratic reinterpretation means that in the future the constitutional commitments to human rights could be equally vulnerable. We need to take the mainstream Japanese press seriously when it writes that Abe is “imitating” the early Showa Era, when the military intelligence protection act left “the public feeling unable to speak freely.” (4) Abe’s disrespect for the law is not limited to the Constitution. He is apparently also acting illegally as he presses construction of the massive new US Marine Air Base at Henoko.

Despite Abe’s nationalist credentials, the reinterpretation needs also to be understood in the context of Japan’s client state role. In the last Armitage-Nye report, issued as Abe returned to power, we saw the US stepping up the pressure for Japan’s leaders to revise the Constitution. Why? Because as it works to compensate for the relative decline of the United States, Washington is demanding more of its allies. This helps to explain why, immediately after the reinterpretation, it was announced that a Maritime Self Defense officer was being dispatched to serve at the Pentagon with the US Chief of Naval Operations to “enhanc[e] the operational integration of the US Navy and the MSDF [Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force] . . . ” (5)

US Nuclear Weapons Policies & the Global Situation

There is little need to rehash here our disappointments with Obama. His speeches can be wonderful, inspiring hope, but his commitment to achieving a nuclear weapons-free world lost any credibility years ago.

You already know the basics. He is reinforcing nuclear apartheid by pressing necessary nonproliferation initiatives while implementing what Secretary of Defense/War Hagel termed “ambitious plans to upgrade [US] nuclear weapons systems by modernizing weapons and building new submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them.” (6)

Despite the soaring rhetoric of his Prague pledge to work for a nuclear weapons-free world, the Obama Administration has shown no credible commitment to multilateral disarmament diplomacy. President Obama refused to fulfill the United States’ 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review commitment to co-convene the Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD Free-Zone conference, further jeopardizing the NPT. The US boycotted the UN Open Ended Working Group and the Oslo and Nayarit Human Consequences conferences. And at the UN High Level Meeting it was painful to hear US, British and French diplomats argue that these international forums are a “distraction.” During the High Level Meeting, many of us were sickened by the arrogance of the nuclear powers and by the US spokesperson, who reported that the P-5 are fulfilling their 2010 NPT Review Final Declaration obligations, boasting that they were nearing completion of a glossary of terms. A glossary of terms! That’s progress?

It is estimated that in the coming decade, the US will spend between $619.56 billion and $661.09 billion on nuclear weapons programs. This includes between $10 and $15 billion to modernize the B-61, which will have yields ranging from 10 to more than 300 kilotons (20 times more powerful than the Hiroshima A-bomb). (7) Not only the weapons, but their delivery systems are being modernized. One element of this is the F-35 fighter-bomber, which “will be certified to carry nuclear weapons.” (8) Not incidentally, the Japanese military has signaled its desire to purchase even more of these vastly dangerous and monumentally expensive warplanes.

Given that these weapons could eliminate the human race and what this money could do if devoted to addressing climate change, hunger and other human suffering, these nuclear war preparations are both evil and insane.

What was most moving and impressive during the UN High Level Meeting on Disarmament last September was the isolation of the US and other nuclear powers.

But there is more. A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies study reported that “The trend lines in the relationships between the United States and its near-peer competitors, China and Russia, are worsening – cooperation and competition have been largely replaced with competition . . . We believe that a 2021 affordable military that is focused on the growing conflict with China and Russia is the ‘least bad’ option for this punishing fiscal context of fewer and weaker defense dollars.” They recommended:

“Keeping the nuclear triad of bombers, missiles and submarines at the same level of Russia and ahead of China . . . Full-spectrum intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance . . . ability to project power in a so-called “anti-access area-denial . . . environment,” i.e. China, special operations forces for “Global counterterrorism capabilities . . . Theater and national defense systems, . . . and maintaining America’s military-technological edge.” (9)

Growing Pressure for Nuclear Weapons Abolition

But let me tell you what was most moving and impressive during the UN High Level Meeting on Disarmament last September was the isolation of the US and other nuclear powers: One foreign minister or ambassador after another rose to associate their countries with the Iranian statement on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement, to condemn the failure to convene the conference on a Middle East Nuclear and WMD-Free Zone, and to condemn the nuclear powers’ failure to implement their NPT Article VI: Commitment to engage in good faith negotiations for the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals. It was no surprise that, following the High Level Meeting, one of the first acts of the General Assembly was to mandate the commencement of negotiations on a nuclear weapons abolition convention this year. We saw this anger, isolation and commitment when the representatives of 140 governments – but not the P-5 – gathered in Nayarit, Mexico. There is growing belief that the US and other nuclear powers are not committed to their Article VI NPT commitments.

Like many others at the NPT PremCom, I was awed to witness Tony deBrume, the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, announce his government’s challenge to the nuclear powers in the International Court of Justice and a number of national courts for breach of contract. At considerable risk, the Marshall Islands has spoken for the world’s more hesitant nations. We need to emulate their courage and to support this initiative as fully as we can.

I look forward to learning from Austrian Ambassador Kmentt about his expectations for the Human Consequences conference in Vienna this December. The previous conferences have been important in educating a new generation of diplomats and abolition activists and have pressed to create a new diplomatic avenue – termed a “ban” – to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, even in the absence of the nuclear powers. Frankly, I am doubtful that a meaningful ban can be negotiated without the full engagement of the nuclear powers. Some ban advocates point to the 15-year-old Land Mines Treaty as their model, and they have faith that moral suasion and international pressure will eventually get the nuclear weapons states to finally negotiate a nuclear weapons abolition treaty. Unfortunately, the major powers and a number of other nations have yet to sign onto the Land Mines Treaty.

Angela Kane, the UN High Commissioner for Disarmament, put it well in Nayarit when she reminded us that, difficult as it is, the road to nuclear weapons abolition necessarily passes through the NPT. It was also encouraging to hear Ambassador Kmentt say that “Austria wants to strengthen the NPT, of which the humanitarian dimension is an integral and essential part.” (10) All of this underlines the importance of our turning out in great numbers when the NPT Review convenes at the UN in New York next April.

I’ll close with a few words about the international planning for abolition movement activities during the NPT review. During last year’s World Conference, Judith LeBlanc, Sofia Wolman and I were profoundly moved as one Gensuikyo grassroots delegation after another took the stage and reported that they planned to bring even more activists to New York in 2015 than they had in 2010. With nearly 2,000 Hibakusha and Japanese activists having come to New York in 2010, we know that your expectations and those of our other international partners are enormous, and that we and our movements have to rise to the challenge. That’s what we’ve been doing.

During the Abolition 2000 annual meeting this past May, several of us were charged with creating an international planning committee, whose membership is now nearly complete.

As in 2010, we were mandated to organize an inclusive international Nuclear Weapons Abolition conference on the eve of the review and a mass rally and march to demand complete nuclear weapons abolition, peace and justice – including reducing military spending, and to engage climate change. We’ve been charged to facilitate the delivery of millions of abolition petition signatures and the organizing by the rising generation of young abolitionists. We will be exploring additional nonviolent actions and arranging visits by Hibakusha and international peace activists to communities in the United States to encourage nuclear weapons abolition organizing.

Friends, we won’t be able to achieve these goals without the deep and active engagements of Gensuikyo, its constituent organizations and our international partners. We are looking forward to the energy, imagination, creativity and dedication that you will be bringing to New York.

In the past I’ve spoken about the essential and leading roles of Gensuikyo in the struggle for nuclear weapons abolition. This leads me to close by reflecting back some of your wisdom: Our priority must be “Pressing the UN and the NPT Review Conference to decide on a ban on nuclear weapons and urging the start of negotiations . . . The key to achieving this goal is . . . activating and mobilizing public support for a total ban at the grassroots level worldwide, but particularly in the nuclear weapons states and its allies.”

On to New York and to a Nuclear Weapons Free World!

For more information on the effects nuclear weapons have had, see the American Friends Service Committee Fact Sheet on the legacy of the 1945 atomic bombings.


1. Daniel Ellsberg, talk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 13, 2014

2. Rachel Oswald. “NATO Chief Says Ukraine Events May Effect European Tactical Nuclear Reductions,” Global Security Newswire, March 20, 2014.

3. “US and Russia Determined to Keep Nuclear Weapons Arsenal, SIPRI Says,” Reuters, The Moscow Times, June 16, 2014,

4. “Abe trying to cross Rubicon: expert,” Jiji in The Japan Times, June 23, 2014

5. “MSDF officer to take key post at Pentagon,” Kyodo, The Japan Times, July 9, 2014.

6. David Alexander, “U.S. needs modern nuclear deterrent despite high price tag -Hagel,” Reuters, January 9, 2014.

7. Walter Pincus, “Extending the life of B-61 nuclear weapons could cost $4 billion,” The Washington Post, July 20, 2010; Hans M. Kristensen, “Germany and B61 Nuclear Bomb Mondernization. Nov. 13, 2012, ; Briefing by David Culp, Friends Committee on National Legislation, July 28, 2014.

8. “Air Force, Lockheed Look Forward 10 Years, Toward F-35 Nuclear Clearance,” Insidedefense.dom, May 7, 2014.

9. Ben Watson. “Pentagon Urged to Focus on ‘Great Power Conflict’ to Save Budget,” DefenseOne.Com, July 2, 2014

10. ICAN NEWSLETTER, May, 2014