Sat, 16 Aug 2003

Russian denuclearization is in Japan's interest

Nobumasa Akiyama The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo

The Japanese media, which devoted so much time to reporting on the rift between the United States and Europe over Iraq and the North Korean nuclear development issue, virtually ignored an important development at this year's Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Evian, France: G-8 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Global Partnership (GP) to prevent the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction adopted at the Kananaskis summit in Canada last year.

The program calls for G-8 members to jointly tackle the disposal of Russia's weapons of mass destruction.

Japan has offered to assist with Russia's denuclearization, in particular, the dismantling of its nuclear-powered submarines. On June 28, the two countries signed an agreement to start dismantling the first nuclear submarine.

Some Japanese may ask why they have to spend a huge amount of their tax money to help dismantle the very Soviet nuclear weapons that threatened them during the Cold War. But promoting Russia's denuclearization is also in Japan's interest.

Forty-one decommissioned nuclear submarines are sitting abandoned, without proper safety measures being taken, across the Sea of Japan in the Russian Far East. Some of them reportedly had accidents that caused radioactive leaks.

Dismantling abandoned nuclear submarines without delay helps prevent contamination of the Sea of Japan with radioactive materials. It is also important from the viewpoint of preventing terrorists from getting hold of nuclear materials and for ensuring global security, including Japan's.

Nuclear submarines are not the only thing on the GP's agenda. There is also the safe disposal of weapons-grade plutonium used in nuclear warheads, as outlined by the first Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Treaty. If Russia's disposal of plutonium gets off the ground, it could also give impetus to the goal of reducing nuclear weapons on a global scale. Japan can also contribute to this process by providing funds and technical assistance.

Traditionally, the Japanese government has promoted disarmament through such diplomatic channels as the United Nations, the Conference on Disarmament and treaty negotiations. In short, it has mostly concentrated on "conference diplomacy." But international meetings and treaties are simply the first step in the disarmament process. Only when the arms are abolished, in a verifiable way, and measures are taken to prevent them from being built again can the process be said to be completed.

Promoting nuclear disarmament is a pillar of Japan's foreign policy. As such, involvement in Russia's denuclearization offers an ideal opportunity for Japan to participate in the disarmament process as a whole. Japan should positively involve itself in the "implementation" of disarmament in addition to "conference diplomacy." Doing so enhances the credibility of Japan's nuclear disarmament diplomacy and serves as a major step for Japan to establish itself as a nation committed to contributing to peace.

Also, from the standpoint of Japan-Russia bilateral relations, the denuclearization process is useful. By sharing military information, security is enhanced through building confidence in each other. Furthermore, the project will secure jobs for local residents and stimulate the economy of the Russian Far East.

The US$200 million Japan has pledged to the GP is the lowest among the G-8 countries. Japan should increase its share while proceeding with the dismantlement of nuclear submarines.

Nuclear weapons are a negative legacy of the 20th century. No matter how difficult the process, making an effort to abolish them is a responsibility of not only the nuclear powers but also one that must be shared by our generation as a whole.

When the disposal of weapons of mass destruction takes place in other countries in the future, Japan should have a hand in this as well.

We must think positively about supporting Russia's denuclearization process as a perfect opportunity to establish Japan as a nation that contributes to peace. Japan needs to adopt such an affirmative diplomatic strategy.

The author is a researcher with the Hiroshima Peace Institute.