Japan should get out of US nuclear umbrella – Hiroshima governor

Hiroshima suffered the horrific consequences of a nuclear blast, and now it aims to lead a global struggle to abolish nuclear weapons altogether. Will it succeed? We talked to Hidehiko Yuzaki, governor of Japan’s Hiroshima Prefecture.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Governor Yuzaki, it’s really great to have you on our program, welcome to our show. 

Hidehiko Yuzaki: Thank you very much.

SS: So, lots of relevant issues to discuss with you. So far your country is the only country that has suffered from the use of the nuclear weapon, so it is understandable why the Japanese people are so adamant on abolishing nuclear arms. But you said that those advocating nuclear disarmament are realistic. You really think so? I mean, how realistic? Because nuclear states, including your biggest partner the United States, oppose that? 

HY: Well, I say “realistic” because our argument, the goal for abolishment of nuclear weapons is based on the reality of what happens to human beings when it’s used, when it’s actually used. So we know the reality of the use of it. And sometimes, you know, deterrence or strategy – they are all discussed on paper, there are certain assumptions “if we have this number it’s enough to deter certain actions etc.” There are others too, but, you know, mostly it’s perception, idea-based but not standing the real outcome. 

SS:Are you talking about those who are actually supporters of the deterrence? 

HY: Yeah. 

SS: But I mean we didn’t have a war for the last 70 years, thanks to deterrence. You don’t think that reason is enough to think it’s a good thing? 

HY: Yeah, well, deterrence or not having war, not having a large number of casualties is not necessarily just because U.S. and Russia or other country has had nuclear weapons. There are so many other factors that had deterred a war. What I am talking about, you know, nuclear deterrence and deterrence is something that is probably necessarily, but I am talking about nuclear deterrence. What is the added value of nuclear deterrence to the conventional deterrence and other deterrence? 

SS:Probably the fact that it should never ever take place because it is so horrid that no one ever wanted to have that happen again? 

HY: But that is based on assumption that there is no mistake, there is no misjudgment, there is no accident. Now, there are a lot of assumptions that current deterrence is based on. And historically, actually, it’s been proven wrong. There have been accidents, many misjudgments that have almost led to the actual nuclear war which is a really risky situation. 

SS:So these nuclear powers, the global powers at this point they are all very wary of each other, that’s why they don’t really want to give up their nukes. How do you see this technically happening if it were ever to happen? Like, they all should give it up at the same time? 

HY: Well, of course, that process needs to be carefully designed and I don’t think it’s going to happen like that or overnight. So what we need now is to seriously look into it, and, of course, the situation is very different in regions. What, are we deterring against and where? It’s a very important question and you will have to dig into these details and try to come up with the process in each situation to reduce the nuclear weapons… 

SS:You’ve said it yourself that each region is different and they all have their reasons. And, yeah, nuclear weapons are only a manifestation of global political problems that each country has, right? Can you realistically get rid of the nuclear weapons without addressing those problems because, you know, they intertwine together? I mean, Pakistan is afraid of a bigger India, Kim Jong Un doesn’t want to be the next Saddam Hussein, Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab states. So unless you address those political problems, you can’t really talk about getting rid of nukes... 

HY: Well, no, I don’t think so. First, again, nuclear deterrence is different from deterrence. So we are talking about nuclear deterrence and the added value of nuclear deterrence. And if you carefully look into each situation, we should be able to find the new equilibrium. You know, strategic stability is equilibrium in game theory, and there is a possible multiple equilibrium usually. And that’s based on conditions or assumptions. And if we could find the way to move that equilibrium to other position which is less costly or namely, you know, without equilibrium, without nuclear weapon that’s much more economical probably and less risky. So what I am saying is why not we just say... All because we have this conflict, having nuclear weapon is something that is taken as granted. But let’s look for ways to move this equilibrium to a new one. And of course, I didn’t say it’s easy, there are some measures probably that multiple parties need to agree upon. But I don’t think it’s impossible, we just have to make the efforts now. 

SS:What do you think of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty adopted by the United Nations? Can it ever go beyond declaring intent and actually show an actual impact? 

HY: It’s true that the nuclear weapon countries must be involved in the process. I mean, it’s only the nuclear weapon countries that can reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons so they have to be involved. It’s, you know, about the process again how we involve the nuclear weapons states. 

SS:So you have this ambitious “Hiroshima for Global Peace” plan in motion, and I looked at it and I have to say that I admire the idea of it, I admire your devotion to it. Do you have my doubts about how to promote what you stand for? I mean, conferences or rock concerts, you know, I cover politics a lot and wars a lot and, you know, peace doesn’t come through concerts and conferences. So how do you make sure that you impact through this program? 

HY: Yeah, well, you should be aware that sometimes peace comes through music and concerts too. 

SS:That I agree. 

HY: Yeah. So, you know, those activities are targeted at public, you know, like increasing the public awareness, or some activities are targeted at more experts, like round table talk that we have at Hiroshima. This is a talk among experts and ex-policy makers about what we can do. So we think, the final goal, of course, is to eliminate nuclear weapons. But who eliminates it is, actually, the leader of the nuclear weapon country and the structure that supports the leader, like the bureaucracy and expert system, and also public, which has the basic foundation for those systems, right? So we are trying to find ways to reach out in how effective each action is, etc. We have to try many things because, you know, this is a very complicated and very significant issue, so it doesn’t happen overnight. So we are trying to do whatever we can and find a more effective way to achieve our goal. 

SS: Governor, so there are some serious steps towards nuclear abolition going on in your neighboring North Korea. I wonder what you think about that, because it has announced the suspension of nuclear and missile ballistic tests and shutting down of a nuclear test site. This is widely seen as a positive step towards denuclearisation. Do you think Kim Jong Un is actually not going to make any nuclear tests anymore? 

HY: Well, we cannot have a conclusion yet. We have to see their actual actions. You know, we’ve been betrayed so many times through the past negotiations with North Korea so what is important is the actual actions. And you know, it’s being said, one of the words used is “irreversible” and how it is irreversible and how to prevent it and, of course, check it is a very important issue. But we need to do that to actually believe that North Korea is denuclearizing. 

SS:So you have North and South Koreas that are meeting right now, and the talks between America and North Korea and being set up. And all of those partners – South Korea, America, Japan – they are saying that the ultimate goal is to see completely denuclearized North Korea, but logical question is why would Kim Jong Un give up his nuclear arsenal? I mean, why all of a sudden destroy completely something that he is building up for a decade?

HY: Well, that is exactly why we have to really see the actions of North Korea. I think that Kim Jong Un’s motivation is, of course, one extending the current regime and if he believes having a nuclear weapon is more beneficial to extending the regime he may hold on to it. And if he believes giving it up is more beneficial for extending the regime, I think, he will. So, you know, we have to prepare environment that he believes in and that is beneficial for him. 

SS: Can you be more precise in your opinion? What should he be getting in exchange for giving up the nukes? 

HY: He is saying he has security assurance and denuclearisation, and with this security assurance there might be the more concrete requests or requirements or conditions, like having no U.S. force in the peninsula. So I don’t know, they will come out. It’s very difficult to predict now on what conditions he will give up nuclear weapons at this point. We need to see. 

SS: And also the timing, I want to discuss the timing because Japan’s foreign minister says that North Korea should abolish nuclear arms by 2020. Do you think that’s a realistic goal timewise, because it took 2 years of talks to just stop the Iranian nuclear program and they didn’t even have an actual weapon? I mean, how can this diplomacy with North Korea work faster than with Iran? 

HY: Well, you know, whether it’s realistic or too fast or too slow, I hope, if it happens by 2020 that’s very welcome. And to the extent that is possible everyone should make every effort to achieve that. I would say there is no “too early” for that, so I don’t know if it’s achievable or not. But at least we can try. 

SS: So like I’ve mentioned, South Korea and America are going to sit down and talk to North Korea. As of now Japan hasn’t been invited to those talks. Do you think it should be part of these talks and what can it bring to the table? 

HY: Well, you know, Japan has a lot of roles in setting the entire condition or setting the entire environment, or in the longer process of post-agreement too. And I don’t know what on this point Japan can do, but at least carefully see U.S. and Korea’s movement or actions. Again, I am not in a government position but we should not relieve the pressure on North Korea unless we actually see the output or outcome for actions. 

SS:It’s also quite interesting to see what’s going to happen to your country’s security because Japan has been relying on U.S. for protection for decades and now Trump is saying its allies in Asian Pacific should rely more and more on their own resources, their own security and then, you know, we’ve recently heard the Japanese government saying that slowly Japan should be expanding its own Japanese military. Do you think it’s time to rethink the security concept of Japan? 

HY: Well, you know, I don’t think the big picture will change. We will continue the alliance with the United States and, of course, we will have a close relationship with Korea and some of the others Southeastern Asian countries too. But in that balance some roles could be redefined. For example, we as Hiroshima would like to see Japan to be out of US nuclear deterrence, not the deterrence as a whole, but US nuclear deterrence. That will give us better position in terms of promoting the nuclear elimination or disarmament. And, for example, if you look carefully, we recently received the report paper from UNIDIR, the UN’s Research Institute, if we go back to the first question and look carefully at the situation – nuclear deterrence against North Korea is not necessary, you know. 

SS:But American nuclear deterrence in a way is a guarantee that no one attacks Japan as well, you know. 

HY: Well, not necessarily. For example, North Korea, their motivation is not to be invaded, not to be attacked to destroy their regime. 

SS:I am sorry I keep interrupting you, but I’ll forget to ask this. It feels like you don’t think that North Korea is actually capable of attacking a neighbor… 

HY: They are capable of attacking the neighbor. But whether they will do is a different question, right? 

SS: So you don’t think they will do. You think they will use the nukes just to keep the regime in place, that’s it. 

HY: Well, unless they feel really oppressed or they feel there is an immediate, very imminent danger of being attacked. But they know that once they use the nuclear weapons that’s basically the end of their regime because they will be fought back against. And, you know, there is so much unbalance there. 

SS:But you don’t feel like – I just have to go to that question because you didn’t quite answer – you don’t feel like you need American nuclear deterrence, because you don’t feel like North Korea is actually about to attack someone but it’s more about keeping it’s regime intact? 

HY: Well, it is not about the feeling and it is not me saying this, but I am talking about this UNIDIR paper. And from North Korea’s point of view, what are they deterring against is an attack from our side to destroy their regime. And if they attack first, it’s very certain that their regime will collapse. So their real possibility or their high probability that North Korea is going to attack by themselves... We are talking about at this point, right? And if U.S., I am again talking about this paper, is to destroy the North Korea’s nuclear capability, you know, they need to use so many nuclear weapons, if they used nuclear weapons. And that is very unrealistic because it is going to cause so much radiation issues not only in the North Korea but South Korea, China and Russia too – they all will be affected – and, of course, Japan too. 

SS: The original question was that Japan always enjoyed America’s protection because you don’t have your own military security system in place to protect your country. Now that Trump is saying that you should rely more on your own resources, do you think Japan needs an actual army, an actual security system in place? 

HY: Yeah, I wouldn’t say we don’t have it at all, right? We have conventional defense system to a certain extent and we are partnering with the United States. My view is, for example, this nuclear deterrence against North Korea, we may have an argument that we could get out the nuclear deterrence and that will change the roles and balance, right? So there could be a new balance, a new re-thinking of our security system. 

SS: I just have a last question on this sensitive issue - a Chinese perception of Japan in general. So the American president has visited Hiroshima but do you see a situation where a Japanese prime minister, for instance, visits Nanjing? Because the Chinese are saying, you know, so anti-nuclear campaign in Japan, which you are part of, of course, is sort of a way to whitewash Japan’s role in World War II and it’s not fair because you can’t discuss the bombing without the reasons behind the bombing. Do you see a situation where your prime minister would actually visit Nanjing like the American president visited Hiroshima? 

HY: Yeah, well, that may be possible and, of course, that depends on the environment and the context; if that is in the core of the context, I think it will be difficult for our prime minister to go. But that part is out of the context, maybe he might be able to go. 

SS:Alright, governor, thank you very much for this interview. We wish you all the best of luck. Have a nice rest of your stay in Russia. 

HY: Thank you.