Civil Society Wants Deeds, Not Words, on Nuclear Disarmament: The G7 Should Listen

April 19, 2023 | 9:54 am
G. Kulacki/UCS
Gregory Kulacki
East Asia Project Manager

The Civil 7 (C7) is a non-governmental organization that brings together thousands of highly-skilled individuals from around the world who work to improve government responses to global environmental, economic, and social problems. The C7 held its annual summit in Tokyo last week to discuss its current recommendations and to present them to emissaries of the Group of 7 (G7) nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which will be holding their annual summit in Hiroshima next month.  

For the first time in the history of the C7, it also presented recommendations on nuclear disarmament. I participated in the newly formed C7 Nuclear Disarmament Working Group and spoke about the need for it at the summit in Tokyo. The G7 decision to meet in Hiroshima this year acknowledges growing international concern about the growing risk of nuclear war and the costs of the new nuclear arms race. When US President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016, he considered, but then decided against, announcing specific steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use. The G7 has given no indication it is willing to halt the arms race that’s developed in the wake of Obama’s failure to act. 

Symbolism is important but it can be misleading. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida claims credit for getting the powerful group of seven wealthy nations to Hiroshima to make a public statement supporting the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. But his government encourages the United States to develop new tactical nuclear weapons and to deploy them in East Asia. President Biden supports expensive and unnecessary upgrades to the US nuclear arsenal. The United Kingdom plans to increase its nuclear stockpile by forty percent and France is building a new generation of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. Germany and Italy recently received upgraded US tactical nuclear weapons and both support US and NATO threats to use them first. 

The C7 recommended the G7 “unequivocally condemn any and all threats to use nuclear weapons and disavow all options to resort to nuclear weapons in conflict.” The G7 already agreed in its 2022 communique that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Nevertheless, as noted in the 2023 C7 communique, the three nuclear armed members of the G7 are currently spending over $100,000 a minute preparing for such a war. 

The C7 also recommended the G7 “begin urgent negotiations to achieve the complete elimination, of nuclear weapons before 2045,” the year of the 100th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All the G7 nations promised to negotiate “a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control” decades ago, when they ratified or acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). When the C7 disarmament working group met in Tokyo, several elderly survivors of the bombings, who’ve been working their whole lives to eliminate nuclear weapons, said they were disappointed the C7 did not press the G7 to act sooner. 

One C7 recommendation the leaders of the G7 may heed is to spend meaningful time with the survivors so they can share their stories and convey their expectations. Obama made time for a few photo ops with survivors, and signed the guestbook to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, but he didn’t see the exhibits or give the survivors a chance to tell their stories. There are reports the G7 leaders will make amends during their visit to Hiroshima next month. 

Other C7 recommendations for the G7 include ending all nuclear weapons development and production, ending US nuclear sharing arrangements with non-nuclear allies, working cooperatively with the state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and aiding the victims of nuclear production and testing. But the two most important recommendations may be to provide funding for disarmament education and to continue addressing nuclear disarmament in future G7 summits. 

I believe the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons that emerged after the publication of John Hersey’s Hiroshima–the first intimate portrait of the horrific and morally repugnant effects of nuclear weapons–is what kept our political leaders from using them again. The impact of that initial awareness was repeated and magnified when the survivors, known in Japanese as the hibakusha, were allowed to share their suffering with the world after the US military governors who kept them silent ceded that authority to a new Japanese government. 

Keeping the knowledge of those effects alive in the hearts and minds of global civil society remains essential to our survival. Even a modest G7 investment in disarmament education, especially on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use and production, will do more to preserve peace than the trillions they currently waste on unproven theories of “deterrence.” Giving civil society more opportunities to remind G7 leaders of the dangers, and the moral repugnance, of threatening and planning to use nuclear weapons may, someday, finally convince them to abandon those theories and take the steps needed to disarm. 

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Gregory Kulacki collects information and conducts analysis on security problems in East Asia. He uses that information and analysis to facilitate constructive dialogue between scientists, scholars and legislators from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea who seek solutions to security problems that do not depend on the use or threat to use nuclear weapons.