President Barack Obama on Friday will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit to Hiroshima, Japan—a visit, according to anti-nuclear campaigners, that "rings hollow without far bolder efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons."
During his visit, Obama will reportedly offer no apology for the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on the Japanese city 71 years ago, which killed 140,000 people, though lingering effects, both physical and psychological, remain today.
At the start of his presidency, in 2009, Obama gave a speech in Prague during which he called for world without nuclear weapons and said, "the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same."
Yet that lofty goal "has been replaced by an administration plan to build a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear production facilities to last the nation well into the second half of the 21st century"—to the tune of $1 trillion over three decades, and in violation of the terms of the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, historian Lawrence Wittner wrote.
Failing to achieve that commitment, according to 84-year-old atomic bomb survivors Setsuko Thurlow, is "a huge, huge disappointment for the world."
As Greenpeace Japan and the the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) argue, there's actually been backwards movement away from that goal.
"We welcome President Obama's attempt to understand the miseries of nuclear warfare, but this visit rings hollow without far bolder efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons," said Hisayo Takada, deputy program director at Greenpeace Japan. "If the U.S. wants to help build a peaceful world, it is not enough to only visit the ruins of the past."
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The nuclear arsenal modernization, combined with the administration's slashing of funding for nonproliferation efforts, "is wholly unacceptable for a Nobel Peace laureate, " Takada added.
And Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, said that during Obama's presidency, "U.S. nuclear policy has been nothing but disappointing for those who believed that Obama could make real change on nuclear weapons—in particular its boycott of a promising new process to ban nuclear weapons." Fihn added that the Hiroshima visit "comes at a time when the risk of a nuclear detonation is at its highest since the end of the Cold War."
Reuters reports that the visit "will symbolize a new level of reconciliation between former wartime enemies who are now close allies. It will also underscore Obama's efforts to improve U.S.-Japan ties, marked by an Asia-Pacific trade pact as well as cooperation against China's pursuit of maritime claims and the nuclear threat from North Korea."
But according to Vancouver-based writer Satoko Oka Norimatsu, the fact that "Obama will be accompanied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the man who has claimed that nuclear weapons were not unconstitutional and is busier than ever with his war preparations," further adds to problems with the Hiroshima tour.
As for what Obama should do during his visit, Derek Johnson, executive director of the nuclear weapons abolition movement Global Zero, says, "He can speak again about threat of nuclear weapons, or he can take urgent action to reduce that threat. That means retiring dangerous Cold War policies like keeping U.S. nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert and reversing course on his misguided nuclear weapons spending spree.
"President Obama still has time to set something bold in motion—something worthy of the vision he laid out in Prague, something that honors the brutal lessons of Hiroshima," Johnson continued. "For a little while longer, it's not too late."
The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the number of nuclear weapons in the world tops 15,000, with the U.S. stockpile alone topping 4,500.