G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan on May 20, 2023

(Top row, L-R) US President Joe Biden, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol, (bottom row L-R) Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Comoros' President Azali Assoumani, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pose for a family photo of leaders of the G7 and invited countries during the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 20, 2023.

(Photo by Jacques Witt/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

On Nuclear Weapons, G7 Leaders Not Good Enough

Summit in Hiroshima fails to meaningfully contribute to nuclear disarmament.

Last summer, after it was announced that Japan would host the G7 Summit of leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States in Hiroshima, the nuclear disarmament movement was abuzz. The hope was that, after all these years of mostly avoiding the subject, the leaders were going to have a chance to listen to hibakusha, reflect deeply on the lessons learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, confront escalating dangers of nuclear war and the threat to all of humanity that this would pose, and finally make concrete commitments on nuclear disarmament.

Part of the reason for optimism, I think, was that many of those same activists had their lives changed by visits to Hiroshima. As if the whole city were a shrine to the horror, the devastation, the pain, the shame, the misery, but also the resilience and the beauty of humanity, people regularly depart Hiroshima with a changed worldview and a newfound or renewed passion for nuclear abolition. And so, the thinking went, surely the leaders would be similarly transformed and recognize that such collective civilian suffering must never happen again and that the only way to ensure that it wouldn’t is to get rid of nuclear weapons once and for all.

We were wrong.

This past weekend, the G7 leaders went to Hiroshima, laid wreaths in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, staying there for just 30 minutes, and then published a statement that could have been produced as a result of meeting anywhere in the world. In fact, it was probably written long before they even arrived in Hiroshima. They didn’t need to go to Japan to offer empty words and zero concrete solutions or steps. According to them, a nuclear weapons-free world is just a dream, and they are determined to keep it that way.

[G7 leaders] didn’t need to go to Japan to offer empty words and zero concrete solutions or steps. According to them, a nuclear weapons-free world is just a dream, and they are determined to keep it that way.

Many people think that when it comes to nuclear weapons, those of us arguing for their abolition and elimination are trying to prevent another Hiroshima or Nagasaki from happening. And while a repeat of what took place during that tragic week in August of 1945 would be devastating, chances are that use of a nuclear weapon today would have far worse consequences. In 1945, the US used the only two weapons that were on hand, having tested the third in July in New Mexico. Today, there are nearly 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world, most of which are more powerful than the bomb used in Hiroshima on August 6. But even the use of a single, Hiroshima-sized - sometimes referred to as tactical nuclear weapon - is expected to lead to full-out nuclear war, according to simulations from Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security. And nuclear war would in turn cause nuclear winter - due to soot in the atmosphere as a result of widespread fires - a state of prolonged climate cooling that would result in drastic reductions in agricultural output and starvation around the world. The stakes simply couldn’t be higher.

How has the G7 statement on nuclear disarmament failed? The answer is pretty much across the board. There are no concrete steps outlined for disarmament, no commitments to stop modernizing or to reduce stockpiles, and not even a mention of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the one internationally binding instrument that actually provides a framework for getting to nuclear zero, while also acknowledging the tremendous humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and testing.

The G7 leaders refused to understand that bringing about the end of the world as we know it is not why we elected them.

In fact, the G7 statement reaffirms the importance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which a science and policy expert recently referred to as “being in a coma.” The NPT, having been in force for over 52 years, has failed miserably in its obligations to deliver nuclear and total and complete disarmament. The TPNW, rather than competing with the NPT, could help the NPT achieve their common objective.

Were we not loud enough? Not clear enough? Or do they just not want to hear what we have to say? In my own letters to each of the leaders, I wrote, “If there is a nuclear war and hundreds of millions of people die in the explosions and from ensuing radiation and billions die from starvation due to the onset of nuclear winter, there will be no history books to judge you. Human civilization, which we have patiently built for thousands of years, will have met its end. If you survive the initial stage, you will regret that you didn’t do more when you could. Don’t let that happen. You have the power to change the status quo.” This is about as clear as I could be.

At this summit, the G7 leaders refused to understand that bringing about the end of the world as we know it is not why we elected them. No national or alliance goals could possibly justify the risk to all of humanity. It’s time for regular people from all walks of life and a wide range of political opinions to demand real action on nuclear disarmament. The G7 leaders must sign the TPNW. There is a world to save.

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