This editorial was originally published by Asahi Shimbun on August 6, 2009

This summer has special significance for Hiroshima and Nagasaki in that it is the first since U.S. President Barack Obama gave his landmark speech in Prague in April to declare that the United States will “take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.”

It is enormously significant that Obama said the United States, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, has “a moral responsibility to act.” But this is not the only reason why his Prague speech was so galvanizing.

In this age of globalization, the world is becoming increasingly interdependent. A nuclear explosion in any major city in the world would not only kill a great number of people but also bring the global economic system to the brink of collapse. The consequences would be the same whether it was a nuclear strike or a terrorist attack.

The argument that nuclear deterrence is more effective in securing stability around the world still enjoys considerable support among the nuclear powers and their allies. But succumbing to the allure of nuclear deterrence could result in the acceleration of nuclear proliferation. The world is also facing a real danger of nuclear arms falling into the hands of terrorists. If that nightmare becomes reality, the risks would be immeasurable.

What must be done? Shouldn’t we come up with a new security strategy to move toward a nuclear-free world? That is the question posed by Obama.

On Obama’s initiative, it has been decided that leaders of the United Nations Security Council member countries will meet on Sept. 24 to discuss nuclear issues. No pre-emptive nuclear attacks

Creating a security framework that doesn’t rely on nuclear arms will require formulating and implementing a broad array of policies. We have a raft of proposals for countries that have nuclear arsenals. In particular, we want them to work on spreading the “nonnuclear umbrella.”

The idea is that nuclear powers will pledge not to use nuclear weapons against any nonnuclear countries that are part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). If this is established as a global rule, nonnuclear parties of the treaty could significantly reduce their risks of coming under nuclear attack. This is how the nonnuclear umbrella works.

Expanding the nonnuclear umbrella would help decrease the role of nuclear weapons and lead to a substantial reduction in the number of nuclear weapons in the world. This approach, which would contribute to both arms reduction and global security, should be promoted as much as possible while Obama is in office.

There are many ways to expand the nonnuclear umbrella. One would be a Security Council resolution that bans nuclear attacks against nonnuclear countries in the NPT camp. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said that it is possible for the Security Council permanent members, which are all nuclear powers, to guarantee they will not use nuclear arms to attack countries without nuclear capability. Such a Security Council resolution should be adopted as soon as possible.

A second way would make use of nuclear-free zone treaties. There are treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones for five regions–Latin America, the South Pacific, Africa, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. The treaty for Africa has not yet come into force. Each of these treaties comes with a protocol that commits the nuclear powers to refraining from nuclear attacks against the treaty participants.

Only the nuclear-free zone treaty for Latin America, however, has been ratified by all the five original members of the nuclear club–the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. The nonnuclear umbrella should be established as an obligation under international law through efforts to put the treaty for Africa into effect as soon as possible and to have the nuclear powers ratify all the protocols to those treaties.

A third way would be for nuclear-armed nations to declare that they will not stage pre-emptive nuclear strikes and thereby confine the role of their arsenals to deterrence to nuclear attacks from other countries. Since nonnuclear countries cannot stage nuclear attacks, such declarations by nuclear-capable nations would spread the nonnuclear umbrella drastically.

The Japanese government is cautious about the United States vowing not to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes. North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, and the reclusive regime may have biological and chemical weapons as well. Japan’s position is that the option of a pre-emptive nuclear strike by the United States should be left open to deter Pyongyang from using those weapons.

However, the credibility of Japan’s nonnuclear diplomacy would be badly damaged if Tokyo emphasizes the importance of nuclear deterrence too much and obstructs Obama’s efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and promote nuclear disarmament. Even if it wants to keep nuclear deterrence intact for the time being, Japan should adopt a policy of promoting the nonnuclear umbrella. Nuclear-free zone in Northeast Asia

One worthwhile idea would be a nuclear-free zone treaty for Northeast Asia. Japan and South Korea could take the initiative by signing such a treaty first and putting it into force. If the United States, China and Russia all ratify a protocol that bans them from launching nuclear attacks against Japan and South Korea, a nonnuclear umbrella would be raised for the region.

North Korea should be able to join the treaty for protection under the nonnuclear umbrella after it abandons its nuclear program and returns to the NPT. This prospect would give North Korea a strong incentive to abandon its nuclear ambitions and help bolster regional stability.

It is also vital to deal with China’s rapid military buildup. During the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in Washington in July, Obama underlined the importance of bilateral cooperation. He cited the denuclearization of North Korea as one such policy challenge, saying neither Washington nor Beijing has an interest in a nuclear arms race in East Asia. “A balance of terror cannot hold,” he said in his speech at the conference.

The U.S. and Chinese economies are rapidly become entwined. Their relations are completely different from those between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Back then, the two superpowers could have destroyed the other’s industry without suffering much damage to its own economy. Integrating China into arms reduction

Japan should understand the reality of the U.S.-China relationship and propose a plan for enhancing regional stability while curtailing the role of nuclear arms in Northeast Asia. The Japan-U.S. security alliance should evolve from the current security architecture based primarily on nuclear deterrence into a platform for broader cooperation to expand the nonnuclear umbrella and enhance arms control in the region. That would give a big boost to efforts to engage China in nuclear disarmament efforts.

The problem of nuclear proliferation in the world is linked closely to regional and religious conflicts. India and Pakistan have both carried out nuclear tests. Israel is widely regarded as a virtual nuclear power. Iran is continuing with its program to enrich uranium. Regional or religious conflicts are behind all these examples of nuclear proliferation.

Pushing these countries into giving up their nuclear ambitions will require tenacious efforts to resolve the conflicts and convince them that they only endanger themselves by possessing nuclear arsenals.

As the only country to have come under nuclear attack, Japan should make greater contributions to such diplomatic efforts.

Asahi Shimbun is Japan’s leading newspaper.