The Asahi Shimbun, February 2002

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a California-based organization which has initiated many global grass-root projects for abolishing nuclear weapons, says not everybody in the United States supports the military retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In a recent interview with Asahi Shimbun reporter Masato Tainaka, Krieger voiced the hope that Japan, as a true friend, would “not to let the United States drive drunk.” He said U.S. policy could result in nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists in an increasing cycle of violence. Excerpts follow:

Q: How do you view the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?

A: The attacks taught us that even the most powerful nation in the world is vulnerable to terrorists. The strongest military in the world with its bloated nuclear arsenal could not protect against a small band of terrorists, propelled by hatred and committed to violence. Military force is largely impotent against those who hate and are willing to die in acts of violence. Current nuclear weapons policies of the nuclear weapons states make it likely that terrorists will be able to buy, steal or make nuclear weapons.

Q: How do you evaluate Japanese contribution by dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to assist the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan?

A: I think it’s dangerous because it’s maybe changing the line of Article 9 of the Constitution. It’s creating a precedent for Japan to go further in joining a military effort. A question I would ask, “Is Japan’s participation really self-defense?” Japan must maintain Article 9 of its Constitution. This article, which prohibits “aggressive war,” makes Japan unique among nations and gives Japan special responsibility for furthering the cause of peace. There has been some talk of trying to amend or remove this article from the Japanese Constitution. This would be a grave mistake.

Q: What do you think about the U.S.-Japan relationship?

A: I think Japan should be a true friend of the United States. This means that Japan must be willing to criticize the United States if it believes U.S. policies are misguided. True friends do not just go along with their friends. They tell them the truth. In the United States, we have a saying, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” You can’t go along with everything that is contrary to your fundamental beliefs. Maybe in a sense, terrorism is a global problem that Japan should join in an attempt to eradicate terrorism. But I think Japan has to think independently. Every developed country is vulnerable to terrorism. The question is-is the problem of terrorism likely to be made better or worse by using military force? With regard to the terrorist attacks, we should be more legal and thoughtful in not taking innocent lives and in not increasing the circle of violence. There have been, as far as I can tell, quite a number of innocent people who have died as a result of the U.S. action in Afghanistan.

Q: How about the public opinion in the United States? Do they know many innocent Afghans have been killed by the U.S. bombings? Or do they think it was inevitable?

A: I think the United States has to take responsibility for its actions. And if we were killing innocent people, that falls into the category of terrorism as well. However, most Americans don’t seem to have a problem with it. The support rate with the war is at a really high level, around 80 percent.

Q: Am I right in thinking it must be difficult for you to find much of an audience for your views in the United States?

A: One of the biggest problems is that it’s very difficult for people who share my views to get a chance to speak on national media. On Sept. 20, just after the terrorist attacks, I was invited to speak on a TV program “CNN Hotline.” I spoke in opposition to using military force. I emphasized the points-more legal and thoughtful. While I was on the air, two hostile callers called in with somewhat hostile questions, saying, “so many Americans were killed and we need to use military force, why is he opposing it?” After that program, I received about 80 e-mails.

Q: Hate mail?

A: On the contrary, except for five or six, all the rest were from people saying, “That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. But I haven’t heard anybody talking about it in the media.” There are a lot of Americans who are not represented on the national programs. But basically my frustration is how hard it is to change people’s minds. Now I am going to focus more on trying to reach people through the national media. But it is very difficult task.

Q: You mentioned a legal solution. But the United States has not agreed to set up an international criminal court. Instead the Bush administration intends to judge Osama bin Laden under U.S. military law, isn’t that right?

A: The United States not supporting an international criminal court is very unfortunate because the United States should be a leader in that effort. I don’t think people in large parts of the world will accept a military trial or even a civilian trial of Osama bin Laden in the United States as fair. I don’t believe myself that it would be possible for Osama bin Laden to get a fair trial in the United States. Therefore, the international community including the United States should set up a special tribunal for terrorists, similar to the tribunal for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Q: Once the Afghan campaign ends, the Bush administration reportedly is considering military campaigns against terrorists in other countries. What do you think about that?

A: I don’t think there would be much support in the international community for attacking other countries. I have been surprised at how relatively easily the United States seems to be winning this Afghan war. I didn’t think the Taliban would collapse so quickly. But it’s one thing to destroy the Taliban, it’s another thing to end terrorism. I don’t think we know whether there has been any effective reduction of terrorist capabilities. We don’t know what they planned, we don’t know what their larger plans are. My feeling is that nuclear policies that we have now do make it quite possible terrorists will get nuclear weapons.

Q: As for nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia agreed in November to reduce their arsenals to between 2,200 and 1,700 warheads in the next 10 years. Was this a breakthrough for nuclear disarmament?

A: First of all, I think the agreement is more public relations than serious disarmament. It sounds to me like they still want to rely upon nuclear weapons. I don’t believe they are serious about their promises under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Under the treaty, nuclear weapon states have an obligation to sincerely negotiate for nuclear abolition. But the United States is not likely, particularly under the Bush administration, to show that leadership without some pressure from other countries. Japan should be the leader of those countries.

Q: What is needed for Japan to be a leader?

A: Again, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is a critical idea. If Japan thinks the U.S. policy could result in nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, it would be terribly irresponsible not to question U.S. policy. To prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, it is absolutely necessary to get the numbers down to numbers that can be controlled with certainty.

Q: How many?

A: The numbers may be 100 or 200 nuclear weapons. If a country really believes that nuclear weapons only have the purpose of deterrence, it certainly doesn’t need more than that for deterrence.

You need more than that if you have the idea of some potential offensive use of nuclear weapons. But right now with none of the major powers in conflict, we really could go down. Rather, the threat with nuclear weapons will come from terrorists. It was a crucial lesson from Sept. 11.

So we haven’t fully lost our opportunity to reduce nuclear arsenals down to 100 or 200 on the way to zero. Having experienced nuclear devastation first hand, Japan is well positioned to lead the world, including the United States, to achieve nuclear disarmament. Japan should be a leader for a nuclear weapons and terrorism-free world.
*David Krieger, 59, is a founder and a member of the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000, a global network of over 2000 organizations and municipalities committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation in Tokyo recently honored him as a person who has devoted his life to creating world peace.