Japan endorses for 1st time U.N. statement on nuclear disarmament

Japan on Monday backed a U.N. statement on nuclear disarmament for the first time, joining more than 120 other countries in issuing a statement expressing deep concern about the "catastrophic consequences" of nuclear arms and opposing the use of such weapons.

Tokyo, which has not backed similar statements three times in the past, decided this time to endorse a New Zealand-led initiative that drew a record 125 supporting countries, roughly two-thirds of the United Nations' 193 member states.

"It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances," said the statement issued at the U.N. General Assembly's First Committee, charged with disarmament and security issues.

Japan, which relies on the nuclear deterrence provided by the United States for its protection against potential nuclear attacks, had deemed the past similar statements as incompatible with its security policy.

New Zealand Ambassador Dell Higgie said "some changes" had been made to the text "at Japan's request, which has facilitated their involvement." Unlike last year's statement, this year's text did not mention the "outlawing" of nuclear arsenals.

The document also says that awareness of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons "must underpin all approaches and efforts toward nuclear disbarment." The wording lowered the barrier of admission for countries like Japan which seeks the abolition of nuclear weapons in a phased manner.

Higgie downplayed Tokyo's previous opposition to the statements, saying its change of stance was "never too late" and that Wellington is "very grateful" for Tokyo's support.

The text says "the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons" have "deep implications for human survival; for our environment; for socio-economic development; for our economies and for the health of future generations."

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed the statement. "Japan, as the only country that has suffered wartime atomic bombing and that knows best the horror of nuclear weapons, supports" the statement's message, he said.

The statement was also backed by NATO members Norway and Denmark, which like Japan are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States, China and other U.N. Security Council members as well as other nuclear powers did not join in issuing the statement.

Japan also backed another effort spearheaded by Australia, which similarly stresses the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons but takes into account security issues. It won the backing of 17 countries at the First Committee.

"Banning nuclear weapons by itself will not guarantee their elimination without engaging substantively and constructively those states with nuclear weapons, and recognizing both the security and humanitarian dimensions of the nuclear weapons debate," the Australian-led statement said.

In the First Committee, negotiations are also underway to gain more sponsors on a resolution calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons that Japan has presented for the 20th consecutive year.

Unlike the statements read to the committee, the resolution will eventually be put forward for a vote before the General Assembly.