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Kyoto conference

Mainichi Shimbun, 3 August 1999

The U.N. Conference on Disarmament convened last week in Kyoto for the 11th time. The first conference was held in 1989. This year, some 60 arms-control experts from 24 countries have gathered to discuss national security issues and arms reduction strategies for the next decade.

The current framework for limiting the spread of nuclear weapons rests on two main pillars: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was indefinitely extended in 1995 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The NPT acknowledges five nations - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - as nuclear powers and prohibits other nations from manufacturing and acquiring nuclear weapons. It also obligates the five nuclear powers to make efforts to promote nuclear disarmament.

Japan's envoy to the disarmament conference accurately summed up the purpose of the NPT by stating that its intent is not to guarantee that these five nations will remain eternal nuclear powers but rather to define a process that prevents the proliferation of nuclear weapons and leads to their eventual elimination.

But of the five nuclear powers, only Britain and France have ratified the CTBT. The United States and Russia bear a particularly heavy responsibility, since both nations have conducted several subcritical nuclear experiments while maintaining that their research will not lead to the development of nuclear weapons. But doesn't their stance betray the hopes of those who yearn for the eradication of nuclear weapons? The Kyoto conference chairman stressed the importance of immediate ratification of the treaty by the United States, Russia, and China.

We are deeply concerned that, having been provoked by the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, other developing countries will not be able to resist the allure of nuclear weapons and other devices of mass destruction. That is why it is important to begin negotiations right away on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. However, since the Geneva conference requires the unanimous approval of the participants, building a consensus will be difficult, and considerable time will have to be devoted to procedural matters.

At the Kyoto conference, a number of participants have pointed out that confidence-building measures must be encouraged in order to promote disarmament. These measures should not only include minor steps such as the adoption of a prior notification requirement for missile testing but also efforts to expand dialogue and cooperation.

At present, nuclear-free zones have been established in Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa. Negotiations are underway on a treaty for central Asia, and we hope that nuclear-free zones are created in other regions. These zones must be utilized to complement the NPT, CTBT and Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and to foster the ultimate goal of eradicating nuclear weapons.

Some of the Kyoto conference participants also expressed their hopes for a special general session of the U.N.'s disarmament conference, which has not convened since 1988. We hope that next April's NPT review conference will be fruitful and create momentum for a fourth general-disarmament conference.