Obama visits Hiroshima while modernizing US nuclear arsenals

May 25, 2016

As US President Barack Obama prepares for a historic visit to Hiroshima, the place where one nuclear detonation caused over 140,000 casualties, the United States is embarking on a massive nuclear weapons modernization programme of 1 trillion USD – ensuring that the US will be nuclear-armed for decades to come.

The Obama administration is reportedly developing new nuclear missiles with smaller yields and better targeting – “more usable” nuclear weapons – and has boycotted all attempts to negotiate a global prohibition of nuclear weapons.

“Obama’s visit to Hiroshima comes at a time when the risk of a nuclear detonation is at its highest since the end of the Cold War”, says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN. “Over the past seven years, the US nuclear policy has been nothing but disappointing for those who believed that Obama could make real change on nuclear weapons – in particular its boycott of a promising new process to ban nuclear weapons.”

The President’s call from Prague in 2009 to ‘put an end to the cold war thinking’ and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the US and its allies’ security strategies has not been matched by action. All nuclear-armed states and states under the US nuclear umbrella continue to rely heavily on nuclear weapons in their security strategies despite numerous commitments to disarm.

In Hiroshima Obama will be accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also facing harsh criticism domestically for his hypocritical position on nuclear weapons, calling for nuclear disarmament while continuing to rely on US nuclear weapons and opposing progress on a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has failed to engage with the growing movement of non-nuclear weapon states pushing for a prohibition of nuclear weapons, the so-called Humanitarian Pledge. Earlier in May, the US boycotted a UN working group set up by the UN General Assembly to discuss new legal measures for nuclear disarmament. For its part, Japan participated in the UN talks, only to oppose the start of a process to negotiate a ban , claiming reliance on nuclear weapons is necessary for its national securityDespite the boycott by the US and other nuclear-armed states, the majority of states in the world are ready to start negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“Given their absence or negative participation in the UN talks in Geneva in May, their symbolic call for a nuclear-free world is ironical,” said Akira Kawasaki of Peace Boat. “If the two leaders are serious about nuclear disarmament, why don’t they join the global movement calling for a process to ban nuclear weapons?” he asked. “A visit to Hiroshima is not enough. The real test to evaluate their commitment will be whether they will support a global process of negotiation for a new instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.”

“After the Prague speech, Obama lost a chance to lead the world towards nuclear disarmament. Despite this first visit to Hiroshima by a US president, leadership on this issue is instead emerging from the broad coalition of over 120 non-nuclear weapon states that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge,” concludes Beatrice Fihn.

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