• Bombed cities and the nuclear threat

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    The 70th anniversary this month (August) of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brings back memories of my visit to these two Japanese cities a decade ago.

    I visited the Sanyo region of Western Honshu in early November 2005 with my daughter Jhoanna who was then assigned at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. We availed ourselves of the special offer of the Japan Travel Bureau for a one-night stay at the 23-story Hiroshima Prince Hotel and round trip fare to and from Hiroshima. Our mode of transportation was the NOZOMI superexpress Shinkansen (bullet train), four hours each way. The visit gave us the opportunity to see a UNESCO – declared World Heritage Site: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

    The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in a park near the city center is unlike any other museum in the world. It is actually a grim and powerful depiction of the world’s first atomic bombing and the massive destruction it caused to life and property. The scale model exhibits vividly showed Hiroshima before and after the bomb explosion. Also displayed are belongings and photos of the victims, charred objects and even a replica of the atomic bomb.

    Code named “Little Boy,” the bomb packed a lethal wallop, killing some 200,000 people and leveling half of Hiroshima city. It was only three meters long and weighed four tons but it crushed and burned nearly all buildings within two kilometers of the bomb crater. Luckily, the Industrial Promotion Hall did not fully collapse. Its scorched structure is preserved as the famous A-bomb Dome for posterity to see and ponder. In the museum itself, a battered watch showing 8:15 a.m., 6 August 1945 stand frozen in history as the time and date of the bombing. The United States dropped the atomic bomb 2 on Hiroshima and a second one on Nagasaki mainly to bring Imperial Japan to its knees and force it to surrender to end the Pacific War.

    The memorial museum was aptly named for it strongly suggests the outlawing of weapons of mass destruction and stresses the folly of war. Having dealt with the issue of the nuclear arms race in South Asia during my assignments to Pakistan and India and in the Department of Foreign Affairs, I find it hard to imagine a more ill-conceived statement than this one made by a Prime Minister: “We must develop the bomb even if Pakistanis have to eat grass.”

    It had been said that nothing would grow for 75 years in the bombed area. Sixty years after the bombing, Hiroshima has marvelously risen from the ashes. It is now a vibrant, modern, well planned and even bigger city of 1.4 million inhabitants.

    The same thing could be said about Nagasaki, which Jhoanna and I visited soon after. Its recovery matches that of Hiroshima. A single atomic bomb was dropped by a US military aircraft on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima. The bomb killed 74,000 people and terribly injured 75,000 more.

    Although not as big and awesome as the one in Hiroshima, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum opened in 1996. There are other memorial shrine in Nagasaki about the bombing.

    A nuclear nonproliferation regime has been the goal of mankind since the horrors of the atomic bomb were inflicted by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was a retired ambassador when I visited these cities in 2005. Earlier, as Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Department of Foreign Affairs, I had the opportunity to deal with the nuclear issue in South Asia under the aegis of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF). The ARF is arguably the most important security consultative meeting in the world today for its 27 members include the U.S., China, Japan, EU, Australia, the two Koreas, India, Pakistan, and the ten Asean member states.

    In 1998, when the ARF was chaired by the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo L. Siazon, Jr., the Forum was confronted by a most contentious subject matter. India conducted nuclear tests on May 11 and 13 and Pakistan responded by detonating an underground nuclear device on May 28.

    Three days before Pakistan’s response, Siazon issued a statement expressing the ARF’s disappointment and grave concern over the five separate nuclear tests conducted by India and calling on Pakistan to desist from undertaking its announced nuclear tests in retaliation for India’s detonations. The statement was sent to the Foreign Ministers of the other ARF members, including that of India. Lauro Baja Jr., then Undersecretary for Policy and now Chairman of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, Inc. and I drafted Siazon’s statement.

    I was intrigued by the task of dealing with an issue that involved two countries where I had been previously assigned. I was Minister-Counselor at our embassy in Pakistan from 1982 to 1986 and Ambassador to India from 1994 to 1996.

    The dinner of the ARF Foreign Ministers at the Manila Hotel on July 26, 1998 turned out to be an occasion for a grueling debate on the nuclear testing. The Indian representative, Jaswant Singh, vigorously defended his country’s position. He said that the ARF is a confidence-building body, therefore, contentious issues should be avoided. He also contended that India’s nuclear program was entirely defensive. The debate continued in the ARF plenary session the following day. Pakistan was not yet an ARF member at the time.

    An impasse developed on a particular passage of paragraph 21 of the ARF chairman’s Statement which I crafted. The passage in question stated: “The Ministers, therefore, expressed grave concern over and condemned [deplored]the recent nuclear tests in South Asia, which exacerbated tension in the region and raised the specter of a nuclear arms race.”

    The initial draft used the word “condemn” instead of “deplore.” Siazon realized the need to strike a balance between the two views that emerged. One view felt that the nuclear detonations should be condemned because it violated the nuclear non-proliferation regime and created a highly dangerous situation not only for South Asia but also for the world. The “straight talking” US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wanted a “strong statement” to be made by the chairman. The other view believed that the ARF should not be converted into a forum for denouncing ARF participants in no uncertain terms as this would affect the comfort level of the participants concerned. Taking these views together, Siazon deemed it appropriate to state in his closing statement a reworded paragraph 21 incorporating the words “grave concern” and “strongly deplored.” The ARF meeting ended on that note since the Indian representative could no longer contest a closing statement. I wrote Siazon’s closing statement.

    Mr. Singh held a separate press conference after the end of the meeting. He blurted out: “How can one be seen as “strongly deploring” the tests that one so proudly conducted? Therefore, India has to regretfully dissociate itself from paragraph 21.”

    In conclusion, I would like to state that the importance of the recent nuclear deal between Iran and the G5+1 (U.S., France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany) should be viewed within the context of what transpired in Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years ago.

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    1 Comment

    1. Felimon A. Soria on

      Like you Mr. Ambassador, I had the occasion to visit the Nagasaki Peace Memorial. When i saw that picture of a boy carrying his sister on the back, I got misty eyed. I could not imagine how we humans can destroy each other.
      I pray that those who are in power and to those who will be, will see to it that peace will be the first and foremost in the mind.