“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005

Japan’s Shift to a More Robust Self-Defense Policy

June 2023
By Yuki Tatsumi

On December 16, 2022, Japan released three key strategic and defense planning documents that changed its postwar security policy considerably.

With new commitments to nearly double defense spending and acquire counterstrike capabilities, Japan is stepping out of its decades-old approach to national security policy, particularly in defense policy. The defense policy has shifted from a postwar baseline of possessing just enough defensive capability to prevent a power vacuum from emerging in East Asia to one that aims to respond to specific threats.

A woman with a bag walks through the rubble around a residential building in Kyiv, which was shelled on May 30. The Russian war on Ukraine is one factor causing Japan to rethink its defense needs. (Photo by Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)Taken together, the revised National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Defense Buildup Plan embody the considerable evolution of Japan’s threat perceptions in the last decade and its impact on national security policymaking. Given the security environment in Northeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region, the policy trendline that was set in these documents likely will continue at least for the next decade as Japan works to overcome formidable challenges and actualize its goals.

A Turn for the Worse

Japan embarked on its policy revision as it perceived that the regional security environment had taken a turn for the worse. The biggest driving force is the emergence of China as an economic behemoth and an increasingly aggressive military power that does not hesitate to flex its muscle. China began to outspend Japan on defense in the mid-2000s, and the gap between their military budgets has been widening ever since. Based on the defense budget that was unveiled at the Chinese People’s Congress meeting in March 2023, Beijing in fiscal year 2023 plans to spend approximately $224.8 billion, which is 4.5 times larger than Japan’s defense spending in the same year.1

Also affecting Japan’s threat perception is the extension of China’s increasingly aggressive behavior beyond Japan’s immediate vicinity into the South China Sea. In Northeast Asia, this has been demonstrated by the greater frequency of Chinese military aircraft entering Japanese airspace and the heightened activity of Chinese coast guard, military, and other governmental vessels in the East China Sea. Beijing’s increasingly robust approach toward Taipei also has worsened Tokyo’s concerns. Tensions ramped up particularly after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022 and China conducted a military drill in the Taiwan Strait.

A renewed intensification of North Korean missile provocations further added to Japanese security concerns. In 2022 alone, North Korea conducted 37 missile tests, firing more than 90 missiles. Of these missiles, 66 were ballistic missiles; and one test involved the firing in October of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile, which triggered the J-ALERT, Japan’s nationwide missile warning system, for the first time in five years. North Korea exhibited intercontinental ballistic missiles and the operating units for its nuclear weapons in a military parade in February 2023. Two months later, it test-fired another ballistic missile that again triggered the J-ALERT warning system.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 only deepened Japan’s concern for its security environment. It marked the first time in modern postwar history that a permanent member of the UN Security Council launched a war against another UN member state and served as a rude awakening for Japan, injecting policymakers in Tokyo with a cold dose of reality as they deliberated Japan’s options for its response. In particular, the Ukrainians’ clear and unambiguous will to defend their country and the international community’s collective backing for Ukraine reminded Japan that if its own territorial integrity comes under attack, it must demonstrate a similar credible will to defend itself in order to gain international support.

More importantly, Japan realized that it needs to develop the means to defend itself effectively from external aggression. Russia’s failure to secure an immediate victory over Ukraine, due in large part to weak supply lines and logistical capabilities, heightened Japan’s concern about the lack of investments in its own logistical capacity and, even more acutely, in the resiliency of the Japan Self-Defense Force.

Finally, the Russian-Ukrainian war exposed a reality in the international system, namely that the UN Security Council is limited in its ability to enable collective action when one of its permanent members is a party to the conflict. The inability of the United Nations to collectively respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a fresh reminder of the importance of universal norms and principles, such as the rule of law. It also encouraged Japan to double down on its advocacy for UN reform, particularly reform of the Security Council.

The U.S. Factor

Although less openly discussed, the volatility of U.S. foreign policy during President Donald Trump’s administration shook Japan’s confidence in the durability of U.S. leadership in the world. Japanese-U.S. relations remained stable during that era, due to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tireless effort to cultivate a personal relationship with Trump. Nonetheless, Japan perceived the United States as turning inward and relinquishing its leadership role in upholding the norms and values undergirding the international order.

Japan, seeking to arm itself with new self-defense capabilities, plans to buy U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles, such as this one launched by the U.S. Navy in 2011 during an operation in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo by U.S. Navy via Getty Images)In particular, U.S. foreign policy choices that were based predominantly on reciprocity and a transactional approach toward U.S. allies and partners made Japanese policymakers question whether Tokyo could continue to count on Washington as a reliable ally in the long term. As a seasoned Japanese observer of U.S. foreign policy put it, “[I]f it turns out that what we saw during the Trump administration is not an anomaly but rather can easily come back in the future, we really ought to start thinking about ‘Plan B,’ which is a world where Japan may not be able to count” on the United States.2

Such developments encouraged Japanese policymakers to revise Tokyo’s three strategic security documents from the perspective of “what Japan needs to do better to defend itself.” Daily exposure to news about the Russian-Ukrainian war, Chinese military aircraft incursions into Japanese airspace, and North Korean missile tests facilitated governmental deliberations by creating an atmosphere that allowed Japanese officials to consider policy options that had been long considered taboo. Such options included the need for defense spending increases and the acquisition of counterstrike capabilities. Russia’s attempt to intimidate NATO countries by hinting at the potential use of nuclear weapons even resulted in a temporary resurgence of a debate over Japan’s nuclear future.

Modernizing Japan’s Approach

The end result was that the three documents collectively modernized Japan’s national security and defense policies. They were shaped by the assessment that China is Japan’s primary national security concern for at least the next decade. The National Security Strategy identified China as “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan and the peace and stability of the international community, as well as in strengthening the international order based on the rule of law.”3

This is a notable departure from Japan’s past approach, in which it sought to strike a balance between calling China out for bad behavior while trying to engage the Beijing government in other areas. For instance, even when discussing in detail Chinese behavior that causes concern, Japan’s 2013 security strategy still mentioned an expectation that China would act responsibly and that its behavior, as problematic as it might be, was something that Japan needed to “pay careful and close attention to.”4

The new strategy documents also put Japan on a path to acquire new defense capabilities, including some that were unthinkable a decade ago. One example is Japan’s commitment to acquire counterstrike capabilities that include an initial purchase of several hundred U.S.-produced Tomahawk missiles. Although the defense strategy document takes pains to put this decision in the context of national defense, it previously was simply out of the question for Tokyo to even consider such capabilities, let alone proceed with acquiring them.

Contrary to past plans in which heavy emphasis was placed on the “efficient use,” i.e., cost-cutting, of the acquisition budget, the new defense buildup plan openly acknowledged for the first time that industries need incentives, otherwise known as business profits, to stay in the defense-related business and produce equipment that is critical for Japan to revitalize its indigenous defense industrial base. Tokyo’s commitment to increase defense-related spending by approximately 2 percent of its gross domestic product, or a total of roughly $320 billion over the next five years,5 is another example of how the country is shattering politically self-imposed constraints in its postwar national security policy.

The three documents also embrace a broader definition of national security. In particular, the focus on economic security in the national security strategy is noteworthy because it centered not only on critical economic issues, such as supply chain resilience, but also on economic issues that have long been neglected, such as safeguarding the procurement of critical infrastructure and protecting critical infrastructure locations, data, information, and industrial security.

The new policies also acknowledge that rapid progress in developing advanced technologies has blurred the line between “offense” and “defense” in the military context and between technologies suited for civilian and military use. More broadly, such recognition has facilitated a discussion among Japanese officials about advocating an all-of-government approach to shaping effective responses in the areas of economic security, space, and cybersecurity.

Overall, the new national security documents seek to provide an answer as to how Japan must reshape and modernize its security and defense policies to meet a rapidly changing threat environment. Notably, the policies pay overdue attention to the areas that have long deserved greater consideration, such as investments in force protection, logistical support capacity, military medicine, and ammunition shortages.

The Challenges Ahead

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has asked his government to identify ways to increase defense spending in a sustainable way but the public is said to be ambivalent. (Photo by Rodrigo Reyes Marin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)Nevertheless, Tokyo faces formidable challenges in achieving the desired results, with resourcing as the biggest hurdle. Although Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida directed the government to identify ways in which it could secure increased defense spending in a sustainable manner, the public is ambivalent at best. Given Japan’s weak fiscal condition, some type of tax increase, whether individual income taxes, consumption taxes, corporate taxes, or a combination, coupled with spending cuts in nondefense programs, inevitably will be required to finance a rise in defense spending. An opinion poll by Niohn Hoso Kyokai in February 2023 shows that the public is evenly split on whether to support higher defense spending. It also shows that close to 65 percent of the respondents oppose using a tax increase to finance bigger defense budgets. Without public backing, it is questionable that the government could find a path to increase the defense budget in a sustainable manner.

Furthermore, demographic trends could complicate Tokyo’s effort to buttress national defense capabilities. According to Japanese government statistics, nearly 30 percent of the country’s population was over 65 years old in the fall of 2021, and by 2065 that aging group will account for nearly 40 percent of the population. In the face of this demographic reality, how to sustain the Japan Self-Defense Force at its current size is a question that, at the moment, no one can answer. Although two of the strategy documents stress the significance of better utilizing unmanned technologies to relieve some of the pressure that will come from the aging population, it is difficult to maintain a robust fighting force when nearly half of the country’s population is at retirement age or older.

As it wrestles with these challenges, Japan needs a strong leader with a clear vision to complete the national security transformation that has now been outlined. Given the absence of a visionary such as Abe, its successful implementation is anything but certain. Although Kishida, with his image as a moderate and a consensus builder, may have been the right person at the right time to complete the revision of the three documents, it is uncertain whether he has the political gravitas to inspire the Japanese people and rally them behind the execution of his vision.



1. “Chugoku Kokubou-hi 30-chou yen amari, Kyonen yori 7.2% zouka de Gunbi Zoukyou Shisei shimesu” [China’s defense spending approximately JPY 30 trillion, 7.2% increase compared to last year, demonstrating the will to strengthen its military], Nihon Housou Kyoukai, March 5, 2023, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20230305/k10013998901000.html#:~:text=2016%E5%B9%B4%E4%BB%A5%E9%99%8D%E3%81%AE%E4%BC%B8%E3%81%B3,%E3%81%BB%E3%81%A9%E3%81%AB%E3%81%AA%E3%81%A3%E3%81%A6%E3%81%84%E3%81%BE%E3%81%99%E3%80%82.

2. Senior Japanese foreign policy correspondent, conversation with author, Tokyo, April 28, 2023.

3. Government of Japan, “National Security Strategy of Japan,” December 2022, https://www.mod.go.jp/j/policy/agenda/guideline/pdf/security_strategy_en.pdf.

4. Government of Japan, “National Security Strategy,” December 17, 2013, https://japan.kantei.go.jp/96_abe/documents/2013/_icsFiles/afieldfile/2013/12/18/NSS.pdf.

5. “Defense Buildup Plan,” December 16, 2022, https://www.mod.go.jp/j/policy/agenda/guideline/plan/pdf/program_en.pdf.


Yuki Tatsumi is co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center.

Japan’s defense policy has shifted from a postwar baseline of possessing just enough defensive capability to prevent a power vacuum from emerging in East Asia to one that aims to respond to specific threats.

At Hiroshima, Leaders Should Choose to End All Nuclear Threats

At a meeting of the G7 nations this week in Hiroshima, the first city destroyed by the bomb, President Joe Biden and other leaders have a chance to begin addressing the long-standing problem of states threatening to use nuclear weapons. Russia’s nuclear threats of the past year in support of its invasion of Ukraine have flashed for all to see a core purpose of nuclear arsenals: coercion and intimidation. At this historic gathering, Biden and his counterparts need to act on Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s proposal that the G7 “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the...

Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

Japan to Purchase U.S. Tomahawk Missiles

March 2023
By Luke Caggiano

Japan plans to purchase several hundred U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles as the country looks to strengthen its military capabilities amid heightened tensions with China and North Korea. Japan included more than $2 billion to buy and deploy the missiles in its record-setting defense budget for its fiscal year beginning April 1, The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 23.

Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu (L to R), Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin participate in a news conference at the U.S. Department of State on January 11, days ahead of a White House meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The missiles, which can hit targets up to 1,600 kilometers away, will bring Chinese and North Korean military bases within Japanese striking range.

Possessed exclusively by the United Kingdom and the United States, the Tomahawk system most recently saw action in 2018 when 66 missiles were used to strike chemical weapons facilities
in Syria.

Japan is expected to deploy the missiles beginning in 2026 aboard its Aegis naval destroyers. They will supplement Japan’s indigenous Type 12 surface-to-ship missile, which is currently being upgraded. The improved Type 12 missile systems are expected to be ready by 2026 and will be capable of striking sea and land targets up to 1,200 kilometers away, a significant increase from the missile’s original range of 200 kilometers.

The Tomahawk missile purchase follows the release of Japan’s new national security strategy, which highlights China as “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan” and assesses North Korea’s military activities as posing “a grave and imminent threat.”

With these threats as a reference, the new strategy calls for the development of a “counterstrike capability” in the event of an attack on Japan. According to the strategy, weapons such as the Tomahawk missile may be used to strike enemy missile bases “as long as it is deemed that there are no other means to defense against attack by guided missiles.”

The development of a counterstrike capability marks a significant change in the defense-oriented policy that Japan adopted following World War II.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the planned purchase on Jan. 11 during a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Yasukasu Hamada.

The United States “strongly endorse[s] Japan’s decision to acquire a counterstrike capability,” Austin said, “and we affirm that close coordination on employing this capability will strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Hayashi also highlighted plans to further strengthen U.S.-Japanese cooperation in outer space and cyberspace.

“We agreed on the importance of deepening our cooperation in the areas of space and cyber, the promotion of technological cooperation, [and] the further strengthening of information security,” he stated. “The fact that we were able to agree on the announcement of the applicability of Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty on attacks on others in outer space was a significant achievement in terms of the reinforcement of deterrence capability of the alliance as a whole.”

Blinken noted that the attacks include those “to, from, or within space.”

The treaty article states that, in the event of “an armed attack against either party in the territories under the administration of Japan [both parties] would act to meet the common danger.” The decision to extend it to outer space was likely motivated by China’s recent development of anti-satellite weapons. The new understanding between Tokyo and Washington brings Japanese satellites under U.S. protection, making Japan the first non-NATO U.S. ally to gain this security assurance.

The U.S. ally aims to strengthen its military capabilities amid heightened tensions with China and North Korea. 


Japan Ships Out Highly Enriched Uranium

September 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in August the completion of a multiyear project to transfer 45 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Japan to the United States.

The HEU came from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly and fulfilled a commitment that Tokyo made at the 2016 nuclear security summit to remove all HEU from that reactor. Minimizing and disposing of HEU was a key goal of the nuclear security summit process, a six-year multilateral effort from 2010 to 2016 to prevent nuclear terrorism.

The HEU will be down-blended at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to lower enrichment levels that pose less of a security risk.

In an Aug. 9 press release, Jill Hruby, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said that the campaign to remove the HEU was a “monumental effort.” As a result, the Kyoto University Critical Assembly can continue its work “without risk that the fuel could be used to produce an improvised nuclear device,” she said.

The NNSA worked with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to complete the disposition. The governmental agencies aim to complete conversion of the reactor to run on low-enriched uranium fuel by the end of 2023.

Minimizing HEU was a key goal of a multilateral effort to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Getting Back on the Path to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons



Keynote Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, for the "International Symposium for Peace: The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition," sponsored by Asahi Shimbun, Nagasaki city government, and the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace

Nagasaki, Japan
July 30, 2022

The English live streaming can be accessed at https://youtu.be/k80HSwG8YCg at 9:00 pm U.S. Eastern time (July 29) / 10:00 am Japanese Standard Time (July 30). 

Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people—from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the United States, Russia, and around the globe—have stood up to demand meaningful action to halt arms racing and nuclear testing, to reduce and number and role of nuclear weapons, and move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

When working together on shared goals through smart campaigns, networks of citizen activists, nongovernmental organizations, engaged scholars, scientists, diplomats, faith leaders, social and environmental justice organizations, survivors of nuclear war and nuclear testing, along with dedicated local and national decision-makers have changed the course nuclear history for the better. Among other successes, we have:

  • raised awareness of the existential dangers posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
  • pushed U.S. and Russian leaders to halt arms buildups and to negotiate the nuclear arms control and reduction agreements, including New START in 2010 and its extension in 2021.
  • demanded legislation and treaties to prohibit nuclear weapons testing.
  • forced the cancellation of new and destabilizing nuclear weapons programs.
  • spurred the negotiation and entry into force of 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But there is no room for complacency.

The Growing Risk of Nuclear War and Nuclear Arms Racing

The nuclear weapons threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is accelerating. The risk that a regional military confrontation could escalate to a nuclear conflict is real and growing.

The danger of an all-out arms race and nuclear weapons use has been exacerbated by President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale attack Ukraine and his threats of nuclear use against any states who might interfere militarily.

  • The war has significantly increased the risk of fighting between NATO and Russian forces, which could—given both sides’ nuclear weapons use policies—quickly lead to nuclear escalation.
  • Russia’s attack on Ukraine has underscored the fact that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars. Rather, they can facilitate aggression by nuclear-armed states and make wars waged by nuclear-armed states far more dangerous—especially when nuclear-armed states become pitted against one another, dangerously increasing the risk of miscalculation and miscommunication.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has also derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states, and created a major challenge for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

Russia’ invasion of Ukraine follows more than a decade of worsening tensions between the world’s nine-nuclear armed states.

Since New START was completed more than a decade ago, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on disarmament and risk reduction has stalled. Treaty compliance disputes have dominated the bilateral U.S.-Russian agenda, and key treaties that have helped keep the post-Cold War peace, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, are now gone. The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals—the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)—will expire in early 2026.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington are both spending tens of billions of dollars each year to replace and upgrade their deadly strategic arsenals. Russia is also threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes. President Putin recently suggested he might put nuclear weapons-capable missiles and aircraft in Belarus.

And in recent days, the U.S. Congress voted to overrule President Biden’s recommendation to cancel funding for a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile—an expensive and destabilizing weapon proposed by the Trump administration that would, if developed and deployed, prompt China and Russia to develop similar capabilities and accelerate the arms race.

Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the N-5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals that would cap or reduce their own deadly arsenals.

Instead, China is responding to a more adversarial relationship with the United States by moving quickly diversify its relatively smaller nuclear stockpile of some 300 nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom announced last year that it would increase the cap on the size of its submarine-based nuclear arsenal.

The only genuinely positive development on nuclear disarmament in recent years has been the so-called Humanitarian Initiative, designed to highlight the existential dangers of nuclear weapons and stigmatize nuclear weapons and the threat of their use, which led to the negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by a group of more than 130 states.

The treaty represents a constructive new approach to reinforce the taboos against nuclear weapons, bolster the NPT, and create more pressure for meaningful action by the nuclear possessor states to verifiably cap, reduce, and eventually eliminate their arsenals.

In June, in a welcome move, TPNW states parties, citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” issued a consensus political statement declaring that “…any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

Unfortunately, thus far, all nuclear-armed states have refused to engage with the TPNW.

It was also unfortunate that Japan decided not to attend the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW even though Prime Fumio Kishida said in October 2021: “I believe that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a very important treaty for a world without nuclear weapons.”

Going forward it is important that all states recognize that the TPNW is a positive contribution to global security and seriously consider joining the treaty. If Japan wants to be an effective “bridge-builder” between nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear weapon states, it will need to engage in upcoming meetings of the TPNW.

What Can Be Done?

Given the growing risk of nuclear war, we must do all we can to encourage our elected leaders to provide leadership and to take meaningful action.

Our actions will determine if we can succeed – or not – in moving away from dangerous nuclear policies and toward renewed and productive disarmament diplomacy.

An important catalyst for change is increasing societal awareness about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons use and the risks of nuclear war. Here in Japan, the persistent and dedicated efforts of the Hibakusha have been essential in helping the world understand the grave consequences of nuclear weapons. That work must continue in new and creative ways.

Now, some 77 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we must take inspiration from the Hibakusha and share their stories and testimonials even more widely ensure that successive generations understand that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Just as importantly, we must also do our part to explain why national security strategies that depend on nuclear deterrence are inherently risky and will eventually fail, and that the only cure for nuclear war is the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Progress also will continue to depend on effective and sustained pressure of concerned citizens here in Japan and around the globe on their elected leaders to take meaningful action to reduce dangers and verifiably eliminate all nuclear weapons and to use every opportunity available to put the world on a safer course.

The 10th NPT Review Conference

The next global debate about nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose will take place at the 10th NPT Review Conference at UN headquarters in New York.

The review conference is a critical opportunity for the treaty’s 191 states-parties to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons, to strongly condemn any threat of nuclear weapons use, and to intensify the pressure for action to fulfill the treaty’s Article VI disarmament provisions.

Just as they did when states-parties gathered for 1995 Review Conference to negotiate the terms for the extension of the treaty, states-parties must produce results.

At that pivotal NPT conference 27 year ago, NPT states parties committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons,” and endorsed specific disarmament actions, including further nuclear reductions, the conclusion of talks on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and more.

Today, the deficit in disarmament diplomacy and the growing nuclear danger means that this is no ordinary NPT review conference.

As always, the conference must review, comprehensively implementation and compliance on all major political commitments and legal obligations that states have undertaken.

But make no mistake: history will judge the success or failure of this pivotal meeting as on whether or not delegations can reach agreement on a meaningful and updated disarmament action plan, and whether governments make good on that plan in the months and years that follow.

All states need to act with a sense of urgency, a spirit of cooperation, and a determination to produce meaningful results that transcend old fault lines.

Even if a consensus final document is not attainable, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

One key issue this conference must address is the potential collapse of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control system.

In early 2021, within days the original expiration date of New START, President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin wisely agreed to extend the treaty by another five years, and re-launched a “Strategic Stability Dialogue” in the fall of 2021 with the goal of negotiating a new agreement or agreements to supersede New START and address other issues of mutual concern.

Shortly after Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and arms control was put on indefinite hold.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there would not be any limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both sides recognize the danger but have not yet agreed to resume their dialogue.

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden wrote June 2 in a message to the Arms Control Association. “Even as we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine, we must continue to engage Russia on issues of strategic stability,” Biden wrote. “Today—perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation.”

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

Unfortunately, officials on both sides have equivocated on when the dialogue might resume.Delegations at the NPT Review Conference, including Japan, must be vocal and united in calling upon them to do so.

Some NPT nuclear-armed states and their allies may bemoan the fact that the environment for disarmament progress is “challenging.” We can expect some of these states will continue to claim that many past NPT commitments on disarmament have been overtaken by events. Disarmament progress has never been simple or easy, but such deflections are irresponsible.

Instead, the five nuclear-armed NPT states should acknowledge their past disarmament commitments, work with other states-parties on a pragmatic action plan that sets new benchmarks and deadlines, and pledge to act with the urgency that the grave nuclear weapons threat demands.

Notwithstanding the different views on how to fulfill past NPT commitments and obligations, nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states should cooperate on a updated disarmament action plan that could include the following elements:

  • A call for the United States and Russia to conclude talks on New START follow-on agreements that achieve further cuts in nuclear warheads and delivery systems no later than 2025 and, pending the conclusion of such arrangements, agree not to exceed the central limits of New START until such time as they enter into force.
  • A pledge by the other NPT nuclear-armed states—China, France, and the U.K.—to engage in bilateral or multilateral nuclear risk reduction talks and to agree to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals.
  • A call for NPT states to agree to begin disarmament talks in a bilateral or a multilateral format no later than 2025.
  • A call for the five NPT nuclear-armed states to update their 1995 negative security assurances and to jointly or individually affirm that they will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT.
  • A call for the remaining holdout states to initiate their respective processes to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, pending the treaty’s entry into force, negotiate and implement new, voluntary confidence-building measures to address concerns about compliance with the treaty’s “zero-yield” prohibition.
  • A call for all states to refrain from developing and deploying nuclear-armed cruise and hypersonic missiles, as other new types of warheads and delivery systems.
  • A recognition that because the use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and no state should, under any circumstances, directly or indirectly threaten the use of nuclear weapons.”

Even if a consensus final document is not attainable due to tensions over the war in Ukraine, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

As Pope Francis cautioned when he visited Hiroshima in 2019: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral…. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act.”

Thank you for listening.


Keynote Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, for the "International Symposium for Peace: The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition," sponsored by Asahi Shimbun, Nagasaki city government, and the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace

Country Resources:

No Ordinary NPT Review Conference

June 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, waged under the threat of nuclear weapons use, has delivered a shocking reminder of an existential danger that did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Putin’s aggression increases the potential for a NATO-Russian conflict that could quickly escalate, lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and spiral into a global nuclear catastrophe. Although leaders in Washington and Moscow understand that a nuclear war cannot be won, their respective nuclear deterrence policies and the ongoing fighting make it more likely that a nuclear war could be fought.

United Nations Headquarters. (UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto)Putin’s decision to discard diplomacy and invade Ukraine puts the 77-year taboo against nuclear weapons use to the test. It also has derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states, and created a major challenge for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

But the international community’s pushback against Russia’s nuclear bullying has been far too tepid.

The next global debate about nuclear weapons will take place in August at the 10th NPT Review Conference. In the face of the growing danger of nuclear war, this is a critical opportunity for the treaty’s 191 states-parties to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons, to strongly condemn any threat of nuclear weapons use, and to intensify the pressure for action to fulfill the treaty’s Article VI provision “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Responsible nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states cannot afford simply to muddle through the month-long meeting. Russia’s violent assault on Ukraine is a clarion call for responsible NPT states to rally around a meaningful nuclear risk and disarmament action plan. Even if a consensus final document is not attainable due to tensions over the war, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

Putin’s war has derailed for now U.S.-Russian talks on further cuts in their bloated strategic arsenals and new agreements to limit short- and intermediate-range nuclear weapons, but the United States and Russia, as well as other NPT states-parties, are still bound by their disarmament obligations. The last remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), expires in early 2026. Without commonsense arms control guardrails, the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

U.S. President Joe Biden should direct his team to embrace a bold, specific NPT action plan, which, more than any rhetoric from U.S. diplomats, would show that his administration wants to be on the right side of history rather than resisting the overdue action that is needed to reduce nuclear dangers.

Other states cannot afford to wait for the United States to lead or allow the other NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, and the United Kingdom) to escape accountability. Robust, constructive leadership from other NPT states-parties, such as Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden, will be needed. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the Non-Aligned Movement also have crucial roles to play. Their previous statements and working papers suggest these states share common positions that would allow them to advance a common nuclear risk and disarmament action agenda that:

  • calls on the United States and Russia to resume their strategic stability dialogue, begin negotiations on New START follow-on agreements, and issue unilateral reciprocal commitments to respect the central limits of New START after 2026;
  • calls on all NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze their nuclear stockpiles and engage in disarmament negotiations;
  • endorses a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear weapons and the deployment of new short-range nuclear weapons;
  • calls for all states to respect the de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing and to negotiate on-site confidence-building measures pending the entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • reaffirms that any use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” nor should any state threaten the use of nuclear weapons;
  • urges all states to phase out “launch under attack” postures and refrain from offensive cyberattacks on nuclear command, control, and communication systems; and
  • calls for the start of negotiations on legally binding security guarantees to prevent unprovoked attacks by nuclear-weapon states against non-nuclear-weapon states.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

U.S., Japan Reaffirm Alliance in White House Meeting

May 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly reaffirmed the U.S.-Japanese alliance during Biden’s first in-person meeting as president with a foreign leader, at the White House on April 16, calling it a “cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.” The leaders also described a “shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific [region] based on our commitment to universal values and common principles and the promotion of inclusive economic prosperity.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take part in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 16. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)In a press conference after the meeting, Biden emphasized U.S. commitments to Japan’s defense and “ironclad support for…our shared security.”

The leaders’ formal joint statement focused on many strategic concerns, including global threats from COVID-19 and climate change, human rights in Hong Kong and among the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region, and the denuclearization of North Korea.

They expressed “their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion.” They said they “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and objected to China’s “unlawful maritime activities” in the South China Sea. They pledged to work jointly on the rapid development, security, and openness of fifth-generation communications technologies and “to rely on trustworthy vendors.” They also recognized the need for cooperation with China “on areas of common interest.”

Their vision of strengthening the U.S.-Japanese alliance relies on having Japan bolster its national defense capabilities as part of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security that the two countries signed in 1960. The leaders committed “to deepen defense cooperation across all domains, including cyber and space, and to bolster extended deterrence.”

This would involve following through on plans to relocate some U.S. Marine Corps troops from Okinawa to Guam and working with allies and partners such as the Quad, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the trilateral alliance with South Korea.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Washington described the Biden-Suga comments on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea as “harmful” and going “far beyond the scope of normal development of bilateral relations.” Taiwan Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang embraced the joint statement and underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”—SANG-MIN KIM

U.S., Japan Reaffirm Alliance in White House Meeting

Resources for Journalists

Reality Check: The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki



(July 2020)

Seventy-five years ago on July 16 1945, the nuclear age began with the world's first nuclear weapons test explosion in the New Mexico desert. In this annotated video essay from the Arms Control Association, we describe the events that transpired three weeks later with the atomic attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A more detailed review of the geopolitical, environmental, and humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the rise of a global disarmament movement, and the work of the hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear attacks) is available in our special July/August 2020 issue of Arms Control Today, available at ArmsControl.org/75years.


On July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapons test explosion.

Three weeks later, U.S. bombers carried out surprise atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At 8:15 in the morning on August 6, the uranium-based atomic bomb "Little Boy" was used on Hiroshima, home of approximately 320,000 people.

The blast packed a destructive force equivalent to about 15 kilotons of TNT.

In minutes, half of the city ... vanished.

The explosion produced a supersonic shock wave followed by extreme winds that remained above hurricane force over three kilometers from ground zero.

A secondary and equally devastating reverse wind followed, flattening and severely damaging homes and buildings several kilometers further away.

The intense heat of the Hiroshima bomb reached several million degrees Celsius and scorched flesh and other flammable materials over three kilometers away.

Flash burns from the primary heatwave caused most of the deaths at Hiroshima.

Three days later, U.S. leaders ordered “Fat Man,” a plutonium-based bomb with an explosive yield of 21 kilotons, dropped on Nagasaki, home to over 260,000 people.

The attack occurred two days earlier than planned, 10 hours after the Soviets entered the war against Japan, and as Japanese leaders were contemplating surrender.

Intense firestorms ravaged each city for hours after each attack. They leveled neighborhoods only partially damaged by the blast itself, killing more victims trapped under fallen debris.

Black rain laden with radioactive soot and dust contaminated areas far away from ground zero.

By the end of 1945, the blast, heat, and radiation of the nuclear attacks had killed an estimated 74,000 in Nagasaki and 140,000 in Hiroshima.

Many of those who survived the nuclear attacks would die from radiation-induced illnesses for years to come.

Historians now largely agree that the United States did not need to drop the bombs to avoid an invasion of Japan and bring an end to World War II.

Though aware of alternatives, President Harry Truman authorized use of the bombs in part to further the U.S. government’s postwar geostrategic aims.

Survivors of the nuclear attacks, known as hibakusha, and their descendants formed the nucleus of the Japanese and global nuclear disarmament movements.

The remaining hibakusha and organizations around the globe continue to work for a nuclear weapons-free world “so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.”

Today, nine states still possess more than 13,000 nuclear weapons.

The risk of nuclear war is still with us.

To reduce this danger, we must freeze and reverse the arms race and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons.

For more information:

Written by Daryl G. Kimball
Edited and Produced by Tony Fleming

Photos Credits:
Atomic Heritage Foundation ・ Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
UN/Nagasaki International Cultural Hall ・ UN/Yosuke Yamahata
Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images ・ Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images ・ Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images ・ Peter Parks/Getty Images


Seventy-five years ago, the nuclear age began with the world's first nuclear weapons test explosion in the New Mexico desert. In this annotated "silent film"-style video essay from the Arms Control Association, we learn about the events that transpired three weeks later with the atomic attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Country Resources:


Subscribe to RSS - Japan