After weeks of speculation, it’s finally been confirmed: President Obama will make a visit to Hiroshima after the G-7 Summit later this month. The trip follows Secretary Kerry’s historic appearance in the city this past April.
No sitting President has ever gone to Hiroshima, let alone toured the city’s Peace Memorial Park, which includes the Genbaku Dome, the only structure in the immediate vicinity left standing after the detonation of the atomic bomb.
Once in Hiroshima, the President plans to discuss the value of his policy to prevent the spread of nuclear material, as well as the devastating consequences of war and the need for a world without nuclear weapons. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed or wounded more than 200,000 people. A nuclear war today, with weapons much more powerful than 1945, would be catastrophic for the entire planet.
The importance of this visit cannot be overstated, and jumping ahead of some critics sure to make themselves known, this isn’t a so-called “apology tour.” In fact, the President has no intention of apologizing about the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombings – and the Japanese government doesn’t want one anyway.
But the trip should be more than an act of symbolism. The President ought to consider making substantive nuclear policy pronouncements during his visit, like cancelling the new nuclear-tipped cruise missile and safely reducing our nuclear arsenal as the Department of Defense has endorsed.
Still, make no mistake about it: the President has already made progress toward his own vision of a nuclear-free world. He’s retired submarine-launched nuclear cruise missiles, signed the verifiable New START nuclear weapons reductions treaty with Russia, convened the novel Nuclear Security Summits, and successfully negotiated the Iran Deal that subjects the country’s nuclear facilities to intrusive inspections and monitoring.
President Obama readily admits that much more work is needed for a world free of nuclear weapons. Visiting Hiroshima is a promising step. But when the visit and fanfare are over, the danger of 15,000 nuclear weapons across the globe will still be on the table. Let’s hope the next President takes the issue as seriously as the current one.