Nuclear-Free Future

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15 September 2017

Dr. Hiromichi Umebayashi

His discipline is solid-state physics. Outside his work, however, the Japanese scientist Dr. Hiromichi Umebayashi slips the bonds of solid forms, opinions, patterns, and boundaries. In 1980, he left his academic post and began to apply his expertise to social issues. Japanese society is hierarchal, contact between religious and political life is minimal, and the political classes communicate little with the rest of society. In such circumstances, Hiro is truly a hero: as a bridge-builder, he initiates dialogue and establishes contact between various isolated societal camps, opens doors, and chisels away at the dangerous façade of peace through weapons of mass destruction.

Hiromichi’s work takes place behind the bright lights of the international stage. For example, when in 2010 the Japanese foreign minister Katsuya Okada and over one hundred members of parliament wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pleading for the elimination of nuclear weapons, Umebayashi was in the background—unnamed, untiring, and indispensable. Only insiders can identify Hiromichi’s fingerprints and put a name to his handiwork. Needless to say, he is constantly in contact with the worldwide network of Mayors for Peace, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), and Abolition 2000.

His friends and comrades in arms attest to his “magic touch”: wherever he lends a hand, miracles happen. He is the founder of Peace Depot Inc., a non-profit initiative that both focuses on peace research and education and promotes ideas for national security systems not reliant on atomic deterrence or outright military supremacy.

From the work of the Peace Depot came the suggestion for a nuclear weapon-free zone in northeast Asia (NEA NWFZ). This northeast zone contains the nuclear powers of China and Russia, along with North Korea. Additionally, the United States has nuclear outposts in Japan and South Korea. Umebayashi’s vision: no nuclear weapons stationed on the ground in Japan, North Korea, or South Korea, as well a guarantee from Russia, China, and the United States that they would not deploy, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the zone. According to Hiromichi, all involved nations must treat each other as equals in such an arrangement —regardless of their overall military might.

Hiromichi’s “Magic Touch” is already leading to results: the government of Mongolia offered to moderate confidence building talks between the six countries. These talks happened. In 2007, the South Korean province of Gangwon—whose traditional northern border now lies within North Korea and whose territorial disputes led to the establishment of the DMZ—awarded the Peace Depot the Demilitarized Zone Peace Prize. Hiromichi, as always, remains modest and invisible behind the scenes. For those who know to look for him, he can be found within the pages of “Nuclear Weapons & Test Monitor,” the biweekly bulletin for which he serves as chief editor.