April 9, 2016 3:26 am JST
Interview

Obama still wrestling with 'dilemma' of Hiroshima visit: Kent Calder

NAOYA YOSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

Kent Calder

WASHINGTON --  A visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima would have symbolic significance, given his rhetoric on nuclear weapons, but the potential geopolitical implications of such a move make it a difficult choice, says Kent Calder, an American authority on U.S.-Japan relations.

     Secretary of State John Kerry will soon become the first American cabinet member to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, located near ground zero of the 1945 atomic bombing. The Nikkei asked Calder, who serves as director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies here, about this milestone and the prospect of Obama making the same visit.

     Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Some people are saying that Secretary Kerry's visit to Hiroshima this month is partly meant to pave the way for a visit by President Obama.

A: I don't think there's a decision on this yet.

     That's my guess, that [the U.S. is] taking this a step at a time. We're trying to see what is the reaction. 

Q: Do you think President Obama will decide to visit Hiroshima next month? Why or why not?

A: Well, my guess would be that he would have a personal interest in doing so, just because of the symbolic importance, because of his desire to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the world.

     That said, there's also the question of the credibility of the U.S. deterrent at a time when the Chinese and the North Koreans both are being relatively aggressive in their behavior. Is it appropriate for an American president to stress ... reducing the role of a factor in the political-military relationship that actually increases deterrence?

     I thought that President Obama could well visit Hiroshima in his last year in office, if there were progress toward relaxation of tensions in Northeast Asia. I'm not clear that that relaxation has been achieved, which, I think, makes a decision to potentially go more difficult.     

     His personal desire would be to go. After all, he is a Nobel Prize winner.

     So my guess is ... it's a dilemma which is not fully resolved yet.

Q: Do you think President Obama will visit Hiroshima eventually?

A: I would give it maybe a 50-50 chance.

Q: U.S. public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. It seems that there is a wide gap between the Japanese and American people on this issue. Do you agree?

A: I don't think it's as large as that. I don't think many Americans are happy about the fact that the bomb was dropped.

     I would guess, over the years, more and more people are coming to think that it was a mistake, at least that it was an overreaction.

Q: Some analysts say that it would be seen as too much if Secretary Kerry and President Obama both visited Hiroshima.

A:  Well, I think that's possible. If I really had to bet -- [as] I said, 50-50.

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