Support for U.N. nuke ban grows in Japan as assemblies pressure Abe to join

Kyodo

More than 100 assemblies throughout the nation are pressuring the central government to join the U.N. nuclear weapons ban passed last year, according to a tally compiled Sunday.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has so far resisted joining the treaty because Japan relies on the United States’ nuclear umbrella.

At least 112 municipal assemblies and one prefectural assembly have sent written opinions to the Diet urging the government to sign and ratify the treaty, according to the secretariats of both Diet chambers and the assemblies.

Of the opinions submitted, 16 call for Japan to become an observer to the treaty in preparation for full membership. Most of the opinions were addressed to Abe, the tally compiled by Kyodo News shows.

Another 16 assemblies sent written opinions to Abe but not the Diet.

The submissions could grow because some apparently have not been sent yet or are still being processed.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons bans the development, testing, production, possession, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat to use nuclear weapons.

The pact was passed by the U.N. General Assembly on July 7, with 122 countries voting in favor. The Netherlands voted against and Singapore abstained, while Japan and such nuclear powers as the United States and Russia sat out. It must be ratified by 50 countries to take effect.

The Abe administration has North Korea’s surge in atomic weapon and missile testing, including the test-launch in December of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States, as one of its reasons for sitting out the nuclear weapons ban.

The municipal assembly of Nagasaki, which along with Hiroshima was destroyed by atomic bombs in World War II, challenged this view, saying, “We will never be rid of the threat of nuclear weapons if countries keep claiming that they are a necessary security measure.”

“Our nation must act in accordance with its pledge to be a leader in efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and to build a bridge between nuclear weapon and nonnuclear weapon states,” it wrote.

The Iwate Prefectural Assembly hailed the treaty as a “historic step toward a world without nuclear weapons,” while the Minamiashigara Municipal Assembly in Kanagawa Prefecture said the awarding of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons showed the treaty was needed for humanity to avoid a dire fate.

Meanwhile, eight of the assemblies called for Japan to take an active role in implementing the treaty but stopped short of demanding its ratification by Tokyo.

Experts were split on what the implications of the ban’s groundswell of support meant for national security.

Toshinori Yamada, a lecturer on international law at Meiji University, said the Abe administration faces a “high hurdle” in joining the treaty in light of the U.S. nuclear umbrella but that the movement nonetheless represents the will of the people and must be handled in a “sincere” way.

In the meantime, Koji Murata, a professor teaching national security policy at Doshisha University, questioned whether the members of the assemblies fully understood the nuclear weapons ban.

“It’s meaningless if (the assembly members) did this as a performance because they wanted to be seen by their constituents as peace-loving,” he said.