More than 100 local assemblies in Japan have called on the central government to join the U.N. nuclear weapons ban passed last year, according to a Kyodo News tally compiled Sunday.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has so far resisted the treaty due to Japan's reliance on the United States' nuclear umbrella amid growing threat from North Korea's nuclear and missile development.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told representatives of nine political parties and the government in an open forum last week that Japan needs to abandon its defense policy relying on the umbrella of U.S. nuclear deterrent, calling it an "outdated" theory based on the threat of actual use of nuclear weapons.
The Japanese government has said it is sitting out of the treaty, citing the need for U.S. nuclear deterrence to "protect the lives and properties of Japanese citizens in the face of growing and realistic nuclear threat from North Korea."
"Nuclear deterrence did nothing to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Instead, it has fueled it," Fihn said in Tokyo.
At least 112 municipal assemblies and one prefectural assembly have sent written opinions to the Diet pushing for the signing and ratification of the treaty, according to the secretariats of both parliamentary chambers and local assemblies.
Of these, 16 called for Japan to become an observer state to the treaty in preparation for full membership. Most were also addressed to Abe.
A further 16 local assemblies have sent written opinions to Abe, but not the parliament. The number of such submissions could grow, as some written opinions apparently have not been sent yet or have been sent but not yet been processed.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons bans the development, testing, production, possession, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of 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 as well as nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia sat out. It must now be ratified by 50 countries to come into effect.
The Abe administration has cited a recent ramp-up in nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, 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 city council of Nagasaki, which along with Hiroshima was devastated by U.S. 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 city council of Minamiashigara 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 local assemblies called for Japan to take an active role in the implementation of the treaty, but stopped short of demanding its ratification by Tokyo.
Experts were split on the implication of the groundswell of support for the ban on nuclear weapons for national security.
Toshinori Yamada, a lecturer on international law at Meiji University, said there is a "high hurdle" for the Abe administration to join the treaty because 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.
Meanwhile, Koji Murata, a professor teaching national security policy at Doshisha University, questioned whether members of the local 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.