60% of DPJ lower house members want Japan out of U.S. nuclear umbrella

About 60 percent of the House of Representatives members from the Democratic Party of Japan want Japan to pull out of the U.S. nuclear umbrella in the future, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.

While 58.3 percent of the respondents in the survey said Japan should try to leave the U.S. nuclear umbrella in the future, 2.8 percent said Tokyo should do so immediately.

In contrast, 28.4 percent said Japan should stay under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The findings suggest that a number of DPJ lawmakers hope to craft a national security system that is not dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The Kyodo poll also showed that 87.2 percent of the respondents said the United States should pledge not to use nuclear weapons first unless enemy countries resort to such arms.

On the grounds that not using preemptive nuclear attacks will lessen the role of nuclear weapons for military purpose and thus lead to nuclear disarmament, some key DPJ lawmakers such as Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada support such a policy.

The outcome of the survey came at a time when there is growing expectations for a world without nuclear arms since U.S. President Barack Obama made a pitch for such a goal in a landmark speech in Prague in April.

While the latest survey indicates a possible change in Japan's defense policy following the launch of the DPJ-led government, it remains unclear whether the government can depart from the previous defense policy.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which reigned over Japan for nearly a half century with the exception of a brief withdrawal, had always put the U.S. nuclear umbrella as the cornerstone of the nation's defense policy.

Some in the DPJ are even calling for strengthening protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and reviewing Japan's three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory, citing a security threat from North Korea.

The survey showed that 1.9 percent of the respondents said Japan should enhance the current U.S. nuclear umbrella through such means as sharing tactical nuclear arms.

As for the nation's three nonnuclear principles, 73.0 percent said the government should maintain them and 19.4 percent noted the need for legislation, while only 4.7 percent argued that such principles should be reviewed.

The poll was conducted on 308 DPJ lower house lawmakers, of which 211 or 68.5 percent responded.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Oct. 10, 2009)