2006 November 06 Monday
Japanese Politicians Debate Nuclear Weapons Development
Worries about the North Korean nuclear weapons program has Japanese politicians once again asking whether Japan should develop nukes.
TOKYO – In a new thread to the North Korean bomb saga, arguments over Japan's nuclear ambitions are becoming the focus as prominent politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continue to raise the issue.
LDP Policy Research Council chairman Shoichi Nakagawa has repeatedly called for such a debate. His latest comments Sunday, urging a broad discussion of the option, followed statements last week that Japan's pacifist constitution doesn't preclude nuclear arms. Foreign Minister Taro Aso has also sparked anxiety in the opposition and LDP by pushing for debate on the topic.
Japan wants some way to deter a nuclear North Korea.
I bet a poll today would find much more widespread support for the development of nuclear weapons.
Recent comments echo the opinions of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and current opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa. A poll in 2003 showed that almost 1 in 5 lawmakers thought Japan should consider nuclear weapons capability if warranted by the regional political climate.
Japan has the material and the scientific know-how to make an atomic bomb. Its civilian nuclear industry has a growing surplus of reactor-grade plutonium, which can be converted to weapons-grade material with techniques that are likely to be well within Japanese capabilities. The time lag between a decision to go nuclear and the actual creation of a bomb would probably be measured in months, not years.
My take on nuclear weapons in the hands of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan: China has nukes. The United States is going to decline in power versus China and China's economy is going to grow larger than the US economy. Nukes in the hands of more neighbors of China will help restrain the Chinese as the US position declines. Taiwan's own continued independence probably hinges on whether it develops a nuclear capability.
Any modern industrialized economy can build a bomb pretty easily, and Japan already has a big stockpile of plutonium, so it's just a matter of when they want to assemble it.
Iran can't built a bomb because they are unable to manufacture basic materials like metal tubes with which to build a centrifuge. No one doubts that Japan can build its own metal tubes.
When I lived in Japan during the 90's, we called Japan a virtual nuclear power. That is, the time to make and deploy nuclear weapons from the time the decision is made to do so is less than 30 days. They already have the H1 (not the H2-B) rocket available as a delivery vehicle. So, they can easily make nuclear weapons and be able to "deliver" them to an opponent anytime they want.
While not necessarily agreeing with all of the above, the idea of Japan as a nuclear counterweight to China sounds quite reasonable. Adding a different and formidable variable to China's calculations would be a restraint on their ambitions. Taiwan also is unwise to see America as a perfectly reliable guarantor; they should go nuclear.
There's no way that Japan can become any sort of counterweight to China. The fundamental calculus is that Japan is small in land area, while china is large in land area. In any exchange, the vast majority of China and the Chinese will survive, but Japan (and the Japanese) will cease to exist as a race.
Japan has one viable strategy: Don't be any sort of military threat to China and be a valuable trading partner with China.
The US has a commitment to honor the treaty signed half a century ago to militarily defend Japan "under any circumstances" according to our current Secretary of State. A nuclear attack on Japan would bring massive retaliation against China. Throw a nuclear Taiwan and India into the equation and Japan has no reason to become the PRC's market-serving lackey. The historical animosity between the two nations will continue to make it politically unfeasible for LDP and DPJ pols to advocate a drawdown in military spending as China continues to grow.
From a Western and specifically American perspective, I don't see how a nuclear Japan is anything but a positive. The North Korean problem is partially solved, China is surrounded on all sides by nuclear powers, and the US can start drawing down the 35,000 troops it has stationed in Japan (and the 25,000 remaining in South Korea) majorities in both of these countries want us to leave.
Industrializing China is a thin strip on the coast, not much different than Japan.