Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Japan to Acquire Nuclear Bombs?

Today, Shinzo Abe was elected as new Japanese prime minister. As I mentioned briefly in the previous post, he is quite popular among Japanese people. However, foreign media are somewhat alert to his nationalist policy visions.

In this post, I would like to mention an interesting article on his nationalism. This is more critical than conflicts against China and Korea, or official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

According to “Anxiety Chipping away at Japan's Nuclear Taboo” (September 18, 2006) in the Mercury News, one of the leading newspapers in the Silicon Valley, Japan may acquire nuclear weapon. If this were true, it would be a serious challenge to the United States. Currently, nuclear non-proliferation is one of top agendas in US foreign policy. In the post Cold War era, international non-proliferation regime is becoming unreliable. Some NPT members like Iran and North Korea are suspected to develop nuclear bombs. Moreover, the Axis of Evil and other terrorist sponsors are disloyal to international inspection to their nuclear facilities.

If Japan were to possess nuclear weapons, it would be a trouble for the United States. This would undermine the US-Japanese alliance, a keystone of America’s global strategy from Suez to Pearl Harbor. From orthodox understandings, it is unlikely that Japan develop its own nuclear bombs. Then, why does the Mercury News talk about it?

According the article, it was former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone who insisted that Japan consider whether to acquire nuclear weapons. Japan faces serious threats in its neighborhood, notably, North Korean nuclear missiles and Chinese military pressure. Also, Japan is moving toward a “normal country” by shedding postwar pacifism.

New prime minister, Shinzo Abe insists on reviving traditional Japanese values and changing the pacifist constitution. This could strain Japan’s relations with China and South Korea. Furthermore, he advocates preemptive attacks against North Korea before it fires nuclear missiles.

How likely is it for Japan to have nuclear bombs? "Japan has a virtual nuclear deterrent. Every country in the region knows it can produce a nuclear device, a rather sophisticated one, probably in six months," said Richard Tanter, a Japan scholar at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

According to Frank Barnaby, a British nuclear physicist and nonproliferation advocate who's studied Japan's nuclear energy industry, "They have stocks of plutonium. They have the know-how. All that is lacking is the political decision."

Pacifist sentiments can hinder Japan from possessing nuclear arsenals. However, "To tell you the truth, the anti-nuclear campaign in Japan is not so strong," said Hideyuki Ban, the co-director of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, an anti-nuclear group.

If Japan decides to have deadly bombs, this will lead to severe nuclear rivalry in East Asia. It would provoke South Korea to develop nuclear weapons. Then, North Korea and China would make more Weapons of Mass Destruction. Unlike India, Japan is an NPT member. Japan must withdraw from NPT to have nuclear bombs. I can hardly imagine that the United States admit this sort of real hollowing of non-proliferation regime. This will make all US efforts foe non-proliferation in vain. The special deal with India is a rare, exceptional, and unusual case.

Of course, I am not so naïve as to believe this news blindly. Even though reported a hawkish nationalist, Abe is pro-American, and explores much more staunch alliance with the United States to make it the anchor of stability in the Asia-Pacific region. In the foreseeable future, it is quite unlikely that Japan have nuclear weapons. But remember! The Far East is becoming increasingly dangerous region. In order to stop nuclear proliferation, the United States must be firmly involved with Japan’s national security. This is a vital interest in US foreign policy.