In view of a shocking remark by Donald Trump (“In Japan and South Korea, bewilderment at Trump's suggestion they build nukes”; Washington Post; March 28, 2016), Japanese people are increasingly worried about national security, and gradually talking about having independent nuclear deterrence. However, we have to reconsider whether to act so hastily. That is because it takes several years and costs a huge amount of money to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. Once the project has started, it would be too big to waste that. Japanese national security must be firmly based on standard and long term strategic views of foreign policy circles in Washington, rather than on an erratic term of a bigoted and unpredictable would-be president.
Let me explain it clearly. Suppose Trump were inaugurated. But he would have only a 4 year secured term. Japan would have to make and deploy nuclear weapons very quickly. But if he were not successful, someone else would replace him in the next term, and the successor would return American foreign policy to the normalcy. In that case, he or she would not tolerate Japanese nuclear deterrence, since WMD nonproliferation is a key agenda of American national security. Therefore, Japan would waste a huge amount of time, labor, and money, if we reacted to Trump’s ignorant and commercialistically skinflinty ideas so imprudently. I have to emphasize that people in Japan and the global community have never regarded Trump supporting mobs who are fatally problematic in intellect and temperament as Americans.
Also, the mind and the behavior of Trump himself is precarious. As stated in the well known open letter by Eliot Cohen, along with over 100 signatories, “He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.” He may admit Japanese nuclear deterrence at this stage. But his foreign policy views are so unpredictable as he always boasts that he could suddenly change his mind within a possible 4 year term. In that case Trump could treat Japan like Iran and North Korea. Actually, people all over the world know he is notorious for short temper. Why should Japan run such a risk to be regarded as an enemy to the United States?
More questionably, I would like to express my heartfelt skepticism whether Trump could withdraw all the forces in Japan within his term. The scale of US military services in Japan is huge, and the US Forces in Japan are deeply embedded in Japanese societies, as typically seen in rescue operations of 3-11 tsunami and earthquake. Withdrawal procedure would involve an incredible amount of red tape bureaucracy that Trump had never encountered throughout his life as a real estate businessman. Land property rights associated with military bases are far more complicated than those he managed in his business. Moreover, it is Yokota US Air Force base that assumes the control of the Japanese airspace for regional security and civil aviation. The transition of this authority to the Japanese side would require considerably laborious negotiations. If bilateral talks were bottlenecked, it would be American airline industries that would suffer a great loss. Trump should be well aware of it, as he boats his business acumen.
In addition, the withdrawal schedule is not clear, whether Trump would wait until Japan builds nuclear deterrence against China and North Korea, or start negotiations to pull out troops promptly without giving any consideration to the danger of the power vacuum. In any case, jobs are laborious. I can hardly imagine Trump could appoint competent senior officials of his own to do this mission, as the quality of his foreign policy team was commented sarcastically by Michael O’Hanlon (“D.C.'s Foreign-Policy Establishment Spooked by `Bizzaro’ Trump Team”; National Review Online; March 24, 2016). It seems that Trump has two term presidency in his mind (“Trump’s nonsensical claim he can eliminate $19 trillion in debt in eight years”; Washington Post; April 2, 2016), but this is not an OJT job. Poor performance in the first term means the end. Considering his notorious impatience, why does he expect the people so patient? His whimsical remarks, particularly on foreign policy, reveal his sheer lack of reverence for the duty and responsibility of the president.
Trump’s way of thinking is a Copernican turn of nuclear security and the US-Japanese alliance. But it seems that he hardly understands this, since he is extremely ill-prepared to carry out what he said in public. Among American allies worldwide, Japan is the first target of his blame. If he regards the reshuffle of the relationship with Japan so important, I wonder why none of the advisors in his foreign policy team are well versed with Japanese affairs. More seriously, his knowledge in nuclear security is extraordinarily poor. Trump did not even know nuclear triad. In addition, he insisted on using tactical nuclear weapons against Islamic terrorists in the Middle East (“Donald Trump Won't Rule Out Using Nukes Against ISIS”; Fortune; March 23, 2016). That exposes he is utterly uninformed of the destructive capacity of nuclear arms. Tactical nuclear weapons today are more powerful than those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also, the use of tactical nuclear bomb can escalate the war. Trump should know that collateral damages by US drone attacks were bitterly criticized in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if tactical, nuclear weapons kill innumerable civilians. Apparently, he has learned nothing about these issues, and therefore, he remarks anything so shamelessly.
It is no longer time just to analyze and deplore. We should take action to bust him. For this objective, I would suggest that Japanese opinion leaders write an open letter of protest to him to question every point I mention in this post, and express our anger. I understand that Trump is extremely sensitive to anger as he exploits popular outrage. The Japanese government may not be in a position to behave so provocatively, but the track II level can do so. There is no doubt that American and global policy circles, and people of conscience in the United States, are definitely on our side. Our bilateral relations will last far longer than Trump, as I state at the beginning of this essay. It is Japan’s vital interest to act in accordance with common understandings among American foreign policy circles, not with Trump’s bigoted ideas.