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Japan’s security calls for wide-ranging discussion of “four nuke principles”

  • November 1, 2017
  • , p. 48 - 51
  • JMH Translation

            Shigeru Ishiba

By former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba


Should “Four nuclear principles” remain without discussion?



North Korea has repeatedly conducted missile launches and nuclear tests, so East Asia can be said to be in a state of “quasi” contingency. Under the circumstances, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the dissolution of the House of Representatives. When he explained why he had decided to dissolve the Lower House, Abe said he would have cabinet ministers and other state ministers including Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on alert during the election campaign. He also said the Upper House would maintain its Diet functions. In the event of a true contingency, those ministers will be able to respond to deal with a given situation.


In this general election campaign, candidates should explain to the people the importance of the Self-Defense Forces and ask the people to once again closely examine the security environment surrounding Japan. In other words, we should re-verify whether the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” will be sufficiently effective in defending Japan at present and in the future.


Japan has maintained to date the three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons. We have added in effect one more principle of “not discussing nuclear weapons,” making it, so to speak, the “four non-nuclear principles.” Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered atomic bombings, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during the Pacific War, so I fully understand the basis of the principles. I myself was shocked when in the sixth grade I watched a documentary film about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I became one of the people advocating for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. However, 70 years have passed since the end of World War II and the international situation has largely changed. Should we still maintain the fourth principle of “not discussing nuclear weapons”?


Unfortunately, I anticipate that the tension on the Korean Peninsula will be prolonged. U.S. President Donald Trump calls for the international community to enhance economic sanctions against the DPRK. If North Korea threatens to launch a missile attack against the American capital of Washington, and if the U.S. regards the threat as imminent, can the U.S. afford to defend Japan while facing a national crisis? As a matter of fact, there are some senior U.S. government officials who have a plan to withdraw U.S. forces from the Far East. Security is in a sense a set of measures to prepare for the worst case scenario by taking everything into account. If U.S. forces were to withdraw from Japan, what would we have to do to protect the people of Japan? In order to take every possibility into consideration, we need once again to examine the effectiveness of the “nuclear umbrella.” As part of such a process, it would be useful to study five different countermeasures taken by European nations in preparation for the threat posed by the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons during the Cold War.


Nuclear sharing as a countermeasure


The first countermeasure was taken by France. “Allies will fight together but will not share their fates,” said French President Charles de Gaulle who, despite U.S. opposition, armed France with nuclear weapons. The second countermeasure was taken by the UK, which, with the support of the U.S., acquired nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered submarines. The third countermeasure was taken by West Germany, which deployed the U.S. medium-range nuclear missile, the Pershing II, in the country against the Soviet’s medium-range nuclear missile SS-20. The fourth countermeasure was a system called “nuclear sharing” taken by Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. These countries deployed American nuclear weapons. In this system, the U.S. maintains ownership of the deployed nuclear weapons in peacetime, but in the event of a contingency, the host countries would be allowed limited authority to use the nuclear weapons. The fifth countermeasure, totally different from the first four, was building nuclear shelters and conducting thorough evacuation drills. Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries took this measure.


European countries examined and studied the clear and present danger facing them. Through repeated discussions, these countries came up with the five countermeasures and obtained peace. Which of the five could become an option for Japan? The first and second would be out of the question. The fifth countermeasure would be insufficient to fully protect our country, although we should make efforts in that direction. In response to North Korea’s recent missile launch, Japan’s J-Alert was activated. However, in order to evacuate people to safe places, it would still take significantly more efforts by the government and the private sector. The third or fourth countermeasure would be a realistic option.


In other words, among the three non-nuclear principles, we should broaden our discussion about the third principle of “not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons.” Would this lead to allowing U.S. forces to introduce nuclear missiles into American bases in Japan, or would this lead to introducing the countermeasure of “nuclear sharing?” Thorough deliberation and examination of the matter would be necessary.


The possibility of not possessing and not producing nuclear weapons


Since my appointment as defense minister 15 years ago, I have called for verifying the effectiveness of the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the U.S. I have also called for broad and flexible discussions about Japan’s going nuclear apart from the three non-nuclear principles, covering everything from research to deployment of nuclear weapons.


One example is Japan’s possible possession of nuclear weapons. Although the three non-nuclear principles constitute national policy, it is constitutionally possible for Japan to possess nuclear weapons. In fact, the idea has been presented many times in Diet sessions. Japan, however, would lose more than it gains if the country goes nuclear. This is because the international system based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would collapse and bilateral nuclear cooperation treaties with the U.S. and France would be cancelled. Japan will not likely take this course as it attaches great importance to maintaining the existing international order that Japan has helped to establish. The ideal of the NPT system is to create a nuclear-free world. Why, then, are only nuclear powers allowed to be permanent members of the UN Security Council? That is because they were the victors in World War II. But there are countries that became nuclear powers at their own discretion such as India and Pakistan. We need to bear in mind this contradictory fact [that the NPT comprises nuclear powers while some other countries are free to go nuclear], which is the reality of international politics.


We have conducted no comprehensive study on whether Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons including research, development and production. As a general argument, Japan is capable of producing an atomic bomb.


Because the country has rocket technology, it would be theoretically possible to mount an atomic bomb on a missile warhead. However, there is no extensive tract of land in Japan where we could conduct an implosion test. And our country suffered the tragic experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Under the circumstances, it would be extremely difficult for Japan to produce nuclear weapons.


Security is an important point of contention in the general election


Security is a point of contention in the ongoing general election. I want the people to think about the matter once again. Two years have passed since the security legislation was enacted. Although the legislation enabled Japan to exercise the right of collective defense, it is still limited by international standards. Because of this limitation, Japan can have only limited say in dealing with our allied country of the U.S. One example is the low-altitude flight training conducted by the U.S. military in Okinawa. Japan should request the U.S. to change or cancel the training. However, under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, our country is not obligated to invoke its right of collective self-defense in order to defend the U.S. but instead is required to allow the U.S. to use Japan’s territory, which includes low-altitude flight training by U.S. forces. Another example is the air traffic control (ATC) over Tokyo and adjacent prefectures under the control of U.S. forces. In order to land and take off at Haneda Airport, Japanese commercial airlines have to go around the airspace under U.S. forces control. Behind this inconvenient situation is the structure based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and related Status of Forces Agreement.


I recognize that the alliance with the U.S. remains very important, but the people need to know how the alliance has been maintained to date and whether it remains sufficiently effective in dealing with the current threat.


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