- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

TOKYO Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, is unlikely to join an atomic arms race even if North Korea pushes ahead with developing a nuclear arsenal, analysts said this week.
"Politically, economically, strategically and technologically, there are more reasons for Japan not to possess nuclear weapons than to have a meaningful military nuclear program," said Matake Kamiya, associate professor of international politics at the National Defense Academy of Japan.
"Japan is neither willing, nor interested, nor capable of doing it," said Mr. Kamiya, whose study on the possibility of Japan becoming a nuclear power appears in the current edition of the Washington Quarterly.
Pyongyang's announcement last week that it was pulling out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and indications that it might resume missile tests have once again raised the specter of nuclear escalation.
North Korea's test-firing in 1998 of a ballistic Taepo Dong missile that flew over northeastern Japan into the Pacific Ocean made the island nation uncomfortably aware that it lies within the range of Pyongyang.
But because it is the only country in the world to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, analysts agree that even a buildup on the Korean Peninsula would not change Japan's non-nuclear policy.
Japan adopted in 1971 three non-nuclear principles: "not producing, not possessing and not allowing nuclear weapons into the country."
Polls have consistently revealed the Japanese public's anti-nuclear sentiment, Mr. Kamiya said, adding that any decision to start a nuclear-weapons program would seriously damage the government of the day.
Alexander Chieh-cheng Huang, a China-North Korea expert based at the Strategic Studies Group at Taiwan's Tamkang University, echoed that sentiment.
"Japan developing a nuclear program is a really, really long shot because of the political considerations. Japan does not have the political will, nor the public support for such a move," Mr. Huang said.
Facing nuclear-armed potential enemies is nothing new for Japan, as the Soviet Union and China posed nuclear threats during the Cold War era, Mr. Kamiya noted.
"But even then, there was never any serious discussion in Japan about Japan pursuing its own nuclear weapons," he added.
"Even an acceleration of North Korea's nuclear program would not likely cause Japan to follow suit," Mr. Kamiya argues in his article.
The United States, which has 47,000 troops stationed in Japan, is also unlikely to shift some of its nuclear weapons to Japan.
"No, [Japan] won't let the U.S. have nuclear weapons on [its] turf. Japanese public opinion would not tolerate it, and it is not necessary," said Joseph Cheng, political analyst at Hong Kong's City University.
Possession of nuclear arms by Japan might destabilize security in Northeast Asia and would unnecessarily anger its neighbors, Mr. Kamiya said.
"Such a change would economically hurt Japan, which has become an economic superpower through trade," he said, adding that Japan still relies on imports for most of its energy needs, as well as much of its food.
Japan also is not technologically capable of producing the hundreds of warheads necessary to start an immediate and meaningful nuclear-weapons program, Mr. Kamiya added.
"If Japan had to build one nuclear weapon of any quality, I think it could. But something like that is only good for a terrorist group or a small nation to appear as if they are some sort of a threat," Mr. Kamiya said.
Japan is more likely to work with the United States to develop other military options, Mr. Cheng said.
"There will be a bit of an arms race in that the weapons program of North Korea has provided a very strong reason for Japan to have a military satellite intelligence program and work with the U.S. for a theater missile [defense] program," he said.
In a related development this week, Japan's top defense official arrived in Moscow for talks focusing on the North Korean crisis and a range of disputes, including Moscow's unease over Tokyo's plans to build a missile shield with U.S. help.
But before his departure for talks Tuesday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Shigeru Ishiba, director-general of Japan's Defense Agency, stuck to a tough military line on a range of issues that continue to divide Moscow and Tokyo.
He defended Japan's right to build a limited missile shield, which Moscow has strenuously opposed. He also played down the odds of Russia and Japan expanding military cooperation.
Mr. Ishiba's visit came on the heels of a historic summit in Moscow last week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that was overshadowed in part by Pyongyang's decision to withdraw from the NPT.
Talks between the two leaders focused on the prickly issue of a formal peace treaty ending World War II that hinges on a demarcation of the Russo-Japanese border in the Pacific.
While they pledged to work toward a peace treaty, their diplomats bickered on the sidelines over Japan's insistence that an agreement depends entirely on Russia ceding four disputed islands in the southern Kuril chain taken by Soviet forces at the end of World War II.
Russian diplomats fumed that no such wording was discussed during the meeting, while analysts noted that almost no progress could be detected on either the diplomatic or trade front in the talks.
"It is obvious that the new Japanese leadership has the same attitude toward Russia as two or three years ago, only perhaps slightly less strict," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Fond Politika research institute.
"The conclusion from Koizumi's visit must be the same as after all other Russia-Japan summits since [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev's visit to Tokyo in 1991; namely, that there is no solution," the United Financial Group investment house said in a research note.
Tensions also could be felt in Moscow as Mr. Ishiba traveled from Tokyo, with the top Japanese defense official telling Itar-Tass news agency that his country would pursue its national-defense interests, even if some of its facets drew Russian protest.
Creating a limited missile-defense system for Japan "is an important goal," Mr. Ishiba insisted.
"It will be a purely defensive system, one without alternatives, and the sole mechanism for defending the livelihood of our people," he said.
"In and of itself, this system does not pose a military threat to other governments and should not lead to an arms race."
Russia is skeptical of limited missile-defense systems of the type now being developed by the United States, although it has proposed helping build one for Europe.
But Japan's participation in such a project, which is still in the planning stages, appears to have drawn particular Russian ire as the two sides jostle for geopolitical influence in East Asia.
AFP correspondent Dmitry Zaks in Moscow contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide