- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

President Bush hosts Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at his Texas ranch next week, and for good reason. Japan is both a potential victim and source of a solution to the nuclear-weapons crisis with North Korea.

Long after this crisis with North Korea has passed, history may record that Japan was able to use the occasion to break out of its postwar pacifism and strengthen its military posture.

Even during the crisis, a nation that well remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki has talked openly of a need to possess nuclear weapons and eventually rely less on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The May 22-23 ranch summit, while serving as a show of gratitude for Japan’s support in the Iraq war, also will focus on ways to keep a united diplomatic front against North Korea’s wedge tactics.

So far, however, the only progress in resolving the crisis has come from Chinese pressure on its albatross of an ally, North Korea. China might have acted in order to prevent a military revival in Japan.

Some Japanese officials have talked of a need to purchase cruise missiles and launch a pre-emptive strike if North Korea threatens to fire missiles at Japan. Such talk goes against strong pacifist feelings among the Japanese, and a constitution that forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

But Pyongyang’s 1998 test of a missile that flew over Japan helped break the taboo of talking about military responses.

Japan is working with the United States to study a missile-defense system. It used its own rocket to launch spy satellites this year and sent ships to help support the U.S. war in Afghanistan, its first dispatch of forces to assist a military action since World War II.

[Last month, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces dispatched the 7,250-ton Aegis guided-missile destroyer Kongo, the 4,550-ton destroyer Ariake and the 8,150-ton fuel ship Hamana to relieve three other Japanese naval vessels that had been on station in the Arabian Sea for four months supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

[The initial Japanese deployment to the northern Indian Ocean was considered a watershed event in Tokyo. It was seen as proving that Japan was willing to contribute more than cash to a world problem and as a chance for the country to reassure Asian neighbors still sensitive to Japan’s militaristic might in the first half of the 20th century.]

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung warns: “If North Korea gets nuclear weapons, the stance of Japan and our country toward nuclear weapons would change.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, says the United States should allow Japan to develop nuclear weapons.

Unless diplomacy works soon to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, such talk may only increase, both in Japan and abroad. Mr. Bush must decide whether it is in U.S. and Japanese interests to use this implied threat to China as a diplomatic tool.

A rebalancing of power in Asia could start in Crawford, Texas.

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