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Paper 487                                                      05.07.2002

by Dr. Subhash Kapila                    

 Japan is the only country in the world to have been subjected to a nuclear weapons holocaust, not once but twice, in the closing stages of the Second World War. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are painful reminders of the American nuclear attacks in 1945.  It is but natural that Japan as a nation has a strong aversion to nuclear weapons.

Japan’s imperatives to possess a nuclear weapons capability or arsenal came briefly into focus in June 2002, when a high Japanese official articulated the need.  However, it was promptly denied within the next two three days that there were no changes in Japan’s defence policies.

Notwithstanding the above, two questions arise in this context.  First, would Japan have ever been subjected to nuclear weapons bombing, had it also possessed nuclear weapons i.e. nuclear deterrence? Second, is it strategically wise for Japan to continue renunciation of nuclear weapons capability in the context of its security environment?

Arising from the above, this paper attempts to analyze the strategic and political imperatives for Japan to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

Japan’s Strategic Imperatives for a Nuclear Weapons Arsenal: Japan’s imperatives for a nuclear weapon’s capability were born the day it was subjected to nuclear weapons attacks in 1945.  The volatility of its security environment emerged soon after the United States Occupation of Japan when the Korean War erupted as a result of the Cold War super-power clash of interests in the region.  The Korean War was on the brink of a nuclear conflagration.

Japan’s imperatives for a nuclear weapons capability became latent due to the ‘nuclear umbrella’ assured by the United States during the Cold War. But, it is my belief that while the imperatives may not have been in public focus or debate, the question stood reviewed periodically. Japan’s strategic imperatives for a nuclear weapons capability are best concluded by answers to the following questions:

* Does Japan’s historical strategic experience justify non-possession of nuclear weapons? 

* Is the United States` nuclear umbrella’ to Japan leak proof? 

 * Has the North East Asian security environment acquired peaceful contours that encourage Japan to justify non-possession of nuclear weapons?

Japan’s historical strategic experience, irrespective of any other factor suggesting non-possession of nuclear weapons should promote it to recognize the strategic imperatives for possession of a credible nuclear deterrent.  Japan would never have been subjected to a nuclear holocaust, had it possessed a nuclear deterrence.  For Japan to argue that it is a peaceful country and therefore unlikely to be drawn into nuclear conflict or nuclear blackmail is strategically untenable.  It is peaceful nations that invite aggression. Peaceful nations need deterrence too, especially in a hostile neighbourhood.

The United States` nuclear umbrella’ for Japan is not leak-proof.  It can develop many leaks as a result of: 

* Changes in United States strategic postures in Asia-Pacific region 

* United States’ policies towards China

* United States` domestic constraints 

* Prevailing global security environment

Japan therefore has an imperative requirement to provide it’s own ‘nuclear umbrella` for it’s national security. 

The post-Cold War era has not brought any peace dividends to North East Asia. On the contrary, Japan’s security environment has become more threatening and complex due to: 

* China’s upgradation of its nuclear and conventional military capabilities 

* China’s predeliction to challenge American military pre-dominance in the Asia Pacific 

* North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities build-up as China’s proxy 

* Russia’s strategic devaluation and consequently its counter vailing capability in the region. 

 All these suggest that not only Japan’s security environment has become more threatening, but Japan is the only major power in Asia Pacific which does not possess nuclear weapons, essential for its security.  

Strategic imperatives therefore exist to justify Japan’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.  A Japanese independent nuclear weapons capability would provide both strategic and political stability in Asia Pacific. 

Japan’s Political Imperatives for a Nuclear Weapon’s Capability: The currency of power for both global and regional power status today is nuclear weapons capability.  Japan is not only a major regional power but also an economic superpower. Yet all this means nothing if Japan cannot add the muscle of power to the content of its foreign policies.

Japan also seeks to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, rightly so.  Yet, Japan, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, would be the only member without nuclear weapons capability.  A permanent member of the UN Security Council carries with it a ‘ power connotation’, which Japan can only acquire with a nuclear weapons capability.

Japan’s political and economic status and its attendant considerations provide additional imperatives to Japan’s strategic imperatives for a nuclear weapons capability. 

Conclusion: No nation can afford to mortgage its national security interests to the defence policies of another nation, however powerful that may be.  Japan’s strategic vulnerabilities and it’s volatile security environment provide adequate justification to acquire nuclear weapons capability to safeguard it’s existence.  Japan should not worry about international reactions in this regard.  The maximum outcry could come from China.  For China, and the other major powers, Japan has a very simple answer:  ‘Gommen Nasai’ (sorry) and ‘ Sumimasen’ (but excuse me), you too have nuclear weapons for your security, so why not Japan?