[TODAY]A nuclear wistfulness in Japan

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[TODAY]A nuclear wistfulness in Japan

Can the Norwegian Nobel Committee revoke a Peace Prize if the deeds of the prizewinner are found to have been exaggerated? There has never been such a case, but if any Nobel Peace Prize should be revoked, it should be that of the former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.

Mr. Sato, who was Japan's prime minister from 1964 to 1972, was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. He had declared that Japan would never own, produce or introduce nuclear arms, and he led Japan to sign a pact on the nonproliferation of nuclear arms in 1970. Mr. Sato was widely recognized for establishing a peace-loving image for his country in the post-World War II era. He frequently reiterated that the provisions in the Japanese constitution that renounced war and the threat or use of force must serve as the basis for the country's policy.

In 1994, the late Mr. Sato's respectability was seriously compromised. A secret agreed minute attached to the publicly revealed communique he signed with U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969 over the return of Okinawa to Japan was disclosed by a Japanese scholar. In that secret document, Mr. Sato agreed that the United States could ask the Japanese government to let it bring nuclear weapons onto Japanese territory in emergencies. A historian of the Nobel Peace Prize, Oivind Stenersen, called the awarding of the prize to Mr. Sato the Nobel Committee's "biggest mistake."

Even after Mr. Sato's declaration of the three non-nuclear principles of never owning, the Japanese government and the Diet have not completely shaken off ambitions for nuclear armament. According to a close aide of Mr. Sato at the time of the signing of the Nixon communique, Mr. Sato had a lingering wistfulness for nuclear armament. Japan was one of the last countries to sign the nuclear nonproliferation agreement, and it took Japan six years to ratify it. The Japanese Diet ratified it only after getting the United States to promise that Japan could keep its own nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities and supply of enriched uranium.

Last April, the president of the opposition Liberal Party, Ichiro Ozawa, in a remark against Chinese aggression, stated that Japan could arm itself with thousands of nuclear warheads overnight if it wanted to. Japan had produced 32.8 metric tons of plutonium through 2000 and kept 5.2 metric tons of it inside the country. With 5.2 metric tons of plutonium, 650 nuclear bombs can be created. Japan also has enough spent fuel to extract 90 metric tons of plutonium. That would make approximately 11,250 nuclear warheads.

As is the case with condemnable remarks on Japan-Korea history and relations, Japanese politicians also seem to repeat remarks about arming Japan with nuclear weapons just when one thinks they've gotten over it. They seem to rely on the fact that, as Mr. Ozawa elaborated, Japan possesses the technology and plutonium supply to make thousands of nuclear heads right away.

Along with the warheads, missiles are also needed for complete nuclear armament. Japan has succeeded in test launching solid fuel rockets that can be transformed instantly into military intercontinental missiles. Its J-1 and M-5 rockets have the same capacity to carry warheads as U. S. intercontinental missiles.

Remarks by several Japanese politicians and government officials, including the Japanese government's spokesman and chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, and his deputy, Shinjo Abe, that nuclear armament would not go against its constitution show that Japan is still very much obsessed with nuclear weapons, even after Mr. Sato's famous renunciations. Of course, Mr. Fukuda later backed down, saying he had been misunderstood. It's interesting how many Japanese politicians say things that are later declared to have been misunderstood.

Japan worries about the nuclear armament of a unified Korea, but we have the 1991 non-proliferation agreement between the two Koreas to believe in. Some experts call for a nuclear free zone in Northeast Asia in an area within a radius of 2,000 kilometers from Panmunjeom that would include part of China and Russia, all of the two Koreas, Japan, Taiwan and Mongolia.

The issue of nuclear armament of Japan can't be solved by words. This is a fundamental issue to be discussed within the context of the security of the entire Northeast Asian region and a long-term task for the countries in this part of the world. Japanese politicians should refrain from remarks that could jeopardize the U.S.-North Korean talks and stimulate South Korea's pro-nuclear armament speakers. Japan should remember that South Korea, too, possesses plutonium and missile technology advanced enough to arm itself with thousands of nuclear warheads right away if it wanted to.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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