[VIEWPOINT]Scary words from across East Sea

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[VIEWPOINT]Scary words from across East Sea

On the opening day of the 2002 World Cup Korea/Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent a message of peace to the entire world from the Seoul World Cup Stadium. On that same day, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda sent a different kind of message to the world from his residence in Tokyo. "Japan, too, can own nuclear weapons," Mr. Fukuda said. It is ironic that Mr. Fukuda should have chosen to make his statement of pro-nuclear armament on the opening day of the World Cup, a festival dedicated to world peace and coexistence.

Mr. Fukuda's words are all the more regretful because the world is already seeing tension surrounding the possibility of nuclear warfare with the strife between India and Pakistan over Kashmir set astir once more. Were Mr. Fukuda's words impulsive and merely a "personal opinion"? The content and the context of the words indicate that they were very much premeditated and calculated.

According to Mr. Fukuda's stated opinion on Japan's nuclear armament, "It is not legally or theoretically written in the Japanese constitution that Japan should not possess nuclear weapons. Not possessing nuclear weapons is more of a policy decision. Now there are talks about amending the constitution. The Japanese people might say they want nuclear weapons." In short, Mr. Fukuda's conclusion was there was nothing to stop Japan from owning nuclear weapons if it wanted to.

As criticism poured in from within Japan and the rest of the world, Prime Minister Koizumi and Mr. Fukuda hastily offered reassurance that the present cabinet of Japan had no intention of abandoning Japan's three principles of never owning, producing or acquiring nuclear weapons.

I have written before in this newspaper that the first objective of conservative mainstream Japan was a "Japan capable of war," while the second was a "Japan with nuclear weapons." Mr. Fukuda's words tell me I was not being paranoid in my concern about Japan's nuclear ambitions. His words also tell me that Japan is moving toward its goal at a discreet but alarmingly fast speed.

Shortly before Mr. Fukuda's statements, his deputy, Shinjo Abe, had also voiced similar opinions in a lecture at Waseda University. In the lecture, Mr. Abe declared that it was not against the Japanese constitution to own nuclear weapons. These remarks are not separate and irrelevant comments by one or two individuals. They are the reflection of the conservative mainstream's nuclear ambitions.

Who are Shinjo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda? They are the direct political successors of a long line of prime ministers, including Nobusuke Kishi, Eisaku Sato and Takeo Fukuda, and the former "prince" of Japanese politics and kingmaker within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Abe Shintaro.

What is the political background of their statements? Their statements are an extension of the political philosophy of the living mentor of Japanese conservatism, Yasuhiro Nakasone, who decided to break the rules set by the United States after World War II and choose a "nuclear armed Japan" as the national ideal.

The three principles of non-nuclear armament had helped Japan establish an image of a peace-loving country after the war along with its anti-war provision in the constitution. Japan's post-war Prime Minister Eisaku Sato was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in upholding the three principles.

However, these three principles are full of loopholes. Japan does not forbid U.S. Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons to enter Japanese ports. Moreover, Japan still possesses an enormous amount of plutonium, gained by reprocessing spent fuel, for use in nuclear energy facilities.

The wise thing for Japan to do under these circumstances is to supplement and legislate these three principles of non-nuclear armament and strengthen their essential function. However, Japan seems to be going the opposite way. Dangerous remarks calling for nuclear armament made by opposition leaders and high-ranking government officials alike almost seem like a pre-emptive action aimed at neighboring countries.

China is already a major nuclear weapon-owning country, and there are suspicions that North Korea is developing missiles. It is understandable that Japan might feel the impulse to own nuclear weapons itself. However, Japan should remember that once it sets about acquiring nuclear weapons, there will be a fierce arms race and great tension across Northeast Asia. Japan's nuclear armament would further set back Northeast Asia's regional cooperation, already a step behind other parts of the world.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University.

by Kim Young-jak

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