[VIEWPOINT]Japan is the wild card in the nuclear crisisJapan has emerged as the wild card in the North Korean nuclear crisis. North Korea neglected to consider the variable of Japan when it conducted its nuclear test. Depending on Japan’s attitude, the crisis could turn in very different directions. Neoconservatives in the United States, including Vice President Dick Cheney, are publicly hinting at the possibility of Japan’s nuclear armament.
Charles Krauthammer, a conservative American commentator, says, “Japan’s nuclear armament can completely foil China’s calculations. Why don’t we use Japan, a stable, reliable and democratic ally, to share the burden?” He suggests reconsidering Japan’s nuclear armament by freeing the country from the bondage of losing World War II.
Japan is already a nuclear power. The country has in its possession more than 40,000 kilograms of plutonium. In addition, Westinghouse Electric Company, the icon of nuclear power plants, has come into the hands of Toshiba Corporation. When the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkashomura starts operating, Japan will be able to produce 8,000 kilograms of plutonium every year, an amount equal to 1,000 nuclear weapons. Japan joined the space club by launching a surveillance satellite itself, and more than 50 percent of the missile parts used by the U.S. military forces in the Iraq war were made in Japan. Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, wasn’t making an empty statement when he confidently said four years ago, “Japan can have nuclear arms within a week if it decides to have them.”
The Japanese public, the only people in the world to experience bombing by a nuclear weapon, has a great aversion to them.
Considering its relations with the United States and checks from China and Russia, Japan can hardly realize nuclear armament in the short term. On the other hand, as it has experienced the power of nuclear weapons, Japan has a sense of crisis unique among other countries. In particular, with more than 70 percent of its companies concentrated along the Tomei Highway that connects Tokyo and Nagoya, the country is vulnerable: a few initial nuclear attacks would incapacitate its economy.
North Korea’s nuclear test shattered Japan’s 61-year-old shackle of defeat, which Japan put on its own ankles. Japan’s official position is that it will observe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that the three principles of not possessing, producing or introducing nuclear weapons remain unchanged, but this is merely an official stance.
If the North Korean nuclear crisis lasts for a long time, no one can predict how Japan will react.
The Abe administration would be stillborn if it did not have a hard-line policy toward North Korea. Therefore, the administration is desperate. If his administration fails to remove the North Korean nuclear threat, its own existence could be jeopardized.
This is why Japan will not retreat even one step from its hard-line stance ― Japan will never tolerate North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms.
Japan is different from the United States, which is only concerned about the North’s transfer of nuclear weapons, and China, which is preoccupied with preventing the North from taking further action.
To Japan, the North’s nuclear test is an issue of no compromise. The United States uses Japan as leverage to put pressure on China. If Japan asks, “Why can’t we have nuclear weapons for self-defense while leaving North Korea alone?” there can be no answer.
Japan’s nuclear armament would be disastrous for China and Russia. China may have to give up on its aspiration to be “the leader of Asia,” and Russia, which faces the sea across from Japan, will be far from welcoming.
Even so, there is no way to prevent Japan’s nuclear arming if the United States condones it. It is not likely either that China, which has gained a huge trade surplus from Japan, will initiate economic sanctions.
If our goal is a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, we should give careful consideration to the Japan card. It is a waste of energy to ban desperate Japan from even discussing nuclear armament while overlooking North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. If we follow the argument of advocates of the Sunshine or engagement policy that there should be dialogue “even with the devil,” we don’t need to discard the Japan card, the most effective way to solve the North Korean nuclear problem. This would be like throwing away the wild card. Depending on the situation, China may abruptly close oil pipelines to North Korea.
Sixty-two years ago, when the United States and Japan were at war with each other in the Pacific, Ruth Benedict, an American anthropologist and author of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” said, “The sword, along with the chrysanthemum, is a part of Japan. This is contradictory but also true . . . Japan’s behavioral motivation is opportunistic. Japan will seek its position in the peaceful world if circumstances allow. If not, Japan will find its place in a world organized as an armed camp.”
This is the part I read again with underlines. The sword is about to shine once again.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho