[Viewpoint] Northeast Asia’s other nuclear crisis

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[Viewpoint] Northeast Asia’s other nuclear crisis

It is known that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said, at the Korea-Japan summit meeting in June, “If the North Korean nuclear problem develops to a more serious stage, the voices demanding nuclear armament will grow louder in Japan.”

It is unique that the Japanese prime minister personally brought up such a subject at the summit meeting, but the idea of Japanese nuclear armament to cope with North Korea’s nuclear development program is nothing new.

Japan has strictly adhered to the “three principles of denuclearization,” which pledge no production, possession or introduction of nuclear weapons, since 1967.

But it has internally studied the possibility of nuclear armament regularly.

Even just after Japan had announced the three denuclearization principles, then-prime minister Eisaku Sato secretly ordered nuclear experts to review the possibility of nuclear armament.

When former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was the head of the Defense Agency, the agency concluded, through its defense white paper released in 1970, that “it is legally possible for Japan to possess small-scale nuclear weapons for strategic defense purposes.”

In other words, the underlying perception of those in Japanese politics and officialdom was that although it was difficult to possess nuclear weapons for offensive purposes because of Japan’s peace constitution, it was possible for Japan to possess small-scale nuclear weapons for self-defense.

Because the country was defeated in the Pacific War by the dropping of just two nuclear bombs, the resistance against nuclear weapons, or “nuclear allergy,” was so strong among Japanese people that it was not easy to express support of nuclear armament or militarization in post-war Japanese society.

It was the North Korean nuclear weapon and missiles development program that changed the mind-set of the Japanese public.

The situation started to change in May 1993, when North Korea developed a midrange missile that could attack targets in Japan. The “North Korea threat theory” that Japan is not safe from North Korea’s nuclear and missile attacks started to work on the Japanese people.

The test-firing of the Taepodong missile in 1998 provided a turning point when the “North Korean threat theory” took root in Japanese society, and it fully blossomed when the North carried out its first nuclear test in 2006.

The entire country adopted emergency measures when the North fired its third long-range missile in April, but the Japanese people took it as a matter of course.

After all, the rumor that the Self-Defense Forces bow in thanks before a photograph of Kim Jong-il can’t possible be true, right?

The development of nuclear weapons and missiles by North Korea is the root cause of a greater evil, provoking the Japanese people to support militarization once again.

China holds the key to the North Korean nuclear problem, but it is more concerned about the collapse of the North Korean regime than the nuclear weapons in Kim Jong-il’s hands.

Therefore, we must take special measures to make Chinese leaders realize that letting the status quo in North Korea continue would cause huge damage to China. The remark of Prime Minister Aso about Japan’s “nuclear armament” would have especially severe effects on China, because China reacts very sensitively to any military development in Japan.

It is even more significant in that Prime Minister Aso made the statement at a summit talk with the president of Korea. However, we must not allow a situation to arise in which the nuclear armament of Japan becomes a fait accompli through the accumulation of such declarations.

In other words, we must prevent an “absolute evil” - Japan’s nuclear armament - from being accepted as a “necessary evil.”

The only realistic solution left for Korea, which failed to prevent the North from gaining nuclear weapons, is to attempt to manage the situation there.

It would be wisest to find a way for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons itself through internal changes.

Going “all in” on the North Korean nuclear problem with the urgent mind-set of getting rid of the nuclear weapons in one fell swoop, while paying the expensive price later, is not in our national interest at all.

Therefore, I think it is necessary for the government to draw a clear line that it is against Japan’s nuclear armament.


*The writer is a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification.

by Chun Sung-hoon
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