Chair: Rajaram Panda
Discussants: J Madan Mohan and Sitakanta Mishra
The tremendous transformation in the strategic and security environment of Japan in the last decade has once again influenced the nuclearization debate in the country. North Korea’s second nuclear test followed by the launch of three short-range missiles on May 25, 2009 and the subsequent launch of seven ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on July 4, has prompted widespread speculation on Japan’s principled position on non-proliferation and disarmament. The international community is worried whether Japan will abandon its nuclear abstinence and acquire a nuclear capability. In this paper, the author makes an effort to analyze circumstances under which Japan might consider crossing the nuclear Rubicon. An attempt is also been made to trace the nuclearization debate which has resurfaced in Japan periodically when the national interest seems is threatened.
The Japanese position on the nuclear weapons option has been ambivalent. Japan has never made any official decision on whether or not to exercise the nuclear option. Still its pacifist constitution clearly deters the state from maintaining land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential. The right of state belligerency too has been denied in the Japanese constitution. The constitution’s stance on nuclear arms, however, remains ambiguous and it has led many pro-nuclear advocates to debate the possibility of Japan developing nuclear weapons for defensive purposes. Although the Constitution may be interpreted to allow for possession of nuclear weapons, the Atomic Energy Basic Law of 1955 clearly emphasizes the essence of Japan’s policy in maintaining a peaceful, transparent nuclear programme. Besides, Japan has also adopted the ‘Three Non-Nuclear Principles’ expressing the policy of not possessing, not producing, and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan. This position was reiterated in 1976 when it ratified the NPT and committed not to produce or acquire nuclear weapons. However, though the validity of these principles has been upheld by successive cabinets, the degree of restraint that these principles place on Japan’s nuclear policy remains uncertain. Most importantly, they do not represent a legal restraint, because Diet resolutions are passed as an expression of the will of the chamber and are non-binding. Further, over the years, allegations have been made regarding the violation of the third principle of the three non-nuclear principles right from the Cold War period. Still, the support for a robust nuclear weapon policy has not gained enough momentum and Japan continues to remain committed to an anti-nuclear policy.
The dynamic changes in the regional and security areas of Japan have deeply influenced the revival of the nuclear debate in Tokyo. Due to factors like the expanding nuclear programme of China and North Korea; the failure of the Six Party Talks; growing suspicion among the Japanese people over the credibility of the U.S nuclear umbrella; the increasing proximity of U.S.-China bilateral relations, etc., there has emerged an open debate within Japan about whether it should adopt the policy of nuclear disarmament.
At present, many security analysts are of the view that Japan may go nuclear within the next ‘ten to fifteen years’. According to the author, Japan might compromise its principled stand on nuclear armament if the following scenarios unfold: the weakening of the US-Japan alliance; a North Korean nuclear attack on Japan; a war in the Korean Peninsula; a reunified nuclear Korea; a North Korean nuclear test; Chinese nuclear expansion; U.S. withdrawal from the region; possible breakdown of the NPT; rise of a new generation of nationalistic Japanese politicians; China’s response to a sudden collapse of North Korea. Although some of the above scenarios are extreme, they cannot be disregarded altogether by Japan.
While explaining the implications for India, the author states that Japan’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons will be a major setback for the NPT. States like India who are not part of the NPT because of its discriminatory nature will be demoralized to uphold the principles and obligations of the treaty which it has done so far.
According to the author, in order to avoid nuclearization of Japan, a comprehensive and prioritized plan is required. As part of the plan, following measures should be adopted: the US must provide clear assurances of its security umbrella for Japan; efforts should be made for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue; measures should also be made to establish regional organizations for security and trade, facilitating greater cooperation and mitigating distrust among Asian countries; and above all, the U.S. and the other NPT members must take initiatives to strengthen the NPT regimes so that all countries feel secure in it including Japan.
Prepared by Pranamita Baruah, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.