The Reason Japan Needs a Nuclear Defence
With the best will in the world, can we expect America to protect Japan? Not a chance. Irrespective of talk of changing the constitution, now is the time when Japan should adopt nuclear weapons to become a country worth its salt.
The security environment surrounding Japan is now the worst it has been since the end of World War II. In East Asia North Korea continues with its development of nuclear weapons and its constant firing of ballistic missiles over the Sea of Japan. South Korea, with an eye on eventual reunion with the North, threatened to terminate its intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan and has called into question its security ties with the U.S. and Japan.
As for America, former President Obama averted his eyes when Russia occupied Crimea and, having warned of military intervention if Syria used chemical weapons, failed to follow through when Syria did exactly that. And finally, President Trump abandoned America’s Kurdish allies in Syria in the face of the blatant interference of Russia and Iran and withdrew U.S. forces from the country while he spurned the chance to overthrow the Russian puppet regime in Venezuela. America seems to have abandoned its role as the world’s policeman and, even though the prospect of impeachment has faded, Mr Trump has become completely focused on his domestic agenda, including measures to tackle the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, China, the biggest external threat, having swiftly gained control of the pandemic, continues its military expansion aimed at achieving hegemony in the Western Pacific, in particular by beefing up its navy, as it uses its military might to dominate the South China Sea and beyond.
In these circumstances, many Japanese still seem to believe their security is assured by the American nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. They even expect the close personal relationship between PM Abe and President Trump to strengthen the Treaty yet further.
Notwithstanding the unstable situation in East Asia, I have long felt that Japan should equip itself with nuclear weapons. As regards my religious motherland Israel, which in a single day can be inundated with dozens of short-range missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, the question arises as to why another large-scale Middle East war does not erupt.
Although America is by far its most important ally, Israel does not go over the top in ingratiating itself in the manner of PM Abe, who rushed to see Donald Trump after he won the presidential election bearing a golden golf club. And more recently Mr Abe contravened precedent in preparing a front-row seat for Mr Trump at the Grand Sumo Tournament – a privilege not even accorded the Emperor of Japan! By contrast, Israel is bold in asserting its interests. In the past it has sent spies to the U.S., and even when the FBI issued arrest warrants it ignored requests to hand the miscreants over and continued on its course undeterred. Moreover, it seems that Israel acquired its membership of the nuclear club without getting prior approval from the White House.
It has always been my belief that the one country which has suffered an atomic attack does indeed have the right to possess nuclear weapons. And even if it were the victim of a second attack, it would make sense to ensure that it did not suffer a third time. As for expecting to be protected by the country which dropped the bomb, that is exactly like asking for reassurance from an aggressor who has twice stabbed one with a knife.
No Value Beyond Okinawa
The idea of revising the MacArthur constitution is a trifling matter in the context of international military competition; what is infinitely more important is to establish military supremacy, backed up by world-leading technology, without delay.
The reason for this is simply the fact that, throughout the ages, the countries which have endured have always been those boasting the most modern and effective weaponry. By the same token, those nations without such attributes, no matter the brilliance of their diplomacy, have tended to be destroyed or occupied by other countries. The erstwhile Ryukyu Kingdom, or the present-day Okinawa, is a case in point. The kingdom was easily annexed by a Japanese feudal clan.
First of all, we in Japan need to dispense with the illusion that America will protect us. In 2017 after he assumed office President Trump rejected the idea that the American military should sacrifice its personnel in protecting other countries. And currently there seems to be no change in Trump’s stance and the trend of U.S. public opinion that there is no need for Americans to sacrifice themselves for the sake of protecting other countries. We seem to have reached the stage where the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty could conceivably be abandoned – especially when Japan is losing its financial strength to pay whatever the U.S. demands for its protection.
The reason why America possesses nuclear weapons, rather than being to act as a deterrent, is to enable it to conduct a pre-emptive strike. Of course, the idea of engaging in such a move would depend on the precise circumstances at the time. According to an American opinion poll, only if around 20,000 American lives were at risk would a pre-emptive strike with nuclear weapons be justified, while it would be out of the question to risk 20,000 American lives in order to protect Japan.
Let us consider the scenario whereby the Chinese People’s Liberation Army made inroads into the area around Okinawa. For China, the real target would be Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. In that situation, the powerful U.S. presence in Okinawa should be able to deter an attack on the region. However, a source of greater concern can be found in the Korean Peninsula.
The circumstances in which the U.S. would be most likely to use nuclear weapons involve North Korean forces making an incursion beyond the 38th parallel in the Korean Peninsula, putting the 27,000-strong U.S. force in South Korea at risk. Although the U.S. might launch a pre-emptive strike with nuclear weapons in such a case, it would clearly not be in order to benefit Japan.
The part of Japanese territory with the most strategic value for the U.S. is, of course, Okinawa, where almost 75% of the U.S. forces in Japan are located. When Commodore Perry appeared on the scene, it was to take control of Okinawa, and his arrival in Uragaoki was not for the purpose of occupying Edo (modern-day Tokyo). If we look at the record of his voyage, it is lear that, while he only entered Edo Bay once or twice, he visited Okinawa eight times and surveyed the whole area. For the U.S. the location of Okinawa is very important indeed in the context of the passage of naval vessels from China to the Indian Ocean.
Accordingly, Japan has no value for America other than Okinawa Island, with its huge U.S. military presence, whose purpose is not to defend Japan but to function as an important part of America’s Pacific strategy. Although Yokosuka and Iwakuni, on Japan’s largest island, Honshu, serve as bases for the repair of and provision of supplies for nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, these functions could all be transferred to Guam and still support the U.S. bases in Okinawa. Thus, if the U.S. and China came to a secret agreement ruling out invasions of Taiwan and Okinawa, thereby dividing the Pacific between their two navies, the strategic value to the U.S. of Japan’s four main islands would be zero. Therefore, there would be no value to the U.S. military in protecting Japan’s major metropolitan areas (essentially Tokyo and Osaka on Honshu) with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
The Indispensable Role of Weapons in a Country’s Fortunes
A look back at history will furnish proof of this point. Let us consider the contrasting cities of Venice and Aleppo in this regard.
Venice was a city-state which flourished in medieval Europe and had a network of trading links which extended to the Middle East. At the same time, with its formidable armed might it was medieval Europe’s foremost military power. Its capacity was such that it could build multiple warships in a single day, and even if some were sunk in battle, by the next day its fleet of several hundred ships was once again in evidence on the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, the ships were equipped with large cannons, wielding the most destructive power at the time.
Meanwhile, Aleppo, linking the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea at one end of the Silk Road, was a commercial city state that flourished from around 2,000BC to the present century. It has bequeathed many cultural relics that are outstanding even today.
Aleppo used to enjoy thriving trading links with European countries. Goods which made their way along the Silk Road were then transported by way of Damascus across the Mediterranean Sea to Venice.
For a long time Venice, dominating the ocean route from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, and Aleppo, located at a point of great strategic importance for the Silk Road, had complementary roles: if one of them flourished, so did the other. However, in contrast to Venice, Aleppo did not recognise the value of military might. Consequently, it was threatened or dominated by the great powers of the Mesopotamian region in the form of the Hittites, the Assyrians, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, and in 2014 was completely destroyed by groups linked to al-Qaeda.
The reason why these two city-states ended up taking entirely different roads was undoubtedly bound up with the military power wielded by one of them and the lack of it in the case of the other. In particular, Venice constantly produced the most modern and powerful weapons of the day, and it was thus the stronger of these two prosperous city-states.
However, something occurred that precipitated the collapse of Venice. The reason comes down to the possession of the most modern and powerful weapons. The greatest city-state in the world, which had never even once been invaded by another country, when under siege by Austrian forces became the first territory in history to be attacked by airbombs (unmanned balloons carrying bombs).
Ultimately, if a country wants to survive, its only recourse is to become stronger. The simplest way to do this is to possess weapons. This principle is borne out by history.
The Endurance of the Strongest and Best-Prepared
Hitler, who understood the huge amount of energy that could be produced instantaneously from splitting the atom but failed to put this knowledge to practical effect, lost the war. Churchill, who knew the Nazis had made progress in nuclear development, and Roosevelt, who had taken things to the practical level, prevailed in the war, and in a sense have wielded a sort of global hegemony ever since.
If we look at how the ownership of nuclear weapons has evolved since the war, it is generally the case that those countries which have acquired nuclear weapons were victorious in the war, while the countries that were defeated have in principle been excluded from the nuclear club. The exceptions are India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, the last of which joined the club unilaterally, without the consent of others. Furthermore, those countries without nuclear armaments have succumbed easily when attacked with conventional weapons.
This is clear if we consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. If Ukraine had not abandoned its nuclear weapons at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s move to occupy the Crimean Peninsula would not have happened. And this principle is not limited to Russia. In every case where the nuclear-equipped victors of World War II including the U.S., France and the UK have been involved in wars, the enemy has been a country without nuclear weapons. Thus, except for local tensions between India and Pakistan over territorial issues involving Kashmir, there has not been a case of conflict between nuclear-armed protagonists. From this fact alone we can see the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.
The principle that without weapons a country will wither has manifested itself in various ways according to the era and the country concerned. One cannot deny that a country without the most modern and sophisticated weapons will often be vulnerable to attack or domination by other countries. Let us consider Russia and its postwar occupation of four Japanese islands. There is no reason in current circumstances to suppose that Russia will rectify this situation, especially as it may have designs on Hokkaido, a much bigger Japanese island.
In the 21st century, for all that it boasts a long history, Japan is destined to decline without nuclear weapons. It is a great mistake to suppose that Japan, despite having enjoyed 80 years of temporary peace made possible by the Yalta Agreement, can survive purely through its economic or diplomatic endeavours. This is because, no matter what the era, there have not been prolonged periods of peace.
In the world we live in, there has not been a case of a country putting itself at risk in order to protect others. And that is all the more the case regarding Japan’s main islands, without strategic value and saddled with a falling birth rate and shrinking population.
The Possibility of Sharing Nuclear Weapons
Since 2018, $43 billion has already been disbursed for this purpose. As for the revenue resulting from the hike in the consumption tax, although ideally it would cover the quest for military supremacy through investing in technical advances in the form of nuclear weapons, nuclear shelters and military technology, including quantum computers that can disable other countries’ encryption technology, ultimately recovery from natural disasters has to take precedence.
In the long run, Japan cannot afford to invest in its own military supremacy if it has to pay the U.S. almost $10 billion every year to meet the cost of American bases and military personnel in Japan. In this respect, it differs from Israel which, in common with the U.S., China and Russia, has long made the ability to own and operate nuclear weapons, to mount cyber-attacks and to lead the way in quantum computing a core element of its national strategy.
That said, if it proves difficult for Japan to acquire nuclear weapons independently, as Option B I strongly recommend that it become a member of NATO. As membership of NATO carries with it the obligation to build a framework guaranteeing communal security, it would be possible to share America’s nuclear weapons, and that would be the most realistic and effective way for Japan to possess such armaments. Moreover, such a strategy would make it easier to gain the acceptance of the general public, who are overwhelmingly opposed to Japan acquiring nuclear weapons on its own.
Furthermore, on top of being drastically less expensive than developing and producing weapons independently, it would be far preferable to having to buy large quantities of arms such as the Aegis Ashore land-based weapons system from the U.S. Countries differ in the circumstances in which they might be vulnerable to attack, but if several hundred missiles were fired simultaneously, even with dozens of Aegis warships and Aegis Ashore, it would be impossible to defend against them.
What is more, even Japan’s ambush attack capability, consisting of the Air Self Defence Force’s Patriot missiles and the Self Defence Force’s Aegis Ashore missile defence system, could not cope in such circumstances. Unable to confirm the approach of a Chinese nuclear submarine, if multiple missiles were fired at the same time but just one of them reached its target, that would be the end.
On the other hand, if from the beginning Japan had the capacity to launch just one nuclear strike from a submarine hidden at a great depth, the chances of being subjected to a missile attack would be drastically reduced and it would no longer be necessary to spend vast sums from the national budget on buying the intercept system or fighter aircraft from America.
Meanwhile, in contrast to the Iron Dome surface to air missile system, which the Israeli Army took the lead in developing jointly with its U.S. counterpart, Japan has at its disposal Patriot missiles, Aegis warships and F-35 fighters, which were produced in cooperation with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The latter, however, had little involvement in the development phase.
A country’s prosperity cannot merely be defined by the notion that its citizens have full stomachs or that it can host the Olympic Games. In fact, I actually think there is a sense in which North Korea can be regarded as being more “prosperous” than Japan. This is because, when all is said and done, it can decide its own destiny for itself.
Japan, by contrast, despite what America might say, does not have such a choice. And a country which does not have the right to decide its own future cannot be regarded as “prosperous”.
Although Japan could buy from Israel weapons as effective and refined as those from the U.S. at one-tenth the price, the fact that it is politically unfeasible to do this makes Japan a strange country indeed. It is interesting to note that Singapore procures almost all of its weapons from Israel.
Any independence Japan might be said to enjoy as a result of the San Francisco Peace Treaty is an illusion.
Moreover, President Trump may well abandon the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which provides no guarantee or basis for protecting Japan. In such circumstances, Japan would do well to abandon it as well.
As the American people and the Trump administration show no inclination to safeguard Japanese territory other than Okinawa, Japan would be well within its rights to do so.
Forging Our Own Destiny at a Time of ‘America First’
Furthermore, if Japan’s political leaders seriously want to protect the lives of their citizens, why are they unwilling to engage with the idea of Japan acquiring nuclear weapons? Previous prime ministers who have been unwilling to address the nuclear issue really were irresponsible!
Rather than it being a case of rejecting nuclear weapons because Japan is the only victim of an atomic attack, that is precisely the reason why it needs to protect itself with such weapons. Japan absolutely has the right to possess them. If it focuses on measures such as overturning Macarthur’s constitution, it is not following the right path.
Past Japanese prime ministers, in order to cling to the seat of power, have been subservient to U.S. concerns and unable to raise the topic of Japan having nuclear weapons. An exception was the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, the only leader to highlight Japanese self-determination and independence, who was brought down by the Lockheed scandal. Subsequent LDP administrations have followed the line that it does not pay to set themselves against America. Now, however, is the time for Japan to take its rightful place alongside its nuclear-armed allies.
If the current situation continues, exacerbated of course by the economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus crisis, it is a simple fact that Japan’s wealth will disappear over the next 10 or 20 years. The country is at a critical turning point between death and survival, and it may already have started down the former road. I am even inclined to worry that Japan has already lost its opportunity. I would like to think that it can survive, but we need to change direction urgently.
Aleppo is the preeminent example of the principle that a rich country which is militarily weak is destined to decline and disappear. In Japan one cannot expect much from either the ruling or the opposition parties, but I earnestly wish a leader with motivation and wisdom would appear.
★Please refer to the Japanese version from here