Is Japan Heading for Nuclear Armament?

The wording, “With the aim to contribute to our national security”, was added to Clause 2, Article 2 of Atomic Energy Basic Act on the establishment of a nuclear regulatory commission. This amendment reflected the policy of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) without much debate in the Diet. Here, I would like to discuss what this important amendment may mean to “Japan’s national security.”

Clause 1, Article 2 of Atomic Energy Basic Act established the basic policy of nuclear energy is defined as follows: “Atomic energy research, development, and applications are restricted to peaceful purposes and safety ensuring.” It is obvious that “national security” does not include development of nuclear weapons. On a superficial level, it would be proper to interpret it as an enhancement of energy security, nuclear nonproliferation, and safeguards (nuclear inspection). It is, however, not that simple when it comes to national security issues. In fact, the Korean media published an article expressing their concerns about Japan’s nuclear armament. It is likely that China will respond to this matter within days.

Since Japan has joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it cannot refuse the inspections conducted by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in order to assure that nuclear mattes such as uranium or plutonium are properly managed. Due to the fact that Japan is the only nation with nuclear fuel cycle in effect among nations without nuclear arms, 30 percent of the entire IAESA’s inspection activities is spent on Japan. Because the inspections are extreme thorough and strict, it is impossible to take nuclear materials out of nuclear facilities and develop nuclear weapons behind the curtain.

In addition, Japan is obliged to reprocess the nuclear materials, or to pull plutonium out of used fuels after burning uranium imported from the U.S. at a nuclear plant which U.S. and Japanese governments have already agreed upon. Uses of Japan’s nuclear power development are under the strong influence of the U.S. Perhaps how strong the U.S. influence is best cynically expressed as follows: seventy percent of nuclear materials in Japan has the U.S. nationality labels. It is the status qua that Japan cannot be at liberty to use nuclear materials for any other purposes than those of power generation.

Now, let us look this issue from a historical point of view. In the discussion of formally normalizing relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, both nations agreed not to let Japan equip with nuclear arms. It was speculated that they both had an ulterior motive to restrict Japan’s military influence. China, however, has reported Japan could become a nuclear power within a year if Japan decided to become one, considering Japan’s level of nuclear technology. China is truly apprehensive about Japan’s becoming a nuclear power.

Meanwhile, when China succeeded in nuclear testing, the possibility of Japan’s nuclear armament was discussed during the Sato regime in Japan. Back in those days, the political climate was under so called the “1955 System”, where two parties, the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), dominated in the parliament. Under such circumstances, it was expected that there would be strong objections by opposition parties against nuclear armament. In addition, the basic policy of the LDP had been focused on economical growth, and the LDP had proposed to protect Japan’s security with a nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S. and Japan-US Security Treaty. All of these factors lead Japan to give up the idea of nuclear armament. Despite the fact that the U.S. had been apprehensive about Japan’s nuclear armament, Japan acceded to the NPT. It is believed that this Japan’s joining the treaty temporarily relieved the U.S.

Returning to the original discussion, securing national security is given the highest priority in the running of the country. In this respect, the fact that the wording, “National Security”, was added to the Nuclear Energy Basic Act is extremely meaningful. It just does not mean nuclear armament, but it may have a large effect on neighboring countries. The collision between the Japanese Coast Guard and a Chinese fishing trawler in the vicinity of Senkaku Islands in 2010 greatly provoked public opinion in Japan. It could be interpreted that it was this incident that resulted in the amendment to the Act. At the same time, the wording, “uses of nuclear power and/or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) activities are restricted to peaceful purposes,” has been removed from the JAXA Establishment Act. Allowing your imagination to run wild may enable you to see some collaboration of the nuclear power and development of space technology, and consequently some concrete images of development of nuclear weapons. I am certain that China and North Korea will wrap themselves up in suspicion.

It is important to make China realize that Japan will become a military superpower if they provoke Japan with territorial disputes and other issues, which is not what they want, and that it will put China into a difficult position to further provoke Japan and/or put pressure on Japan through force. Now, that is a potential deterrence.

In order for Japan to have nuclear weapons, it has to gain agreement with the alliance nation, the U.S. It will be virtually impossible to do so unless the military interests of the U.S. and China drastically change. Even if that should happen, China would be still overly sensitive about this issue.

Finally, I will secretly tell you how to develop nuclear weapons: they could be developed in the domestic military facilities. It is because the inspection rights of IAEA do not extend to the military facilities. Needless to say, Japan will be looked at from the rest of the world in the same way as Iran or North Korea is. Whether Japan is willing to make that choice or not, that is the question.

Japan has steered the country to prosperity with greater emphasis on economical growth since the end of the last war, and the people of Japan have accepted the policy. It has been a successful experience for us. However, where is Japan heading for from now on? We, the people of Japan, have to even break a taboo to seriously think about in which direction we want to go. In the midst of Japan’s national decline, Japan has to go on boldly. Times are changing.






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