Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 9 News List

The truth about Japanese nukes and US deterrence

By Richard Halloran

Every now and then articles or reports are published that are so wide of the mark that they cry out for rebuttal. Two separate dispatches, one from the political Right, the other from the Left, have uttered equal nonsense.

From the Right, a report from the US Senate Republican Policy Committee urged the US to play a Japanese nuclear card in demanding that China force North Korea to give up its plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

And from the Left, an anti-American essay by a China specialist at Chatham House, the research center in London, asserted that the Bush administration and its "neocon" allies are planning a war against China that the US cannot win.

The Republican committee, chaired by Senator Jon Kyl, asserted: "Essentially, the United States must demand that the PRC [People's Republic of China] make a choice: either help out or face the possibility of other nuclear neighbors."

The report did not name Japan, but it left little doubt that it wanted the US to encourage Japan to go nuclear if China did not rein in North Korea.

This suggestion, which has come earlier from other Republicans, is claptrap for three reasons. First, and perhaps most important, there is no Japanese nuclear card to play.

Japan clearly has the technology to produce nuclear arms. Some 50 nuclear power plants produce one-third of the nation's electricity. A Japanese strategic thinker many years ago said Japan was "N minus six months," meaning it could detonate a nuclear device within six months of a decision to proceed. Today, some say, that is down to three months.

The primary restraint in Japan is the "nuclear allergy" that is the legacy of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago. It is still so strong that political leaders in Tokyo who try to produce a nuclear weapon would be confronted with colossal rioting and blood flowing in the streets -- possibly including their own.

Second, Japanese acquisition of nuclear arms would have unpredictable consequences throughout East Asia. Japan is slowly shedding the pacifist cocoon in which it wrapped itself after World War II, including the deployment of a small ground unit to Iraq.

That has been accepted by Tokyo's neighbors, but the leap to nuclear arms would surely cause political and popular eruptions from Seoul to Singapore that would do the US posture in Asia no good.

Third, the Senate recommendation, if accepted, would destroy the anti-proliferation policy of US President George W. Bush. The administration has sought to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear arms not only for the threat itself but, equally important, because it would breach the line discouraging other nations from seeking nuclear arms.

It is true that a debate about nuclear arms has broken out in Japan, in sharp contrast to the self-imposed ban on such discussions five years ago. That, however, is talk, and nowhere to be seen is a political, technical or financial movement to acquire and pay for the weapons.

The question of war between the US and China was broached in an essay by David Wall, an academic at Chatham House. He asserted that the Bush administration was preparing for an inevitable war with China.

He added: "The US knows that it could not win a military war with China. The nuclear capability of both sides is redundant; neither side could use it."

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