Does the nuclear option make sense for Japan? via The Japan Times

Last March, in an interview with The New York Times, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested it might not be a “bad thing” if Japan and South Korea developed nuclear weapons.

Really? In my view, this was a reckless suggestion, like so much else that Trump has proposed. He presents half-baked ideas while ignoring the negative consequences and sound advice on whatever subject he happens to be ricocheting off at the time.

Since becoming president, Trump hasn’t broached the subject, but conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer thinks that North Korean actions warrant Japan playing the nuclear card.

Going nuclear, however, won’t make Japan safer and won’t lighten the American security burden. Corey Wallace, a postdoctoral researcher at the Free University in Berlin, notes, “It all comes down to whether whatever option Japan chooses would actually buy more deterrence than it does provoke others to implement more aggressive military postures or actions.”


Japan’s most likely option would be a second-strike capability centered on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

“Japan possesses already a good submarine force and, in principle, acquiring boats for the launch of nuclear missiles is not impossible,” Patalano says. “But the costs to maintain such a force and to develop it in a way to be an effective deterrent are, as the British experience proves, very high and demand a depth in the political debate that is currently absent.” A 2016 Genron poll found only 5 percent of Japanese support their nation possessing nuclear arms.

“Japan could produce a handful of rudimentary nuclear devices in probably a matter of months,” Wallace believes, but “the question then becomes whether the others would allow Japan to go about implementing such capabilities. One assumes that tensions would have to be quite significant for Japan to consider this option — and precisely because they are high, others may not sit quietly.”


Robert Jacobs, a professor at Hiroshima City University’s Peace Institute, also thinks that playing the nuclear card would be counterproductive, arguing that “no country is safer with nuclear weapons.” Nuclear weapons also carry wider implications in terms of committing Japan “to maintaining nuclear technologies (in part to produce weapons) that radically increase the amount of high-level and long-term nuclear waste they eventuate.” This, Jacobs says, “will plague these societies for millennia.”

Nuclear waste storage is already a growing problem for countries operating reactors, but Jacobs warns that “countries with military nuclear production face far larger and more intractable ecological disasters than those with only nuclear power.”

Jacobs asserts that the government is now promoting the use of MOX fuel — the mixed-oxide type developed from plutoniium and uranium — in nuclear reactors, even though it is one of the priciest options and not cost-effective, because this deflects international concerns about Japan’s large plutonium stockpile. In his view, the government maintains this stockpile partly to retain the nuclear weapon option.

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