MOSCOW. (Anatoly Koshkin for RIA Novosti) - On December 25, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun published a government document dated December 20 about Japan's intention to develop small nuclear warheads.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki immediately refuted the report's authenticity, saying, "The government does not know anything about the existence of the document." Nevertheless, the question of a Japanese nuclear bomb remains open.
After coming to power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet announced their intention to make a fundamental change in military policy. What was hushed up before is turning into a national program. Using the North Korean threat as an excuse, the government is urging the nation to give up the constitution's pacifist clauses, embark on the formation of powerful armed forces, put a legal stamp of approval on the right of the Japanese army and navy to participate in military operations in any part of the world together with the United States, and set up a government intelligence service modeled after the CIA.
In parallel, the government is brainwashing the public on a massive scale. Prime Minister Abe has set his government the task of "bringing patriotism back to schools." Authors of textbooks are rewriting history to whitewash the atrocities of Japanese militarism and present the wars conducted by Japan in East Asia and the Pacific in the past century as a mission of liberation which brought civilization to the invaded nations. They are emphasizing that Japan's policy in the future should not be limited to repenting for its military past.
The formation of the new cabinet was accompanied by appeals from influential members of the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to launch a nationwide discussion on Japan's potential nuclear armament, which caused quite a stir both in Japan and beyond, especially in East Asia. Since the late 1960s, Japan has adhered to three principles: not to possess, develop, or import any types of nuclear weapons. Now the wisdom of following these principles is openly being called into question.
Much has been done to prepare the ground for the removal of constitutional provisions denying Japan the right to conduct warfare and maintain armed forces, an effort which facilitates the discussion of nuclear armament. The results of a public opinion poll published last October show that 60% of Japanese agree that the constitution should be changed. More than two-thirds of deputies in the Diet, or the majority required to change the constitution, are ready to vote for an appropriate bill.
While Prime Minister Abe declares his government's intention to adhere to the same policy towards weapons of mass destruction, members of his cabinet announce, albeit not without reservations, that Japan is technologically capable of producing nuclear warheads, if need be.
Speaking at a meeting of the House of Representatives security committee on November 30, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said: "Japan has the technology to produce nuclear weapons, but it is not going to use it." He added that the constitution does not prohibit Japan from having nuclear weapons. "Article 9(1) of the constitution does not ban the possession of a small quantity of arms for the purpose of self-defense. Even nuclear weapons are not outlawed if their quantity falls under this definition," the minister specified.
The press has reported that at present Japan has the ability to develop nuclear weapons using both uranium and plutonium. As of late March of 2005, it had 43.8 metric tons of plutonium, 5.9 tons of which are stored in Japan and 37.9 tons in Britain and France. Experts have estimated that this is enough for almost 5,475 warheads, considering that one such weapon requires eight kilos of plutonium. There are reports to the effect that it would take Japan no more than six weeks to develop nuclear weapons, and not some primitive devices, but state-of-the-art nuclear armaments - either aerial bombs or warheads.
However, there are several geopolitical reasons why Japan might not go nuclear. Most important is the American factor. Washington knows about the intention of nationalistic-minded Japanese politicians to gradually rid Japan of its long-term status as a U.S. military and political protectorate. It is also aware of the doubts about whether the Americans will fight for the Japanese in the event of a conflict in the Far East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was charged with convincing Japan and South Korea of the U.S.'s readiness to fulfill allied commitments. It is clear that U.S. politicians will try to persuade the Japanese government to curb its nuclear ambitions, at least for the time being. They understand perfectly well that having gone nuclear, Japan and South Korea may renounce Uncle Sam's military services. But the U.S. does not want to leave the Far East and regards its military bases in Japan and Korea as major assets in its global strategy.
Indicatively, while opposing the emergence of Japanese nukes, the U.S. is doing all it can to encourage Tokyo to build up conventional arms. Having endorsed, or rather initiated, the revision of the constitution's pacifist articles, Washington is trying to make broader use of the Japanese armed forces in its military missions. Having met with reluctance on the part of its European allies to take part in its ventures, Americans have started looking to still-obedient Japan.
In October, U.S. National Security Advisor Jack D. Crouch bluntly said that Japan must expand its military presence abroad - ostensibly to ensure security in unstable areas of the world. Washington advocates the involvement of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand in NATO.
Japan is close to Russia, and Moscow should take the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation in northeast Asia seriously. If Japan goes nuclear, the inevitable arms race will threaten to involve Russia in armed conflicts, jeopardizing its plans to improve the standard of living in its eastern regions and resolve their serious demographic problem. It is in our vital interests to take all possible political measures to turn the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear-free zone and make sure that North Korea is not invaded like Iraq.
We would hope that despite its security concerns, Japan understands that dialogue and compromise are much better than nuclear brinkmanship.
Anatoly Koshkin is an expert with the Center for Strategic Studies.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.