China is expanding its defense budget from year to year at a rapid pace. South Korea is leaning towards China more and more and its dependence on China is growing. The US can no longer be counted on to the extent it was possible some twenty years ago. Then there is the unpredictable North Korea. What can Japan do to protect itself in this situation in the most efficient and inexpensive way?
Japan is facing many challenges in the international arena now.
First one is China’s ambitions in the west china sea and its ever-growing military budget. This is an imminent threat. Fortunately PM Abe acknowledges it, but unfortunately he seems to be the only one as a large part of the Japanese establishment does not recognize this threat as a first priority one.
Then there is a possibility of the China-Russia alliance over the US sanctions imposed on Russia. China did not support these sanctions and said that it will not impose any of its own. In the light of sanctions Russia is even considering to forbid the use of MasterCard and Visa on its territory and possibly adopt China’s UnionPay system. China’s main newspaper “People’s Daily” says that the strategic convergence of China and Russia will serve for the stability in the world and the Putin’s Russia showed the West that there can be no winners in the cold war. Another Chinese newspaper “Global Times” notes that the Ukraine crisis ended up in fiasco of the West, and instead of a pro-Western regime the Western countries aimed to create, they got a state of chaos they cannot control any longer. The paper continues that China cannot disappoint Russia in such difficult times and that China should become Russia’s strategic partner.
Last year China approached Russia with an interesting proposal to fully support Russia on the Northern territories issue in exchange for Russia proclaiming that the Senkaku Islands belong to China. At that time Putin rejected the proposal. But that was way before the Ukrainian crisis. If the China-Russia alliance is to come true, who knows what Putin’s answer would be the next time.
For Japan there are difficult decisions to be made. It has been fully relying on the US to protect itself, but the America’s poor handling of Syrian crisis and the lack of any sensible response to the Russian aggression in Crimea shows that Japan can no depend that much on its biggest ally. And this calls for an overhaul of Japan’s defense strategy.
Nuclear weapons could and must be in the center of this new strategy. How America would react should Japan pronounce itself to be the nuclear weapon country? There are different opinions within the US on whether it is good or not for Japan to become a nuclear power. In reply to concerns Japan has over the drastic cuts of the US defense budget, Christine Wormuth, deputy under secretary of defense for strategy, said on Mar 10 that “… the risks of countries that are scientifically capable enough to develop their own nuclear program, which certainly Japan is, would go up”. She also mentioned: “Our alliance with Japan is very, very strong. We are committed to reassuring Japan and the region, and our view is that there’s not a need for any kind of nuclear capability as long as our alliance remains strong, which we believe it is.”
But why should Japan believe in this sweet talk when the facts prove otherwise. The former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton gives his warning in the article in WSJ: “… if Mr. Abe really wants to know how the Obama administration treats close American allies, he can always call Bibi Netanyahu.” and continues: “Japan and Israel both live in the real world of threats and dangers, not in the Obama bubble where national-security issues rarely intrude on his efforts to reshape American society”. In an interview on Mar 13 John Bolton approves of Japan building up its military “… I don’t see re-militarization a la the 1930s, but I see Japan assuming more of a role in self-defense. Which is a legitimate function for them to do…”.
Due to the same weakness of Obama’s administration and difference of opinions in the American establishment there will not be much of negative reaction from the US. However, the question is whether Japan is really capable of developing its own nuclear weapons.
From the technical and technological point of view, Japan possesses all needed technologies for nuclear weapons development. From the national economy point of view it should not be that expensive to produce and maintain the nuclear power if we consider the overall defense budget. But from the domestic policy standpoint, it will not be that easy. After Fukushima general public is strongly allergic to anything having ‘nuclear’ in its name. In addition, there is general sentiment supported by mass media that international relations especially those with China and Korea got worse with PM Abe coming into power. Many people believe that Japan should work to restore these relations whatever the cost and, when asked, reply that it should do so even compromising on the sensitive issues like that of Senkaku Islands or WWII historical facts. Still every second says that improved relations with China and Korea do not worth the compromise on the national interests. Hopefully more people will come to understand this, but given the current domestic affairs, parliament will never approve the nuclearization of Japan. The only hope is PM Abe. One possible way could be to further the nuclear research and always able to produce the nuclear weapons in 1-2 months’ time should this be required. This is the way responsible politicians should take.
Nuclear weapons are not meant to be used, they are meant to deter. Japan’s possessing nuclear weapons will not pose any threat to any country, but will give it a new sense of safety and security and ability to defend itself independent of the external circumstances.