Sunday, June 24, 2012

Japan’s Nuclear Ambition

Tokyo has only to strike out controversial phrase

The world has long regarded Japan as a virtual nuclear power. On Wednesday, Tokyo took its first step toward becoming a ``real” one. 

The upper house of Japan’s Diet passed an amendment to the country’s Atomic Energy Basic Law to allow the use of nuclear power for ``national security,” according to the Tokyo Shimbun. The addition of these controversial words was made so furtively that not only the Japanese public but even many Lower House lawmakers didn’t know about it, other reports say.

Despite denials from the Japanese government, there should be little doubt about Tokyo’s intention ― nuclear armament. The stealthy way the Japanese parliament handled the matter proves it. 

Ultra-rightist Japanese politicians, including Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, have long bragged about how the island nation can turn itself into one of the largest nuclear powers in the world almost overnight if it wants so, or as a U.S. paper put it, all this is just ``a screwdriver’s turn away.” 

Japan has 30 tons of weapons-grade plutonium and 1,200-1,400 kilograms of enriched uranium, enough to make 15,000 nuclear bombs like the one dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Tokyo also has state-of-the-art rocket technology for their long-distance delivery and spy satellites. In short, Japan has the world’s third-largest nuclear power generation capacity and is also the third-biggest military spender. What more does it need? 

Tokyo might feel sufficient need to turn its long-cherished ambition into reality. Japan’s once-almighty economy has been languishing for two decades to cede its place to China, and its political influence in this part of the world is even being eclipsed by oil-rich Russia. The security guarantee from the United States has weakened in part because of America’s strategic shift and own decline. North Korea also provides a convenient excuse through its playing with nuclear fire. 

Yet none of these should be reasons for Japan to go back several decades and repeat the tragic mistakes that severely hurt it and the rest of the world. It is one of few countries in the world, along with Germany, that knows from experience that a national indulgence in ultra-right schemes and ideology as a means of escaping from prolonged economic and social stagnation brought disastrous results. It is worrisome in this regard that rightist instigators such as Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto are the most popular politicians in their country. 

The road to Japan’s possible nuclear armament would certainly not be smooth. There must still be a far larger number of Japanese people, at least we hope so, with the good sense not to let their leaders take their country down a ruinous path. If Japan pursues atomic weapons further, a domino effect regarding nuclear armament will sweep across the region, including South Korea and Taiwan, not to mention encouraging the self-delusionary regime in Pyongyang. Nor would the United States sit idle watching its staunchest ally in Asia mess up its global non-proliferation efforts, depriving Washington of leverage to dissuade Iran and North Korea. 

Tokyo says it has no intention of becoming a nuclear power and the insertion of the dangerous-looking words actually expresses its will for non-proliferation.

If so, the solution can’t be simpler: strike them from the amendment. One action is better than a 1,000 words. It would be also easy to do so in Japan with a parliamentary government, in which the administrative and legislative branches are run by much the same officials. Otherwise, Japan will be denying its value and status in the international community as a model of pacifism, deceiving the latter. 

Seoul for its part must make clear its opposition to the Japanese move and send an unequivocal warning against further proceedings. This is not much to ask of the incumbent administration that has disappointed people all too often with its spineless and clueless diplomatic team.

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