A minor ommission…

from yesterday’s Yomiuri article was one rather important proposal and some very interesting language. However, no problem, the Asahi Shimbun was all over it.

First the policy change proposal:

報告書案は、米国による日本への「核の傘」について、「地域全体の安定を維持するためにも重要」「究極的な目標である核廃絶の理念と必ずしも矛盾しない」と評価。非核三原則について「一方的に米国の手を縛ることだけを事前に原則として決めておくことは、必ずしも賢明ではない」と指摘し、事実上、三原則のうちの「持ち込ませず」を見直すよう求めている。

According to the report, Japan’s dependence on the US nuclear umbrella is important for maintaining regional stability, and its presence is not necessarily in contradiction of Japan’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. It also indicates that it may not be prudent to limit [lit.tie the hands of] the US [nuclear deterrence] through the 3 non-nuclear principles, and thus recommends relooking at the principle of “nonintroduction”.

Ok, that is quite important.

And I have to say, I don’t find it particularly convincing. Sure the release of secret documents on the transportation of nuclear weapons through Japanese territory under LDP governments did lead people to question whether it was really “2.5” non-nuclear principles in practice and thus maybe it should be revised after all for consistency’s sake. But what has changed in the logic of nuclear deterrence lately that would undermine what seems to be a well functioning deterrence capability and thus justify this change?  Even the US seems to be going the opposite way, looking at non-nuclear (ie useable) deterrence options directed against “limited” security threats such as rogue states and terrorist organisations, which are the exact kind of threats that the paper overall is arguing that Japan be able to prepare for (and where non-nuclear deterrents may be an equally good option – or perhaps better if the adversary believes in your willingness to use). Certainly, I do not see how relaxation of this principle would add much to the US’ second strike capability against a major adversary such as China (who are the only one in the “Nuclear Five” to have signed on to only maintaining nuclear weapons for second strike purposes themselves). The visibility (of the nuclear deterrent) argument also seems a little bit precarious here too – certainly forward deployed nuclear weapons (on naval vessels) are threatening, but whether “visibility” adds to nuclear security balance or takes away from it, depends very much on the situation (or “theoretical” visibility in the case of the US policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear arms). I am not sure that this is one of those situations where it adds to nuclear security for Japan or its allies.

I can only but assume that the final report will shed some light on this. Certainly the consistency justification itself might be insufficient to convince the Japanese public of the need. It is not unusual to hear Japanese say that hosting US Marines could make Japan a target, even in the case of a dispute that has little to do with Japan or Japanese interests. One would assume similar logic would prevail in regards to this particular enhancement of nuclear deterrence.

One further point, while revising the “nonintroduction” principle, unlike the embrace of the other two principles, will not breach the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty, it will still have implications for Japan’s current leadership push on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. If nothing else, it does not seem to be a particularly opportune time to consider such a change.

I wonder if this is one of those recommendations that expert panels put in when reporting back to government that allows ministers to show their “independence”.  I used to see it all the time. It would be a creative political move to on the one hand embrace a more muscular defense policy, while at the same time, knocking back some “out of touch” experts on a democratically important issue such as Japan’s nuclear status, and because of this still enhance your “peace-loving” credentials.

Now for a little bit of interesting language.

日本周辺の安全保障環境について、中国の海洋進出や北朝鮮の核・弾道ミサイル開発などに触れ、「米国の力の優越は絶対なものではない」と位置づけた。そのうえで「日本を含めた地域諸国が、地域の安定を維持する意思と能力を持つかが、これまで以上に重要」とした。

The report states in regards to Japan’s regional security environment, US military supremacy cannot be taken for granted in the face of Chinese naval incursions, and the development of nuclear and ballistic missiles in North Korea. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly important that the various countries in Japan’s regional sphere commit to, and develop the capacity to maintain stability in the region.

Interesting. While on the one hand this report overall seems to suggest a continued, perhaps even fuller, embrace of the US as a fundamentally important influence in the region, the report does seem to offer the possibility that Japan keep some cards on the table, should a more “independent” capability need be developed. More so, it seems to suggest that Japan should prepare for the eventuality that countries in the region itself will need to take more of a lead, should US influence recede to some degree.

To be sure, through the last few posts I am not arguing that I believe that any of these proposed strategic changes are in any particular way revolutionary in terms of the logic of security. What interests me, as someone who would probably be put into the “Social Constructivist” camp (probably against my will), is that they are being said and discussed at all.

Update: Nejibana has a neat summary of the panel’s recommendations and significance here.

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