Japan Pushes for Progress in U.S. Nuclear Review


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS

By Jamshed Baruah*

BERLIN (IPS) - Japanese parliamentarians and activists pin high hopes on the hotly debated and much anticipated U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to which the Barack Obama administration is reported to be giving finishing touches. ARABIC | DUTCH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | JAPANESEPORTUGUESE | SWAHILI | SWEDISH | TURKISH

Mandated by the U.S. Congress, this review will set the tone and direction for U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the next five to ten years.

The nuclear policy re-assessment under way is the first in nearly two decades after the Cold War ended. The Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations completed their NPRs in 1994 and 2001, respectively.

Japan is the only country to have suffered nuclear bombings, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, It is therefore anxiously looking forward to a new orientation of the role and mission of the U.S. nuclear forces - particularly against the backdrop of intermittent rattles of atomic tremors from North Korea.

In an e-mail interview from Tokyo, former Japanese vice-minister for foreign affairs Masayoshi Hamada tells IPS: "The possibility of Japan getting involved in nuclear disarmament in a big way is just ahead of us."

Hamada, who represents the opposition New Komei Party in the House of Councillors is one of the 204 members of the two chambers of the Japanese parliament (Diet), who have endorsed a letter to President Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and top members of Congress. The letter backs resumption of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (START) between the U.S. and Russia to cut the number of nuclear weapons.

The letter follows one by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada to Clinton in December 2009. In the letter, Okada distanced himself from the previous Japanese administration's support for a strong U.S. nuclear posture, and expressed concerns that some Japanese officials may have lobbied the U.S. not to reduce its nuclear arsenal - a position which "would clearly be at variance with my views, which are in favour of nuclear disarmament."

Okada's letter also supported the idea that the role of nuclear weapons be restricted to deterrence of the use of nuclear weapons, and that the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon state members of the NPT be banned.

The parliamentarians' letter points ahead to a series of upcoming events including a nuclear security summit to be held in Washington in April and a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference the following month in New York.

Many are asking whether the Diet members' letter will have any impact on the Obama administration's NPR and the decision of the U.S. Congress, particularly as only 204 out of 700 legislators signed the letter.

"The number of 204 does not mean that the rest are opposed to the letter or were reluctant to sign it," says Akira Kawasaki, executive committee member of Peace Boat, a global group based in Japan, and advisor to the Australian and Japanese co-chairs of the International Commission on Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament. "If the initiators of the move had been pro- active, all the Diet members would have signed the letter.

"Members of the Communist Party did not sign the letter because they found it to be too modest, and instead favoured further steps for disarmament," Kawasaki said in an e-mail interview from Tokyo.

Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the U.S.- based Federation of American Scientists tells IPS in an e-mail interview from Washington: "The (Diet members') letter together with the Japanese government's statements serve an important role of conveying loud and clear that the most important U.S. ally in the Pacific does not oppose the Obama administration's nuclear disarmament vision but supports not only reductions in nuclear weapons but also a reduction in the mission that those weapons have."

The NPR will reaffirm a U.S. commitment to extended nuclear deterrence in the Pacific (and elsewhere) but also have Japanese support to reduce both the numbers and mission, Kristemsen said in the e-mail interview.

Asked what he thought of the view among some sections of the Japanese political elite that no first use and sole purpose declarations on the part of the U.S. would expose Japan to the Chinese and eventually North Korean nuclear threat, Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said that they had conducted an extensive investigation.

"While there are concerns among some nuclear security experts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence (in Tokyo) about significant changes to U.S. declaratory policy, there is virtually no chance those concerns would damage the alliance or lead to a change in elite Japanese attitudes about their strong support for the NPT and nuclear disarmament," Kulacki said in an e-mail interview from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"The Government of Japan has strongly endorsed the ICNND recommendations for an immediate U.S. declaration that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter and, as a last resort, respond to the use of nuclear weapons by another country."

*This article is part of an IPS-Soka Gakkai International (SGI) project on nuclear abolition. The writer is a correspondent of the IDN-InDepthNews service specialising in nuclear disarmament issues and Japan. (END)