About the beginning of July 2016, the media began to report that the Obama administration is weighing the adoption of a “no-first-use” policy of nuclear weapons, which would limit the use of nuclear arsenals by the United States to retaliatory strikes only; namely, if adopted, the country would use nuclear weapons only after it or any of its allies were so attacked. If the U.S. declares the no-first-use pledge, the role of nuclear arms in the country would become significantly smaller. Furthermore, the U.S. would be able to cancel the conventional alert system that is capable of launching nuclear arsenals on a minute-by-minute basis, reducing the risk of an incidental outbreak of a nuclear war. However, the media has reported that U.S. allies under the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” including Japan, South Korea, and NATO members, are against such a policy change, being concerned that the change would weaken the nuclear deterrence against possible attacks by their adversaries using means other than nuclear weapons. The Obama administration attempted to include the no-first-use policy in the Nuclear Posture Review, which was revised in 2010, but abandoned the idea, failing to gain the consent of allies, including Japan. Mr. Obama, scheduled to end his term in office in six months, resubmitted this proposal to leave a legacy of his presidency as a milestone toward nuclear disarmament, according to sources.
Concerned about the possibility that the Japanese government’s opposition might have an adverse influence on the U.S. administration’s possible nuclear policy change, we, the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, together with the Japan National Congress against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin Congress) and the author of the website Kakujoho (Nuclear Information), sent a written proposal to the Japanese government on July 27, 2016. The letter requested that, 1), even if the US adopts the no-first-use policy, Japan should declare that it will never arm itself with nuclear weapons; 2), the Japanese government should support the US policy of reducing the role of nuclear weapons that the Obama administration is reported to be pursuing; and 3), if the Japanese government is unable to meet these two proposals, the Japanese government should explain, to the Japanese population and to the world, according to what scenarios Japan believes that the United States would wish to start a nuclear war by becoming the first user of nuclear weapons.(i) In addition, on August 9, 2016, under the initiative of the author of the Kakujoho website, the three parties sent an international open letter addressed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, signed by 17 countries and 120 international organizations, stating: “Please do not oppose a US pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.”(ii)
Of the three proposals, allow me to discuss the first proposal in detail. The August 12, 2016 issue of Wall Street Journal reported that a discussion was held within the US administration as to the no-first-use issue, and that, according to an anonymous source, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said, “it risked provoking insecurity about the US deterrent among allies, some of which then could pursue their own nuclear programs in response.”(iii) This article does not name any specific countries that might seek to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. However, back on May 6, 2009, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger stated at a hearing of the House Committee on Armed Services about the final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “Japan… is the country that has perhaps the greatest leaning amongst the 30-odd nations that we have under the umbrella to create its own nuclear force.”(iv) The statement by the current Secretary of Defense directly referred to Japan, which has long been a strong advocator of nuclear abolition as the only nation which has been the victim of wartime use of atomic bombs.
Despite our proposals, the August 14, 2016 issue of The Washington Post reported that multiple US allies are against the potential US adoption of the no-first-use policy, and that Japan was especially concerned that, if the US assumed that policy, deterrence against North Korea would deteriorate, increasing the risk of a collision.(v)
On September 5, 2016, The New York Times reported that, as a result of discussions within the administration, Mr. Obama is inclined to give up the no-first-use pledge.(vi) The article introduced the argument of Secretary of State John Kerry, who objected to the president’s proposal: “Japan would be unnerved by any diminution of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps be tempted to obtain their own weapons. The same argument, he [Mr. Kerry] said, applied to South Korea.” As we had feared, and much to our regret, Japan’s posture interfered with the possible policy change of the US government concerning a first use of nuclear weapons.
However, could Japan really arm itself with nuclear weapons? The then Japanese Agency of Defense (predecessor of the Ministry of Defense), in its 1995 report entitled “Concerning the Problem of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” stated: “. . . the nuclear option is not a favorable one for Japan. . . Since the suspicion concerning possession of nuclear weapons will be disadvantageous for confidence building with neighboring countries, what is appropriate for Japan is to express, as an understanding on the military side, that Japan will not adopt the nuclear option . . .” (vii) As a matter of fact, the Japanese government does not have the choice of developing its own nuclear weapons. The truth behind the US president’s abandoning of the no-first-use policy is probably that the Japanese and US parties that are against the US nuclear policy change have taken advantage of the US administration’s concerns about Japan possibly arming itself with nuclear weapons, which are no more than hallucinatory.
One of the reasons the US administration is concerned about Japan possessing nuclear armaments is that Japan has spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technology and owns plutonium stocks to the amounts of 11 tons within the country and 37 tons in other countries. As long as the country owns reprocessing technology, however strongly Japan advocates nuclear disarmament, concerns about Japan’s potential possession of nuclear weapons cannot be erased. If the Japanese government regards nuclear disarmament as a national policy, it should not only support the US policy shift toward no first use of nuclear weapons, but also abandon its reprocessing technology.
To further look into this issue, the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center plans to hold an international symposium in February 2017, to examine the problems of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy, in the light of the Japan–U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which is scheduled to be revised in 2018.
(Hajime Matuskubo, CNIC)