A Nuclear Japan: The Push for Weaponization

By Lee, Dennis | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

A Nuclear Japan: The Push for Weaponization


Lee, Dennis, Harvard International Review


It is no surprise that the only country that has ever experienced the horror of nuclear weapons is also one of their staunchest opponents. Since the end of the Second World War, despite pursing peaceful civilian uses of nuclear energy, both the Japanese government and its general population have been opposed to the weaponization of nuclear technology. However, much has changed since the late 1940s, and as regional geopolitics change, so too may Japan's stance.

Despite many diplomatic missions to the region, including a recent visit by Japan's prime minister, Southeast Asia continues to be an issue for Japan. Animosity and tensions still exist from the conquests by Imperial Japan during the Second World War, and in addition, many nations in the region depend heavily on the Chinese investment, crowding out Japan's own. As the situation develops, it is not impossible for Japan to develop nuclear weapons as a way of contesting China's increasing economic and military influence.

In fact, China has already begun to clash with Japan: the territorial dispute over Senkaku/Diaoyu Island continues to be extremely dangerous to Sino-Japanese relations--many believe that the risk of armed conflict between the two nations is the highest since the Second World War. In addition, North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons and missile launch capabilities, causing much unease in the Japanese government.

At the end of the Second World War, many factors contributed to Japan's anti-nuclear weapon stance. While the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki played a major role in its definition, the promise of US protection solidified this position. Both the Mutual Security Assistance Pact of 1952 and the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security essentially guarantee that Japan is protected by the United States' military might, including its massive nuclear arsenal.

Even so, in the past, regional events have triggered a move toward Japanese nuclear weaponization. In the 1960s, China's first nuclear weapons test led the Japanese Prime Minister to investigate the possibility of weaponization. In 1995, another investigation occurred as a result of the 1994 North Korean Nuclear Crisis, when North Korea threatened war in response to possible sanctions. Conducted by the Japanese Defense Agency, the secret investigation decided that developing nuclear weapons would harm US-Japan relations. Notably, all of these investigations and reports proceeded in spite of a 1955 law that specifically prohibits Japan from researching and developing nuclear weapons.

Japan has been at the forefront of developing next generation nuclear technology. …

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