Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump have strengthened their cooperation amid rising tensions over the North Korean crisis. The two leaders held four rounds of telephone talks after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile that flew over Japan before plunging into the Pacific Ocean last week. These include two rounds of talks on Sept. 3 following North Korea's sixth nuclear test.
It is of great significance that the two leaders are communicating closely with each other to respond to the heightened crisis.
Abe emphasized that he and Trump reconfirmed the United States and Japan stand together 100 percent. This announcement of mutual understanding is apparently aimed at demonstrating the close cooperation between Tokyo and Washington.
However, there have been great inconsistencies in Trump's remarks over North Korea. His statements have wavered between both tough and flexible stances, suggesting that he has not settled on a strategy for dealing with the secluded state.
When Pyongyang threatened to launch missiles toward the sea around Guam, Trump threatened to use force to counter the move. However, after the North backed down on its threat, Trump praised the decision by Kim Jong Un as "wise."
Yet after North Korea launched a ballistic missile that flew over Hokkaido last week, Trump once again adopted a tough tone, saying, "Talking is not the answer" in dealing with the North. After Pyongyang went ahead with its sixth nuclear test, the U.S. president once again hinted at the possibility of using force.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said President Trump asked for an explanation of all possible military options to respond to the North Korean situation during an emergency meeting of the U.S. National Security Council.
Use of force must be avoided by all means. Yet there was a worrisome move during telephone talks between the Japanese and U.S. leaders following the nuclear test. The U.S. government has announced Abe and Trump confirmed that the two countries will defend each other. However, the Japanese government has not disclosed such an agreement.
Even if there were to be a contingency on the Korean Peninsula that had not developed into an all-out armed conflict, Japan could extend support for U.S. forces' operations, such as refueling, if the situation were to be deemed to be seriously affecting Japan's security. In addition, if Japan were exposed to a grave threat, the country could exercise the right to collective self-defense to guard U.S. troops. Under these scenarios, Japan could face retaliatory attacks by North Korea.
While Japan supports the U.S. government, which claims to have "many military options" to respond to the North Korean crisis, Tokyo should repeatedly urge Washington to avert war that would cause serious damage to Japan.
There are opinions in the United States that North Korea should be allowed to possess nuclear weapons and be placed under arms control. If North Korea were to abandon its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles in return, it would lessen the threat Pyongyang poses to the United States. However, Japan would remain exposed to the threat posed by the secluded country.
To prevent the United States from taking extremely risky action, the Japanese and U.S. leaders should continue to consult closely over their response to the North Korean situation.