Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), called for discussions on a review of Japan's three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not bringing in nuclear weapons.
Specifically, Ishiba suggested that the third principle of not bringing in such weapons be re-evaluated to open the way for the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan.
Debate on the deployment of U.S. nuclear arms could send the wrong message to China and other countries and adversely affect international cooperation in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Ishiba said, "Is it right to refuse the deployment of nuclear weapons inside the country while relying on U.S. nuclear arms for protection?"
Behind his remark is the idea that the deployment of nuclear arms in Japan, which would be exposed to a direct threat if North Korea possesses nuclear missiles, would enhance deterrence.
Ishiba pointed out that NATO has countered threats from the former Soviet Union and Russia by deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in its member countries, and said, "Such discussions are necessary to increase the usefulness of the nuclear umbrella." However, the security environment in East Asia is significantly different from that in Europe.
After China successfully conducted a nuclear test in 1964, there were discussions on the pros and cons of Japan arming itself with nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato announced Japan's three non-nuclear principles in 1967, and the principles took root in Japan as an important part of its national policy in the process of the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo and Okinawa being returned to Japan's sovereignty from U.S. occupation in 1968 and 1972, respectively.
In adopting the principles, the government didn't just consider the Japanese public's sentiments as the only atomic-bombed country. Japan's calls for nuclear arms reduction and nuclear disarmament have been a pillar of Japan's diplomatic policy, and the denuclearization of East Asia, including the Korean Peninsula, is an important goal for Japan.
While falling under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, Japan has managed to maintain its goal of nuclear disarmament by adhering to its three non-nuclear principles.
It is necessary to re-examine Japan's diplomatic and security policies in the face of the growing threat posed by North Korea. That does not mean, however, that Japan can disregard the accumulation of historical and multifaceted discussions that led to the adoption of the non-nuclear principles as its national policy.
Fears persist in the international community that if North Korea were to possess nuclear missiles, Japan and South Korea would also arm themselves with nuclear weapons to deter the threat from Pyongyang.
It was appropriate that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga promptly ruled out the possibility of Japan debating a review of the three non-nuclear principles, saying, "The government isn't considering deliberating the matter."
We fear Ishiba's remarks could undermine Japan's ultimate goal of realizing a world without nuclear arms.