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Nuclear sharing, a taboo or unavoidable reality? Japan parties intensify debate

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Controversy over whether to allow Japan to introduce a "nuclear sharing" arrangement to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil and jointly operate them has been intensifying among ruling and opposition parties, while the Japanese government has expressed a negative stance toward adopting such a policy.

    The discussion unfolded after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked during a recent TV program that talks over nuclear sharing "must not be considered a taboo." The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has taken a stand against the idea, as it concerns Japan's three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into its territory. The principles have long been upheld as Japan's national policy.

    In a show of support for Abe's remarks, Tatsuo Fukuda, chairperson of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s General Council, told a press conference on March 1, "The discussion should not be avoided. If we are to protect our people and country, we must not shy away from any debate whatsoever." Fukuda's comment came despite himself referring to the fact that Japan is the only nation in the world to have suffered atomic bombings in warfare.

    LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi also pushed for debate over the issue, saying in reference to the three non-nuclear principles' non-introduction provision, "Discussion over whether to make an exception just when the safety of the people is in peril should not be suppressed."

    During a Fuji TV program that aired on Feb. 27, Abe stated, "Debate over the reality of how the world's security is protected must not be considered a taboo," suggesting that the pros and cons of Japan introducing nuclear sharing should be put to debate. Abe also touched on Ukraine, now under Russian invasion, having previously relinquished its nuclear weapons.

    Prime Minister Kishida, however, clearly denied the possibility of Japan adopting nuclear sharing, telling a Feb. 28 House of Councillors budget committee session, "It is unacceptable from the standpoint of adhering to the three non-nuclear principles."

    Kishida has repeatedly stressed his profile as a prime minister from Hiroshima, an atomic-bombed city, and the issue of nuclear weapons is obviously a red line he cannot cross.

    Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi also told a March 1 press conference, "It's unacceptable from the position of holding fast to the three non-nuclear principles," indicating his negative stance toward Japan adopting nuclear sharing.

    Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP's junior ruling coalition partner Komeito, told the press, "It is essential to continue to stick to the three non-nuclear principles," while avoiding giving an evaluation of Abe's remarks.

    Meanwhile, opposition parties are divided over whether to allow for debate on a nuclear sharing arrangement for Japan. The conservative opposition Japan Innovation Party will soon recommend that the government start discussing a review of the three non-nuclear principles and launch talks on nuclear sharing, in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In a document to be submitted to the government, the party will include a passage urging that "discussion be started regarding a review of the three non-nuclear principles and the sharing of nuclear forces owned by the United States."

    Junya Ogawa, policy chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, addressed an online gathering on March 1, saying, "I don't think we should be engaged in discussions that step out of Japan's defense-only policy all of a sudden. We should be careful about arming Japan with nuclear weapons, which would draw skepticism from other countries."

    Akira Koike, secretariat head of the Japanese Communist Party, criticized Abe's remarks, telling reporters, "The three non-nuclear principles are not a mere policy measure but a national cause. A person who served as prime minister of the world's only atomic-bombed country in warfare should under no condition be talking about possessing nuclear arms."

    Nuclear sharing was established within NATO in the late 1950s. Under the arrangement, Germany and some other non-nuclear NATO states store U.S. nuclear weapons in their territories and elsewhere and maintain their own means of weapons delivery.

    NATO's nuclear sharing policy advanced just as there was a growing military threat posed by the then Soviet Union and confidence in extended nuclear deterrence by the United States was being undermined. Amid the rise of China and destabilization in the Asia-Pacific region, Abe's remarks were apparently aimed at raising the efficacy of nuclear deterrence. Yet a senior official of the Kishida administration confided, "Realistically speaking, it's difficult," while a mid-ranking LDP legislator said, "His remark was ill-timed."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Odanaka and Shu Furukawa, Political News Department)

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