"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018

Japan Embracing Missile Defense

Wade Boese

Several years of U.S.-Japanese cooperation on anti-missile systems bore fruit in a successful experiment March 8. The test marked an important milestone in the two countries’ collaboration as Japan expands its missile defense activities and has emerged as the leading overseas missile defense partner of the United States .

Japan began its foray into missile defenses in 1999 with research on four components for a ship-fired missile interceptor. Now, Tokyo is preparing to host an advanced U.S. missile tracking radar, develop a more powerful missile interceptor with the United States, and deploy the initial elements of a Japanese land- and sea-based missile defense system.

The March 8 test involved one of the four products of the initial U.S.-Japanese partnership. In the experiment, a U.S. Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor 88 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean employed for the first time a Japanese-designed “clamshell” nosecone. In an actual missile intercept attempt or test involving a mock warhead, the nosecone would release a kill vehicle to collide with a target hurtling through the atmosphere. But in this case, only a telemetry device to gather data on the new nosecone’s operation was released. U.S. nosecones require the SM-3 to conduct maneuvers to eject the kill vehicle; the Japanese nosecone avoids the need for maneuvers by opening up like a clamshell.

Still, the two governments have not determined whether the clamshell nosecone will be incorporated into a future SM-3 interceptor they will build based on a new 60-centimeter rocket motor also under development by Japan. This rocket motor is supposed to increase the interceptor’s range and make it capable of destroying long-range missiles. A contract for the new interceptor is expected to be signed in April, and an inaugural intercept test is set for 2014 or 2015, a U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) official told Arms Control Today March 15.

The United States has tested and deployed an earlier version of the SM-3 interceptor as part of its ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System to counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The system has had six hits in seven intercept attempts, and nine SM-3 interceptors have been delivered to the Navy for deployment. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, reported in March that U.S. plans envision deploying about 100 of the interceptors by the end of 2011.

Japan also intends initially to employ the current SM-3 interceptor aboard its four planned missile defense ships, the first of which is expected to be ready by 2007. At the same time, Japan hopes to field four land-based Patriot Advanced Capability- 3 systems, which are supposed to destroy short-and medium-range ballistic missiles near the end of their flights. Japanese procurement plans call for eventually acquiring another 12 firing units and two backup units. Japan currently deploys six early- model Patriot systems.

Japanese interest in missile defenses is animated primarily by a perceived missile threat from North Korea, although residual concerns about China also exist. In August 1998, North Korea conducted a surprise test of a ballistic missile, which flew over Japanese territory. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)

Tokyo and Washington are intent on improving their vigilance of North Korean missile activities. Toward this end, the United States will deploy a forward-based X-band radar on Japanese territory before this year ends. A Japanese government official told Arms Control Today March 15 that the two governments are currently searching for an “optimum site.”

The new radar is supposed to provide improved tracking and discrimination information on ballistic missiles in flight. Data gathered by the radar is to be shared between Japan and the United States for operating their respective anti-missile systems.

Pentagon officials testifying at a March 9 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee applauded Japan ’s growing missile defense role, which totals approximately $1 billion in spending annually. Peter Flory, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, ranked Japan as “our largest international partner.”

Australia , Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom also are leading U.S. missile defense partners. In addition, the 26-country NATO alliance is working to knit together a system that will allow its members’ individual battlefield anti-missile systems to operate together. The group is also exploring options for protecting their national territories.

Washington is also considering the Czech Republic , Poland, and the United Kingdom as a basing site for 10 long-range U.S. missile interceptors. An MDA spokes person told Arms Control Today in February that $56 million had been requested in the latest Pentagon budget submission to advance this project (see ACT, March 2006), but that sum actually totals $120 million, according to Flory.

Since 1985, the Pentagon has spent approximately $90 billion on anti-missile projects and foresees spending nearly $58 billion more over the next six years, according to the March GAO report.


Japan's Plutonium Reprocessing Dilemma

Shinichi Ogawa and Michael Schiffer

Ever since it was attacked with nuclear weapons six decades ago, Japan has been at the forefront of international nonproliferation efforts. Yet, as the world has focused recently on the dangers posed by some elements of the civilian nuclear power industry, Japan has found itself in the crosshairs of proliferation concerns.

The international community has focused particularly on Japan’s planned plutonium reprocessing facility in Rokkasho-mura, which is scheduled to begin operating as early as July 2006. It would be the first active, civilian reprocessing facility in a non-nuclear-weapon state. It would also be one of the first and largest of such facilities to come online since President George W. Bush and Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called for limits on the construction of new plutonium reprocessing or uranium-enrichment facilities. These facilities can be used to develop nuclear fuel for civilian nuclear plants but also can provide the essential fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Those who favor limiting the spread of such facilities argue that the Rokkasho facility should be sacrificed for the greater good of nonproliferation and the prevention of a risky “virtual nuclear arms race.” Japanese officials have in essence taken another tack in their attempt to square their quest for a more complete nuclear fuel cycle with their desire to play a constructive nonproliferation role. Japan’s long and proud nonproliferation record, they say, should become the effective standard against which to judge other countries that want such facilities.

Japan’s Nonproliferation Policy

Soon after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, Japan decided not to develop or to possess nuclear weapons. In 1955 it adopted the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which limits the use of nuclear energy to nonmilitary areas. This approach was reconfirmed in 1967, when Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared the so-called three non-nuclear principles in the Diet: Japan would not possess, manufacture, or introduce nuclear weapons.[1]

When Japan signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, the Sato cabinet specified three conditions that would have to be met for Japanese ratification: concrete steps toward disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states; clear protection of the security interests of non-nuclear-weapon states; and a fair and equal system of international safeguards.

Although the third condition was met through a new safeguards agreement with the IAEA in 1975, Japan compromised on the other two conditions, settling for a decision to increase its own nuclear disarmament efforts in lieu of “concrete” measures taken by the nuclear-weapon states and calling for a reconfirmation of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and U.S.-Japanese security relationship as a substitute for broader measures to guarantee the security of non-nuclear-weapon states.

Since then, Japan has backed incremental disarmament efforts while continuing to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Japanese officials seem to have believed that gradual disarmament would not endanger the U.S. nuclear deterrent as long as U.S. nuclear forces are dominant and other nuclear-weapon states reduce their forces in parallel with the United States.[2]

Japan fully supports the nonproliferation regime. For example, Japan has helped lead international efforts to try and bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force. It also has provided technical assistance to developing countries to support the development of the International Monitoring System for verifying compliance with the CTBT.

In the late 1990s, Japan became the first state in possession of civilian nuclear power reactors to sign and put into effect an IAEA additional protocol. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol allows the IAEA to broaden its safeguards and inspections so as to better ensure that states do not have undeclared facilities and activities that could be engaged in military work.

Since September 2004, Japan’s model behavior has made it the test case for the IAEA’s large-scale implementation of integrated safeguards, which are nonredundant and streamlined inspection activities with more short-notice and challenge inspections. Japan is estimated to be the subject of about 20 percent to 30 percent of the IAEA’s inspection activities.[3]

Japan also has bilateral cooperative agreements on peaceful uses of nuclear energy with Australia, Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Under these agreements, Japan has agreed to accept various additional nonproliferation conditions and controls, such as placing the movement and handling of its plutonium under close scrutiny.[4] It is a member in good standing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 45-member group of states that have voluntarily agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and nuclear-related equipment and technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.

Some analysts have suggested there are circumstances that may well merit Japanese reconsideration of its own non-nuclear status: if North Korea were to test its own nuclear weapon and unalterably pull out of the six-party talks, for example, or if the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella deteriorated. Yet, Japanese domestic political sentiment and interests both mitigate any lessening of Tokyo’s commitment to nonproliferation absent a revolutionary change in the nature and structure of the balance of the regional or global security order.

Japan further underscored its commitment to disarmament in a resolution it tabled last year in the UN General Assembly that calls on states to pursue the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The resolution, which prescribes 25 steps ranging from early entry into force of the CTBT to deep reductions by Russia and the United States in their strategic nuclear arsenals, was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 4, 2004, by a 165-3 vote.

Japan’s Energy Dilemma

Nonetheless, Japan also is deeply committed to civilian nuclear power. With virtually no indigenous energy supplies, Tokyo views nuclear power as an affordable, secure, and environmentally attractive energy source. Despite its status as one of the world’s great economic powers, many Japanese policymakers as well as the Japanese public share a deep sense of anxiety that Japan’s position in the world remains tenuous at best. With a lack of natural resources and little strategic depth, energy independence and security has been an animating feature of Japanese “grand strategy” for well more than a century. This sensitivity is even more acute in the context of current questions about the long-term viability of energy alternatives. This would include importing oil from the volatile Middle East at a time when Japan sees its East Asian rival, China, seeking to lock up the supply.

Currently, 53 nuclear power plants are operating in Japan, raising Japan’s self-sufficiency in primary energy supply from an estimated 4 percent to 20 percent.[5]

(By comparison, Germany stands at 25 percent; the United States at 66 percent, and the United Kingdom at 102 percent self-sufficiency.)

Seeking greater self-sufficiency and greater energy security, successive Japanese governments have sought to provide their own nuclear fuel. Initial plans call for utilizing reprocessed plutonium from spent nuclear fuel in the form of plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Ultimately, Tokyo would like to employ fast-breeder reactors that would be at least 100 times more efficient in the amount of uranium they use than a once-through system that directly disposes of spent fuel.[6]

In 1993, Japan started constructing the Rokkasho-mura plant, its first commercial reprocessing facility, to process spent fuel that it was shipping to France and the United Kingdom. When completed, the plant will able to process about 800 tons of spent fuel annually, which is close to the total spent fuel reprocessed over the past 30 years.[7] The Rokkasho-mura facility is slated to use a unique reprocessing process intended to limit the proliferation danger caused by stockpiles of separated plutonium. Rather than separating the plutonium in one plant and then combining the plutonium with uranium in another plant, Rokkasho-mura would combine these two steps into a process in which MOX would be created under a single roof.

Needless to say, this reprocessing procedure is not without dangers because it is easy to separate out the plutonium from the MOX. Critics point to other problems as well, one being the cost. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency estimates that it is 2.3 percent less expensive to generate electricity from nuclear fuel that is then disposed of directly than from employing a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle using spent fuel reprocessing.[8] That is, using MOX fuel is far more expensive than using fresh uranium fuel.[9] According to an analysis by experts Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel of a draft study by Japan’s New Nuclear Planning Council, the total extra cost for reprocessing 32,000 tons of Japan’s spent fuel and recycling the plutonium would be about $60 billion. In addition, during construction the capital costs at Rokkasho-mura have more than tripled to about $20 billion.[10]

Critics of Rokkasho-mura also insist that reprocessing would do little to alleviate certain aspects of Japan’s spent fuel problem, which represents a potential political headache for the Japanese government.[11]

Nonetheless, advocates of Rokkasho-mura argue that reprocessing provides a practical means for dealing with the spent nuclear fuel that is piling up in Japan and will soon exceed available storage space. They claim, for example, that reprocessing reduces by half the amount of highly radioactive waste that must be disposed of.[12] Although they acknowledge that reprocessing may prove costly compared to direct disposal, they contend that it is an efficient use of energy resources that offers energy security without worsening global warming.

Last November, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission announced that Japan would reprocess spent nuclear fuel to the maximum of its reprocessing capability and store the remaining spent fuel, if any, in the interim storage sites. In 2010 the commission will re-examine how to dispose of the remaining spent fuel, taking into account the performance of Rokkasho-mura, progress in the research and development of fast-breeder reactor and other advanced reprocessing technologies, and international conditions concerning nuclear nonproliferation.[13]

The commission has a stated goal of making fast-breeder technology fit for practical use by 2015.

Japan’s nuclear fuel-cycle program has made significant progress, but technical and political hurdles remain. The program has been hampered by an accident with a prototype fast-breeder reactor and the lingering anxiety of residents near the site. Yet, Tokyo appears determined to pursue a full-scale independent nuclear fuel cycle, believing it will enhance Japan’s energy security, enable efficient use of energy resources, and contribute to Japan’s overall efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Japan’s Nuclear Energy Program and the NPT

Still, critics argue that Japan’s pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle poses a serious dilemma to global nuclear proliferation efforts. This is because production of reactor-level nuclear materials and weapons-grade nuclear materials follow virtually identical processes. North Korea took advantage of this fact to develop the capability to produce weapons-grade fissile materials under the guise of a civilian nuclear power program; many fear that Iran will soon do so as well. India, Israel, and Pakistan followed similar paths in earlier years.

Therefore, despite all evidence of good intentions, Japan’s policy may be setting a poor precedent. Its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle may legitimize the actions of other countries to pursue similar technologies and ultimately attain “breakout” capability. They too may seek to build up similarly robust civilian energy programs that, at the flip of the switch, could be militarized.

Indeed, Iran has pointed to the Japanese example on several occasions, arguing, as Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi did in New York this past May, that it is wrong to limit “access to peaceful nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation.”[14]

Finally, although Japan has adopted domestic laws to address this issue, there is the risk that as Japan brings its own nuclear fuel cycle fully online the resultant growth of its fissile material stockpiles could be vulnerable to theft or diversion, creating a significant proliferation risk. With access to fissile material widely regarded as the main technical hurdle facing any country or group that wants to construct a bomb, this is not an insignificant problem.

To cope with such dilemmas, Bush in February 2004 laid out a vision for the future of the nuclear nonproliferation regime that included proposed new restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing plants. In particular, he asked the NSG to ban the provision of reprocessing or uranium-enrichment capabilities to any state that does not possess full-scale facilities already. Bush also proposed to make signing an additional protocol with the IAEA a condition for states seeking imports for their civilian nuclear programs. In addition, he proposed that states that renounce enrichment and processing have reliable access to fuel for civilian reactors.

The Bush approach addresses some of the persistent weaknesses of the current nonproliferation regime, but it also has significant drawbacks. First, as the secret global network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan showed, even some governments within the NSG have trouble stopping clandestine supplier networks. Second, many developing countries argue that the Bush approach compounds the discriminatory elements of the current nonproliferation regime. These non-nuclear-weapon states also complain that Bush does nothing to address one of their core complaints, that the nuclear-weapons states, and the United States in particular, are not doing enough to live up to their obligations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Bush’s policy also demonstrates a lukewarm attitude toward international institutions that presents a further dilemma for Japanese diplomats. By going through the NSG, Bush has shunted aside broader international institutions or treaties. This comes at a difficult time for Japan, which wants to demonstrate its bona fides in this area as it is currently seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Still, Japan has voiced its support for a Group of Eight action plan approved at July’s Gleneagles summit that endorsed a one-year pause in inaugurating new enrichment and reprocessing facilities.[15]

ElBaradei has put forward a different approach to dealing with fuel cycle issues that relies on greater involvement with international institutions. Like Bush’s proposal, it calls for restrictions on the ability of non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire enrichment or reprocessing technology. Yet, the core of the ElBaradei approach is to establish international mechanisms that would prepare and provide nuclear fuel on universal, nondiscriminatory grounds.[16]

Thus, ElBaradei’s proposal places Japan’s plans for an independent nuclear fuel cycle in jeopardy. Needless to say, it is not popular among senior Japanese officials. In private comments, they say that such a mechanism would undermine their plans while doing little to punish countries with poor nonproliferation records. Further, they claim that a non-nuclear-weapon state that wants nuclear weapons will simply choose not to rely on international mechanisms, and the international community simply does not have any powerful means to force such a state to comply.

Do As We Do…

Therefore, Japan finds itself in something of a quandary. It is an ardent proponent of the nonproliferation regime and seeks a high profile as a pillar of the international community. However, its own civilian nuclear program appears to some to be contributing to the very stress that threatens to pull the nonproliferation regime apart.

Japan wants to resolve this dilemma by drawing on the best elements of the Bush and ElBaradei proposals to drive a subtle and modest conceptual shift in the nonproliferation regime, seeking to define, for the first time, what it means for a state to be “in conformity” with its obligations to the NPT and, from that, to set in place “objective” behavioral benchmarks that can be universally applied and by which states would have access to peaceful nuclear technology. Naturally enough, this approach serves Japan’s dual interests, promoting nonproliferation while preventing changes to its civilian nuclear power program.

Although its efforts have been far from explicit, this implicit doctrine starts with the model of Japan’s own nonproliferation behavior and commitments. Japanese officials are quick to point to Tokyo’s three-decade-long record of transparency and compliance with international norms and standards as an essential difference between Japan and Iran or other states with questionable nuclear ambitions.

Japan’s current push, then, is to create effective mechanisms that allow for distinguishing between good and bad actors and, in so doing, create a behaviorally based regime. Thus, as Ambassador Yoshiki Mine argued in introducing Japan’s working paper at the once-every-five-years NPT review conference in May:

[P]eaceful uses of nuclear energy by a non-nuclear-weapon state that carries out nuclear activities with the confidence of the international community by faithfully fulfilling its NPT obligations and by ensuring high transparency of its nuclear activities should not be unduly affected.[17]


Any program that meets these criteria, including verification, safeguards, the physical protection of fissile material, and effective measures to prevent illicit trafficking, would be acceptable.


…And Also As We Ask

In addition to seeking to promote its own behavior as a model, there are several additional elements of Japanese policy that seek to reconcile the Bush and ElBaradei proposals.

Japan’s top priority in this respect is to work with the NSG to develop “objective criteria” to measure compliance with nonproliferation obligations, including adherence to the Model Additional Protocol and strict export controls. The Japanese proposals aim to capture both state actions and those of commercial enterprises. They also seek to enforce NSG standards that require IAEA monitoring of all of the buyer state’s nuclear facilities as a condition for supplying sensitive materials and technologies.

Second, Japan is placing greater emphasis on bilateral and multilateral cooperation in East Asia. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently launched efforts to work bilaterally with other Asian nations to create export control systems and to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a multilateral basis to develop a regional legal system of export controls, including lists of regulated and dual-use items. This initiative also includes making Japanese experts available for consultations and seminars and seeking to work with commercial enterprises in the region. Earlier this year, Japan hosted the second set of Asian Senior Level Talks on Non-Proliferation in an effort to create an ongoing, multilateral regional forum where states of the region can develop cooperative nonproliferation practices.

Third, Japan is seeking to persuade as many NPT parties as possible to sign an additional protocol. Japanese officials view these protocols as the most practical tool at hand to prevent nuclear materials from being diverted to weapon-grade materials production and have made vigorous efforts to universalize them. In 2002, for example, Japan, in cooperation with the IAEA, hosted the International Conference on Wider Adherence to Strengthened IAEA Safeguards. Attended by 82 participants representing 36 countries, the conference built on the results of earlier regional efforts to encourage ratification of such protocols.

Fourth, to seek to address criticism that the nuclear-weapon states are not living up to their disarmament obligations, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura stated in New York that Japan remains committed to a process by which “nuclear disarmament measures must be implemented incrementally,” including negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). Japan regards such a treaty not only as a substantial measure for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, but also as an important tool to alleviate the discriminatory nature of the NPT. In the meantime, it supports a moratorium on the production of fissile material for weapons use until an FMCT is in force.


In sum, Japan argues that its good behavior should merit a high degree of latitude to pursue nuclear energy, even including the fuel cycle and, moreover, that its approach can serve as a model for reinvigorating the NPT. To be sure, there are clear risks that Japan’s position may undermine the nonproliferation system. In the context of a system that is already badly compromised and in danger of failure, however, there is also a strong argument to be made that these risks may well be offset by the gains in transparency, verification, safety, and security that extending Japan’s model may bring to the NPT.

Indeed, given the low technical barriers to acquiring sensitive technology and the increasing unwillingness of non-nuclear-weapon states to accept further restrictions on their activities, the Japanese approach would seem to merit due consideration as an effort to rethink and reinvigorate the NPT and place it on a sustainable footing. By allowing the pursuit of nuclear energy for those who wish to pursue it, but only in the context of full operational transparency and a demonstrated long-term commitment to nonproliferation norms and standards, this approach offers a possible solution to the key question of breakout capability. It is only in clearly and transparently repudiating nuclear weapons and demonstrating that renunciation through consistent verifiable good behavior over time that nuclear technology should be gained.


Shinichi Ogawa is director of the research department of Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies and Michael Schiffer is an international affairs fellow in Japan (Hitachi Fellow) of the Council on Foreign Relations and a visiting research fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the authors only and do not reflect the positions of the National Institute for Defense Studies or the Council on Foreign Relations.


1. Asahi Shimbun, December 11, 1967.

2. Japan’s Security Council and the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in December 2004 approved “National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2005 and After” reconfirming this approach, stating that “Japan continues to rely on the nuclear deterrent provided by the United States, while at the same time playing an active role in taking realistic step-by-step measures for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.”

3. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, “Power Line: Japan’s Commitment to the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy,” Vol. 19 (February 2003).

4. Japan’s obligations to keep the movement of plutonium secure under tight surveillance are detailed in its bilateral nuclear agreements with France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

5. Shunsuke Kondo, “Current Status of Development and Utilization of Nuclear Energy in Japan,” Presentation at the 13th International Conference on Nuclear Engineering, Beijing, May 17, 2005.

6. Atomic Energy Commission of Japan, “White Paper on Nuclear Energy 2003 (Summary),” p. 14.

7. Genshiryoku Iinkai, ed., Genshiryoku Hakusho: Heisei 16 Nen [White paper on nuclear energy 2004] (Tokyo: National Printing Bureau, March 2005), p. 134 (author’s translation).

8. Atomic Energy Commission of Japan, “White Paper on Nuclear Energy 2003 (Summary),” p. 14.

9. Steve Fetter and Frank N. von Hippel, “Is U.S. Reprocessing Worth the Risk,” Arms Control Today, September 2005, pp. 6-12.

10. Ibid.

11. Fetter and von Hippel note that “reprocessing and recycling as currently practiced in France and planned in Japan do not reduce the amount of repository area required for the disposal of radioactive wastes.” Ibid.

12. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, “Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Program,” February 2003 (fact sheet).

13. Atomic Energy Commission of Japan, “Interim Report on Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy,” November 12, 2004 (author’s translation).

14. Islamic Republic News Agency, “Kharrazi Addresses NPT Review Confab,” May 4, 2005.

15. Wade Boese, “No Consensus on Nuclear Supply Rules,” Arms Control Today, September 2005, p. 41.

16. For a set of five multilateral nuclear approaches proposed by an international experts group appointed by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, see Miles A. Pomper, “Fuel Cycle Recommendations,” Arms Control Today, March 2005, p. 9.

17. Yoshiki Mine, Statement at the Plenary Meeting of the NPT Review Conference, May 17, 2005.


Japan Seeks Missile Defense Interceptors

Wade Boese

The Pentagon informed Congress May 5 that Japan has asked to buy nine ship-based missiles, which the island nation intends to deploy by 2007 as part of an initial missile defense capability.

Japan’s estimated $725 million purchase follows a Dec. 19, 2003, government decision to acquire missile defense systems. Japanese lawmakers subsequently approved approximately $1 billion for the effort during their current fiscal year, which began April 1.

Initially, one of Japan’s four Aegis-equipped destroyers will be outfitted to launch the requested Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which is designed to protect against short- and medium-range ballistic missile attacks. Since 2002, the United States has successfully destroyed a target in four of five intercept tests involving the SM-3, although an April report by the General Accounting Office described the tests as “highly scripted.” (See ACT, May 2004.)

Over the next several years, Japan plans to arm additional ships with SM-3 missiles and replace its existing six land-based Patriot missile defense batteries with newer-model Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems, according to a Japanese government official interviewed May 14.

Concerned about North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, Japan began missile defense cooperation with the United States in 1999 but limited its activities to research.

Legislators from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party have proposed amending the country’s existing arms trade controls, which prohibit weapons exports, in anticipation of U.S.-Japanese missile defense cooperation evolving beyond research. The government is currently reviewing possible modifications.

Despite its close relationship with the United States, Japan says that its missile defense will not be tied into a global U.S. system. Its proposed defense “aims at defending Japan, will be operated based on Japan’s independent judgment, and will not be used for the purpose of defending third countries,” the government announced in December.





A Disillusioned Japan Confronts North Korea

Matake Kamiya

North Korea’s recent nuclear brinkmanship might have alarmed the United States and escalated tension in Northeast Asia, but it has not shocked Japan, already inclined to think the worst of Pyongyang. Japanese attitudes toward North Korea, which had already shifted since the end of the Cold War, hardened still further in August 1998 when Pyongyang sent a Taepo Dong missile flying over Japan. Any remaining Japanese sympathy for Pyongyang was largely dispelled by North Korea’s admission last fall that it had abducted several Japanese citizens.

As distrustful as they are of Pyongyang, however, Japan still clings to its postwar pacifist external posture that seeks to avoid forceful actions that might lead to confrontations with other countries.1 As a result, Tokyo has hewn to a policy of relative diplomatic silence, although it has begun to rethink its longer-term military strategy.

The decision by Japanese officials to downplay Pyongyang’s recent nuclear gambits marks a sharp contrast with the agitated reaction of Tokyo after the Taepo Dong test in 1998. That year, the Diet—Japan’s parliament—unanimously passed a resolution of protest against North Korea; Tokyo refused to resume talks on normalizing relations between the two countries and cut off future food aid to the North.

But in the latest crisis, which began in October when North Korea reportedly told a visiting U.S. delegation about its secret uranium-enrichment program, Tokyo has stayed on the sidelines. The lack of countermeasures is particularly noteworthy because Pyongyang appears to have violated a key provision in the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, signed barely half a month before by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. In that document, “[b]oth sides confirmed that, for an overall resolution of the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula, they would comply with all related international agreements.”2

In an October 2002 press conference, immediately after the U.S. announcement about North Korea’s nuclear admission, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that “the process toward normalization of the relations [between Japan and North Korea] will never proceed if North Korea breaks its word.” At the same time, however, he emphasized that talk and diplomacy with the North had to be maintained because, “if we do not talk with North Korea and leave it alone, its nuclear development program may advance further.”3 Normalization talks between the two countries took place as scheduled in Kuala Lumpur in late October, although they failed to produce any constructive results.

The Japanese public has also reacted quite calmly to the news of North Korea’s nuclear admission. They have not panicked in the face of a series of provocative actions taken in rapid succession by Pyongyang since last October, such as expelling International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors; announcing its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); restarting its frozen nuclear reactor in Yongbyon; and, according to U.S. officials, acknowledging that it had nuclear weapons and threatening to test or export them. Since the last nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula from 1993 to 1994, many outside observers have insisted that resurgence of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program might cause Japan to reconsider its own decision to forgo nuclear weapons. Despite such speculation, however, so far only a small number of extremists have taken such a stance.

Becoming Aware of the Threat

The relatively low-key Japanese reaction to the renewed North Korean nuclear crisis reflects the perception that North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is not an isolated issue but part of a broader “North Korea problem” that includes disputes over nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles (Nodong as well as Taepo Dong), abductions, and the dispatch of North Korean spy ships to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Since the early 1990s, deep suspicions and misgivings about North Korea have grown in Japan. During the Cold War, the strong leftist orientation of many Japanese journalists encouraged reporting quite sympathetic to Pyongyang. Influenced by such reports, the Japanese people held a relatively benign image of North Korea through the late 1980s. Since the end of the Cold War, however, Japanese media reports about North Korea have become more objective. Consequently, the Japanese have become more familiar with the strange belief system shared among North Korean leaders, the extremely oppressive nature of the regime in Pyongyang, and the history of North Korea’s anti-Japan activities, such as the abduction of Japanese citizens to advance its espionage efforts in the 1970s and 1980s.

From 1993 to 1994, when Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs were disclosed, the Japanese began to recognize North Korea as a potential threat to their security. Then came the launching of the Taepo Dong on August 31, 1998. The shock that it gave to the Japanese was arguably comparable to the one the Soviet launching of Sputnik in October 1957 gave to the Americans. For most Japanese, the launching was the first occasion in the postwar period in which they really felt their country was being immediately threatened by a hostile external power. Although Japan had confronted Russian (Soviet) and Chinese military power for decades, most Japanese never perceived these threats as immediate, given their protection under the U.S. military umbrella.

In the case of the Taepo Dong, however, the very fact that North Korea launched a missile that actually flew over the main island of Japan and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean was enough to send shivers up just about every Japanese spine. The possibility that North Korea, viewed by most Japanese as the most enigmatic and unpredictable country in the region, had the capability to attack Japan with its ballistic missiles was horrifying. The North Korean spy ship incidents that took place in March 1999 and in December 2001 further intensified the perceived threat from Pyongyang.4

From Goodwill to Reciprocity

Despite this series of provocative actions taken by Pyongyang against Japan, Tokyo maintained a conciliatory posture toward the North until the end of 2000. It hoped that a patient show of goodwill would encourage Pyongyang to negotiate the long list of issues between the two countries, including the normalization of diplomatic relations. At the same time, the Japanese government maintained its assistance to North Korea, particularly food aid, without receiving anything in return from Pyongyang. Only in the short period after the Taepo Dong incident did Tokyo take any retaliatory measures for Pyongyang’s provocative actions toward Japan.

By the end of 2000, however, there was growing sentiment among foreign policy elites in Tokyo questioning the validity of such an approach toward Pyongyang. Arguing that Japan had received little in return for its cooperation with North Korea, Tokyo started to pursue a new policy line toward the country based on the principle of reciprocity. The Japanese government made it clear that, if Pyongyang wanted to obtain food and other forms of assistance, it first had to demonstrate in concrete terms its own goodwill toward Japan.

Further fueling Tokyo’s hard-line approach was the grave impact of the first ever Japan-North Korea summit meeting on September 17, 2002. Before Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang, many in Japan were hopeful about the possibilities for improving relations between the two Asian countries. Many experts argued that North Korea—eager to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan in order to avoid being targeted by the United States as a “second Iraq” and to obtain desperately needed economic assistance—might be prepared to make substantial concessions on the pending problems between the two countries. These included resolving questions about whether or not Pyongyang had endorsed the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kim Jong Il actually took some steps at the summit meeting with Koizumi that appeared to address Japanese concerns and certainly astonished North Korea watchers all over the world. He admitted that his country had abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s and made a verbal apology for doing so. He also acknowledged sending spy ships into Japan’s territorial waters and EEZ and promised that such incidents would not recur.

Although Kim obviously expected that such confessions would greatly improve Japanese sentiment toward his country, the plan actually backfired. The Japanese public was outraged by Pyongyang’s explanation that eight out of 13 abductees had died at quite young ages.5 Pyongyang’s response to Tokyo’s demand to provide detailed information about those eight people, including the causes of their death, added fuel to the fire. Most Japanese believed that North Korea had tried to deceive them by providing highly questionable information.6 Japanese anger toward North Korea grew even further when Pyongyang declared at the normalization talks in late October that the abduction issue had already been solved; it is widely believed in Japan that tens or hundreds more Japanese were actually kidnapped by the North in the past.

The resurgence of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, therefore, took place at a time when the reputation and credibility of North Korea among the Japanese public had already hit rock bottom. At the same time, North Korea’s previous nuclear and missile threats might have irritated Tokyo, but they ironically and unintentionally have also given Japan confidence that Pyongyang, despite its harsh rhetoric and confrontational postures, is effectively deterred by the U.S.-Japan alliance. Tokyo has grown accustomed to the way Pyongyang speaks and behaves. In other words, the Japanese have acquired immunity to North Korean provocations. Consequently, even the recent warning issued by Pyongyang that Japan should recognize that it is “within the striking range of [North Korea]” and should behave well7 barely induced any reaction from the Japanese public.

Consequently, the Japanese public has strongly demanded that the government not make any concession on the nuclear issue, as well as on abductions, because they do not view North Korea as a trustworthy negotiating partner. Reflecting these views, the Koizumi administration has repeatedly emphasized that there will be no normalization of relations and no economic assistance to the North until the nuclear and abduction issues are solved. This policy line is similar to the Bush administration’s stance that the United States is ready to consider taking a “bold approach” toward Pyongyang but only after it verifiably abandons its nuclear weapons programs.

Japan’s Interests

There are, however, at least two significant differences between Japan’s North Korea policy and that of the United States. First, although aiming earnestly at the termination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Japan has more to fear from a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula. Separated from the peninsula by the sea, almost the entire territory of Japan is believed to be within the range of Pyongyang’s Nodong missiles. If the United States uses military forces against North Korea, Japan is unlikely to remain safe.

The Koizumi administration understands that U.S. military pressure is necessary both to deter North Korea and to achieve a peaceful solution of the current nuclear crisis. At the outset of the Iraq war in March 2003, Koizumi maintained that the U.S.-Japan alliance “functions as a strong deterrent force against a country which is ready to attack Japan. Japan should not forget about it.”8

At the same time, however, the Japanese government does not want to see the United States rush to resolve the crisis militarily; Tokyo is particularly worried that the United States, inspired by its success in Iraq, might seek regime change in Pyongyang. As the final report of the Task Force on Foreign Relations for Prime Minister Koizumi maintained, the prime objective of Japan’s North Korea policy is not to overthrow Kim Jong Il’s regime but to persuade Pyongyang to stop taking harmful actions externally and to initiate gradual reform of its political and economic system domestically.9

Second, although Washington remains focused on the nuclear issue, the Japanese government wants the nuclear and abduction issues resolved simultaneously. Despite repeated assurances by the United States that it will raise the abduction issue when it has contact with North Korean authorities, Tokyo is worried that the United States might decide to sacrifice the abduction issue if North Korea shows a willingness to make significant concessions on the nuclear issue.

Recognizing these differences, the Japanese government has insisted that the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development be discussed within a multilateral framework that includes Japan. On an assumption that the North desperately needs Japan’s money to escape from the current economic crisis, Tokyo judges that it can utilize economic assistance as its negotiating leverage against Pyongyang. It has been widely assumed among the Japanese that Japan, at some stage of the process to normalize relations with North Korea, will have to give Pyongyang a substantial amount of economic assistance as a quasi-reparation for Japan’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, as it did to South Korea in the 1965 normalization treaty. Until the Koizumi-Kim Jong Il summit last September, there had been a dispute between Japan and North Korea on the timing of such assistance. North Korea demanded that the colonial settlement precede the normalization of relations. The Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, however, clearly stated that Japan’s economic cooperation to the North would be provided only “after the normalization.”

Washington’s decision to start trilateral talks with only Pyongyang and Beijing was, therefore, disappointing to Tokyo, despite official support from the Japanese government. Taku Yamazaki, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, even complained that “a multilateral talk without Japan and South Korea cannot be accepted.”10 There is a widespread consensus in Japan that the trilateral framework must be expanded to include these two countries as soon as possible.

Reconsidering Passive Defense

Pyongyang’s attempt to obtain nuclear weapons, together with its earlier acquisition of ballistic missile capabilities, has made it obvious to Japan that its long-cherished passive defense posture poses a severe handicap in dealing with a country such as North Korea.

Throughout the post-World War II period, Japan has maintained the remarkably self-restrained military posture of “exclusively defensive defense.” Within that framework, Japan has deliberately eschewed long-range power projection capabilities so that its Self-Defense Forces remain essentially nonthreatening to other countries. Australian security experts Andrew Mack and Pauline Kerr argued in 1995 that only Japan’s military posture fit closely with the precepts of “non-provocative defense” in the Asia-Pacific region at that time.11

Today, the Japanese people still want to maintain the passive defense posture in which they take great pride. As long as Japan sustains that posture, however, the offensive capability of the Self-Defense Forces will remain severely limited, and Japan by itself will never be able to deter, prevent, nor retaliate against attacks by enemies who are armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

The further the North Korean nuclear weapons program develops, the more difficult this dilemma becomes for Japan. Going nuclear will not be a desirable way for Japan to resolve this dilemma, but some Japanese security experts and politicians have started to discuss possible ways to modify Japan’s exclusively defensive defense posture by strengthening its conventional weapons capability without provoking its neighbors. Under the traditional posture, the Japanese government has interpreted Japan’s postwar “Peace Constitution” to allow the country to use military force only to exercise the right of self-defense to the extent minimally necessary to repel aggressors. Japan has limited its defense efforts within the realm of defense in the narrowest sense and has relied on the United States for offensive and deterrent capabilities.

Since the Taepo Dong firing in 1998, however, there has been a growing, although still small, voice among the Japanese security circle that Japan should not shy away from facing up to the reality that effective defense requires some offensive capability. Shigeru Ishiba, director-general of Japan’s Defense Agency, has recently mentioned that it is worthwhile for Japan to consider an option to obtain the capability to attack ballistic missile sites of hostile countries,12 but Koizumi has expressed his unwillingness to do so.13

Although the majority of the Japanese people seem to be reluctant to change the basic framework of Japan’s decades-old “exclusively defensive defense” security posture in the near future, the public support for Japan’s acquisition of its own reconnaissance satellites, as well as for Japan’s participation in joint research on theater missile defense with the United States, increased suddenly and sharply after the 1998 Taepo Dong shooting. Japan successfully launched its first reconnaissance satellite March 28, 2003.

In the face of press reports that North Korea admitted at the U.S.-North Korea-China trilateral talks from April 23 to April 24 in Beijing that it already possesses nuclear weapons, the Japanese “government has reacted [to this news] cool-headedly,”14 and the Japanese public has also stayed calm. The long-term effect of the current North Korean nuclear crisis on Japanese security policy, however, could be significant, giving further impetus to shifts in Japan’s defense posture.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent those of the National Defense Academy of Japan or of Japan’s Defense Agency.

1. Thomas U. Berger, “From Sword to Chrysanthemum: Japan’s Culture of Anti-Militarism,” International Security, 17, no. 4 (Spring 1993).

2. “Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration,” September 17, 2002.

3. Yomiuri Shinbun, October 18, 2003.

4. The details of North Korean spy ship activities against Japan remain a mystery. It has been rumored for a long time that such ships frequently intrude into Japan’s territorial waters and EEZ in order to gather information, replace spies stationed in Japan, smuggle drugs into Japan, and even abduct Japanese citizens. In March 1999, two vessels that were suspected to be spy ships from the North were found off the coast of Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture and off the coast of Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. It was confirmed that the ships, which the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and the Maritime Self-Defense Force chased but failed to capture, ran to a North Korean port. In December 2001, another North Korean spy ship that was heavily armed was found in Japan’s EEZ in the East China Sea. After being chased for many hours, it exchanged fire with and was sunk by the JCG patrol boats.

5. According to the explanation provided by North Korea, four abductees died in their twenties, two in their thirties, and two in their forties.

6. For example, according to North Korea, most of the eight people died due to unnatural reasons such as a car accident, drowning, carbon monoxide poisoning, and suicide. Moreover, among errors with regard to birth dates and home addresses (in Japan) that were found in the death certificates of those people that were handed from Pyongyang to Tokyo, many coincided with inaccurate information that the Japanese side mistakenly gave to North Korea several years earlier.

7. “KCNA Urges Japan to Behave With Discretion,” Korean Central News Agency, April 15, 2003.

8. Yomiuri Shinbun, March 21, 2003.

9. Taigai Kankei Tasukufosu, “21 Seiki Nihon Gaiko no Kihon Senryaku,” November 28, 2002, p. 13.

10. Nihon Keizai Shinbun, April 17, 2003.

11. Andrew Mack and Pauline Kerr, “The Evolving Security Discourse in the Asia-Pacific,” Weapons Proliferation in the 1990s, ed. Brad Roberts (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), p. 404.

12. Yomiuri Shinbun, March 27, 2003, evening ed.

13. Yomiuri Shinbun, March 28, 2003.

14. Asahi Shinbun, April 25, 2003, evening ed.

Matake Kamiya is an associate professor of international relations at the National Defense Academy of Japan.


U.S., Japan Extend Missile Defense Cooperation

The United States and Japan finalized an agreement in late February to continue joint research on a sea-based missile defense system designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Details of the agreement are scarce because its contents are to be kept confidential, according to a U.S. Defense Department official.

Joint U.S.-Japanese cooperation on missile defense began in 1999. The two countries agreed to work together on creating a new nose cone, a second-stage propulsion system, an infrared seeker, and a hit-to-kill warhead for the Standard Missile-3. The Standard Missile-3 is the missile used in the U.S. sea-based missile defense system, which successfully destroyed targets in three intercept tests in 2002, although a recent Pentagon report described the tests as “simplistic.” (See ACT, March 2003.)

Under the new agreement, this past cooperation will continue and include future flight tests. The Japanese government, however, has not yet decided whether it will continue cooperation beyond the research phase to actual development and deployment.

Japanese Aide's Comments On Nuclear Policy Spark Controversy

July/August 2002

Alex Wagner

On May 31, a senior Japanese official suggested that Tokyo could revise its longstanding policy of forswearing nuclear weapons but was forced to issue a retraction after his remarks provoked widespread condemnation.

Speaking to reporters, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that “in the face of calls to amend the [no-war provisions of the Japanese] constitution, the amendment of the principles is also possible,” according to Japan’s Kyodo News Agency.

Fukuda was referring to Japan’s three non-nuclear principles, which state that Tokyo will never produce, possess, or allow nuclear weapons on its territory. These principles were set out in the late 1960s by then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and have been subsequently endorsed by successive Japanese governments.

Fukada did not allow reporters to quote him by name, but harsh domestic criticism to his comments fueled by opposition leaders forced Fukuda to claim responsibility for and to back away from the initially anonymous remarks. “I only said there is a chance the government could take another look at the three non-nuclear principles in the future,” Fukuda clarified on June 3, according to The New York Times. “There is absolutely no chance that this cabinet will discuss revising these principles,” he added.

During a June 10 parliamentary session, Fukuda told Japanese lawmakers that his “remarks did not indicate the government’s future policy” and that he was not advocating a review of the principles, Kyodo News reported. At that session, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also made clear that his government did not support revising the non-nuclear principles, saying there would be “no change” in its policy on the issue.

Even if Japan were to renounce or revise its policy, the government would have to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—which bars it from possessing nuclear weapons—and abolish domestic law that restricts nuclear development to civil use before it could build nuclear weapons.

Japan’s neighbors quickly reacted to the remarks, articulating varying degrees of concern. On June 4, China’s foreign ministry spokesman called the remarks “really shocking” and noted that “they obviously run counter” to Japanese policy. Two days later, North Korea’s state-run news agency blasted the remarks as an “ill-boding act,” warning that “Japanese militarists are well advised to behave with discretion, mindful of what disaster their reckless moves for nuclear armament will bring.” South Korean officials also expressed concern.

Because Japan was attacked with atomic bombs during World War II, the Japanese political environment is particularly sensitive to nuclear issues. In 1999 the Japanese foreign minister resigned after suggesting that the parliament should consider arming Japan with nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 1999.) This past April, the leader of Japan’s opposition Liberal Democratic Party also sparked controversy by stating that Japan could produce “thousands of nuclear warheads overnight” and that it would be “easy” for Tokyo to develop nuclear weapons.

On May 31, a senior Japanese official suggested that Tokyo could revise its longstanding policy of forswearing nuclear weapons but was forced to issue a retraction after his remarks provoked widespread condemnation.

New Ambitions, Old Obstacles: Japan and Its Search For an Arms Control Strategy

July/August 2000

By Michael J. Green and Katsuhisa Furukawa

In all of the excitement about the "rise" of China in East Asia, the world has largely forgotten that there are actually two rising powers in the region. Though China's hubris is often more striking, Japan also aspires to play a larger political and security role in international affairs. And while China's current transformation is captivating because it could take several different paths, it should not be forgotten that Japan has also entered its own prolonged period of political, economic, and security transition.

Notable changes in Japanese security policy used to come about once every five or 10 years. But in the past few years there has been a flurry of activity. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces have used live fire to chase off intruding North Korean spy ships—the first such action since World War II. Japan is indigenously developing intelligence satellites. After decades of rejecting patriotism as an illegitimate sentiment, the Japanese Diet has approved the national anthem and flag as the official symbols of the state. The Diet has also established two new commissions to begin deliberations on the feasibility of revising the Japanese Constitution, including the "no-war" clause in Article Nine, which rejects the use of force in international relations. Indeed, 60 percent of the public now favors changing the constitution, including Article Nine.

Japan's friends and neighbors are trying to make sense of these changes. There is certainly a degree of nationalism and insecurity behind these moves—an unsurprising development given that the Japanese economy has been stagnant for almost a decade in the face of impressive growth in the United States and elsewhere in Asia. But there is also a healthy dose of realism in the changes in Japan's security outlook. After years of national complacency about the post-Cold War security environment in Northeast Asia, Japan has woken up to the threat presented by the North Korean Taepo Dong missiles and the uncertainties about China's role in the region. Many Japanese have also begun to focus on the need for coherent strategic priorities at a time of declining relative economic resources. Into this mix of insecurity and realism has been thrown generational change as a new crop of Japanese political leadership emerges that is removed from war guilt and more confident in Japan's potential strategic voice in international affairs.

Some analysts have warned about the potential re-emergence of Japanese nationalism and even militarism, but there are many areas of reassuring continuity in Japan's view of its world role. Polls show that the alliance with the United States retains its broadest support in both countries in 14 years, despite nagging disagreements about bases and other issues. The Japanese have also developed an impressive civil society and have not lost their aversion to the use of force in international relations. And the Japanese remain strongly opposed to nuclear weapons. Or do they?

The Japanese approach to nuclear energy development, global nuclear disarmament, and the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent has always been a jumble of contradictions. The Japanese have forsworn nuclear weapons, yet polls show that their neighbors do not completely believe them because of the large Japanese plutonium-recycling program and ongoing rocket and satellite development. A large majority of Japanese newspapers, academics, and government officials urge total global nuclear disarmament, yet Tokyo is acutely sensitive to the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella on which it depends for its own deterrence and non-nuclear posture. Japan tries to play a leadership role in global non-proliferation policies, yet the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spends more time and money keeping an eye on Japan's nuclear programs than any other because Japan disposes of massive amounts of nuclear materials each year.

As Japan attempts to establish a larger strategic voice in international affairs, these contradictions are becoming a hindrance. Thus far, none of the pillars of Japan's nuclear policy has shifted in any fundamental way, but the United States should no longer take for granted that Japanese policies on nuclear disarmament or nuclear strategy will remain unchanged. It is highly unlikely that Japan will try to develop its own nuclear deterrent, but the debate about nuclear weapons and disarmament has become far more fluid than in the past, and Japan's search for an independent voice on these issues should not be discounted. The extended U.S. nuclear deterrent will increasingly come under scrutiny in Japan, as will the U.S. commitment to arms control. The United States will soon find itself responding to Japanese initiatives on both strategy and arms control in an unprecedented way. It is therefore important to forge a proactive partnership with Japan in these areas.


Japan's Stance on Nuclear Weapons

The October 1999 issue of Playboy Japan ran an interview with Shingo Nishimura, the new vice minister of the Japan Defense Agency (JDA), in which Nishimura argued that Japan's failure to consider possessing nuclear weapons left the nation open to "rape" in the international system. Nishimura was promptly forced to resign, though he was sent from the JDA headquarters with full military honors.

The Nishimura incident revealed several things about contemporary Japanese nuclear policy. First, there are still a handful of older right-wing politicians who harbor visions of a fully remilitarized Japan-as there always have been. Second, their views on nuclear weapons (and in this case the cavalier discussion of rape) are still unacceptable to the general public. But a third insight was revealed in the debate among politicians in the wake of the Nishimura interview as well: while it is still inappropriate to advocate nuclear weapons for Japan, it is no longer taboo to discuss nuclear strategy and the hypothetical possibility that Japan could require such weapons some day. Younger politicians in particular are more conversant and comfortable with nuclear strategic issues. Indeed, a significant number of second-generation politicians in the Diet are graduates of international studies programs in the United States. They are not looking to change Japan's basic nuclear stance, but they understand concepts like mutually assured destruction, and they are conversant with the logic of nuclear deterrence. And they are paying attention to make certain that the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent is credible.

Traditionally, Japan's nuclear policy has had three institutional pillars. The first pillar has rested on the so-called three non-nuclear principles, which prohibit Japan from manufacturing, possessing, or permitting the entry of nuclear weapons into the country or its air or sea space. These principles were first enunciated by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1968 and were formalized in a 1971 Diet resolution. The second pillar is the 1955 Atomic Energy Basic Law, which specifically limits the use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes. The third pillar is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Japan signed in 1970 and agreed to extend indefinitely in 1995.

However, these legal and policy instruments derive from a more fundamental source: the fact that the United States extends its own nuclear deterrent to Japan. Thus, while government regulations and the so-called nuclear allergy explain why Japan does not have nuclear weapons, it is ultimately the alliance with the United States that makes nuclear weapons unnecessary and means that Japan's ideational and institutional constraints do not have to be tested.

Because the United States is an independent actor, though, Japanese governments in the past have quietly examined the nuclear option at times of fundamental strategic shift in the international system. During the 1965 U.S.-Japan summit, Prime Minister Sato explicitly told President Lyndon Johnson that he felt Japan should acquire nuclear weapons if China had them.1 In 1969, he told the U.S. ambassador to Japan that the three non-nuclear principles were nonsense, and he lamented the Japanese public's lack of understanding of national defense issues.2

Nevertheless, when Sato secretly commissioned an advisory study group in 1967 to examine whether it was possible and desirable for Japan to develop its own nuclear forces, the panel concluded that a nuclear weapons program was not desirable because it would be too expensive, fail to engender domestic support, and generate regional security dilemmas.3 More recently, in 1995, an internal study group in the Japan Defense Agency prepared a report for internal use entitled, "A Report Concerning the Problems of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction." It concluded that a nuclear weapons program was undesirable because the costs would be high and the benefits few.4

It would be extremely difficult and risky for Japan to develop an overt program. A covert program seems even less likely because Japan's nuclear power program is so thoroughly monitored by the IAEA that the diversion of fissile material for weapons purposes would almost certainly be discovered.5 However, like many industrialized countries, Japan has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, it has accumulated a wide range of experience and expertise in satellite systems, rockets, and plutonium recycling. These capabilities function already as a "virtual deterrent" against other nuclear powers—though the Japanese government itself has never hinted at such a strategy.

Changes in the international environment could prompt Japan to move closer to nuclear weapons development. Morton Halperin, director of the policy planning staff at the State Department, has argued that Japan might develop nuclear weapons under three conditions: a consensus in Japan that the United States could no longer be counted on to defend Japan; the development of a Korean nuclear capability; or a lack of progress in nuclear disarmament, coupled with an expansion of the Chinese nuclear capability.6

These conditions would not necessarily lead Japan directly to the development of nuclear weapons. A more likely scenario would be a prolonged series of gestures to make the virtual deterrent increasingly explicit to warn the nuclear states or new proliferators in the region of the need for disarmament or to press the United States to re-establish credibility in its alliance commitments and extended deterrent.

But nor are these conditions purely hypothetical—in some respects they have already been realized. The prospect of further progress on nuclear disarmament has already been shaken by the failure of the U.S. Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in October 1999 and the obstinacy of the nuclear powers at the 2000 NPT review conference. For many Japanese, the credibility of the U.S. commitment to Japan has been called into question on several occasions. In the wake of the August 1998 North Korean launch of the Taepo Dong missile over Japan, for example, Tokyo responded with sanctions and harsh rhetoric, but Washington's initial response was tepid. Worried about domestic reactions, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) demanded a formal U.S. statement that the United States would defend Japan against missile attacks from North Korea—something that should have been self-evident from the Mutual Security Treaty. Then Tokyo decided to embark on an indigenous reconnaissance satellite program, in large part because of concerns that Washington was not sharing full intelligence on the North Korean threat.

Meanwhile, after years of listening to Washington explain the need for bilateral cooperation on theater missile defenses (TMD), Tokyo has agreed to participate in joint research and committed $10 million in fiscal year 1999 for work on the U.S. Navy Theater Wide Defense.7 That is good news for U.S.-Japan relations, of course, but it also shows that Japan has bought into the logic of missile defense—that deterrence alone is insufficient against rogue states and that the nuclear umbrella after the Cold War may in fact have some holes in it. Moreover, in criticizing TMD, Beijing has argued that Japanese participation would undermine China's deterrent, and not a few Japanese observers have logically concluded from this that China must therefore target Japan with nuclear weapons despite Beijing's declared policy of no use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. This has further raised Japan's sensitivity to nuclear threats in the neighborhood.

TMD has also brought into the nuclear strategy debate a broader group of players than the original cadre in the Foreign Ministry that quietly managed the U.S. nuclear umbrella for so many decades. The Japan Defense Agency, politicians, and the press are now focused on nuclear deterrence and stability questions in a new way because missile defense has given Japan its first tool (albeit a defensive tool) in the game of international nuclear strategy. Indeed, many in MOFA and the JDA speak of the need to continue with TMD as a tool for international arms control vis-à-vis China, Russia, and North Korea. U.S.-Japan joint research on TMD is an excellent idea given the proliferation threat in Japan's neighborhood, but it has broader implications for the Japanese approach to nuclear strategy.

None of these developments is pushing Japan toward nuclear weapons at this point, but they have introduced fluidity and an element of uncertainty that comes at a time of transition in Japanese domestic politics and regional security relations. It therefore behooves the United States to be extremely sensitive to how its own nuclear policies and strategic posture in Asia play in Japan at a time of heightened sensitivity to and insecurity about the external environment.


A New Assertiveness

At the same time that Japan's strategic culture is demonstrating a heightened sensitivity to regional threats and the regional balance of power (particularly vis-à-vis China), Tokyo is also under pressure to demonstrate a larger and more independent strategic voice in international affairs. In "Challenge 21," a March 1999 policy- planning document that outlines Japanese diplomatic strategy, the Foreign Ministry argued that Japan must maintain its "weight" in international relations at a time of economic stagnation by asserting itself in non-economic areas of diplomacy. In particular, "Challenge 21" noted the necessity of tapping into the Japanese public's growing awareness of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and recommended that Japan "redouble its efforts to control and reduce them."8

Picking-up on this theme, the Prime Minister's Commission on Japan's Goals in the 21st Century argued in its January 2000 report:

The world of the twenty-first century cannot necessarily expect a firm order centering on the United States. The world is too broad, too diverse, and too volatile to allow a Pax Americana to extend to every corner of the globe.... Of particular concern is the fact that during the 1990s the United States tended to incline away from strong support for the international "public purpose" and toward action based on simplistic self-interest.9 This U.S. divergence from "public purpose" is apparent to Japanese observers in the U.S. Senate's rejection of the CTBT and Washington's decreasing attention to the United Nations. Many in Tokyo argue that now is the time for Japan to make its mark as an "international global power" committed to arms control and disarmament, even if it causes a gap with the United States. Such a course would not be without its dangers. As Japanese journalist Yoichi Funabashi wrote in 1998:

[A]n unfortunate consequence may be that the United States misconstrues Japan's rejection of the nuclear status quo as equivocation about the alliance itself. Nevertheless, if Japan is to regain an honorable place in the world, protect Asian stability, and further the cause of nonproliferation, it must send a clearer message about nuclear disarmament.10

The outline of this more assertive diplomacy on non-proliferation was expressed in a 1996 speech by then-Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda, when he said Japan would work for the completion of the CTBT; the prohibition of the production of weapons-grade fissionable material; further reductions of nuclear arsenals; further dismantling of nuclear weapons; and the management and disposal of fissile materials derived from dismantled nuclear weapons.11

Japan has pursued these goals in several ways. First, for seven consecutive years Japan has introduced resolutions on nuclear disarmament to the UN General Assembly, which have usually been adopted unanimously. Japan also took the lead in the General Assembly on establishing an international arms registry, which was eventually backed by the United Kingdom and other European nations in 1992. Since 1989, Japan has hosted the UN Conference on Disarmament Issues, and from August 1998 to July 1999, Japan hosted four meetings—the "Tokyo Forum"—to discuss international non-proliferation in the wake of the May 1998 South Asian nuclear tests.

Second, Japan has been a reliable party to the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Biological Weapons Convention. In addition, Japan has provided financial and technical assistance for the completion of the CTBT, hosting a series of preliminary conferences on completing CTBT negotiations and actively assisting the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organization. In order to enhance the effectiveness of the CTBT's verification and implementation mechanism, Japan has also supported improvements in nuclear testing detection techniques and has offered to train experts from developing countries in the field of seismology.12

Third, Japan has used its economic resources and bilateral diplomacy to discourage the development of nuclear weapons and to help with the decommissioning of submarines and the disposal of plutonium in the former Soviet Union. Japan's 1992 Official Development Assistance (ODA) Charter requires reconsideration of assistance to nations developing weapons of mass destruction. Under its "Silk Road" diplomacy, Japan has offered support for the foundation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia and the provision of humanitarian and developmental assistance to the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan, where numerous nuclear tests have been conducted.13 Japan has also offered medical assistance programs for those who have suffered from radiation sickness. In addition, Japan has begun assisting Russia's denuclearization efforts. Japan disbursed $100 million between 1994 and 1999 and announced an additional $200 million contribution in June 1999 for submarine decommissioning and plutonium disposition.14 Assistance to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus includes such projects as the establishment of a state system to account for and control nuclear materials.15

These steps are significant, but many Japanese scholars and government officials are frustrated that they do not yet add up to an independent and fully credible voice for Japan on international non-proliferation and arms control issues. The January 2000 report of the prime minister's commission urged Japan to "take a joint initiative for the common global interest together with Australia, Canada, Germany, the Scandinavian nations, and others that have ample technology and capacity to equip themselves with nuclear arms but deliberately refrain from doing so." The commission expressed its frustration over the institutional fragility of the existing NPT regime and called for Japan and the other non-nuclear-weapon states to look for ways to dissuade states from acquiring nuclear weapons and to persuade the nuclear powers to further reduce their arsenals. Even Japan's opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has urged that Japan "renew [its] consciousness of the importance of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation" and has called for Japan to play a more independent and proactive role in this arena.16

Based on this consensus that the nation should demonstrate more leadership in non-proliferation and arms control, Tokyo has tried to seize the high ground on two recent occasions: after the South Asian nuclear tests and at the 2000 NPT review conference. The episodes demonstrate both Tokyo's new ambition and the continuing constraints and contradictions that it faces.

Tokyo saw an opportunity to raise its diplomatic profile on non-proliferation after the South Asian nuclear tests—a development that appalled the Japanese press and public. After the tests, Tokyo froze new grants and yen loans, consistent with its ODA Charter, which requires a review of aid to recipients pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Japan also introduced and cosponsored a resolution in the United Nations condemning the tests.

But those steps were not enough. Tokyo also wanted to play a "leading role in finding a new framework to keep nuclear arms from spreading," in the words of senior Foreign Ministry officials.17 The government of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto therefore proposed a nuclear non-proliferation forum that would address South Asian security concerns while calling on the permanent members of the UN Security Council to strive for nuclear disarmament. Tokyo's gesture was an attempt to strengthen the case for Japanese participation in a June 4, 1998, meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council in Geneva on the South Asian tests, but the move backfired. Suspicious of Japanese intentions, the members excluded Japan. As one U.S. official put it, the United States was eager to work with Japan, but "Tokyo's emphasis on Article VI echoed India's rhetoric and created unease in the [State] Department."18 Instead, MOFA had to be content with establishing the Track II (or unofficial) Tokyo Forum.

Tokyo's next chance to call attention to its non-proliferation objectives came with this year's review of the implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations. Even before the outset of the conference, Japan had been very active on NPT-related issues. In October 1999, Japan chaired a conference in Vienna on facilitating the CTBT's entry into force, and it took the initiative of sending high-level missions to the countries that had not yet signed or ratified the treaty and helping persuade them to do so. Japan's concerted actions with like-minded countries have contributed to ratification by Lithuania, Turkey, Bangladesh, Macedonia, and Chile. Japan also submitted a working paper with Australia at the beginning of the review conference proposing eight measures to further implementation of the NPT, most of which were adopted in the NPT final document.

The NPT review conference opened with intense confrontation between the nuclear-weapon states and the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), a group of seven states calling for more rapid progress in nuclear disarmament. The conference stuck completely when the NAC demanded inclusion of a statement in the final agreement that states should facilitate negotiations for nuclear disarmament by 2005. Japan found a window of opportunity as a mediator between the two parties, producing compromise language that called on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue an "unequivocal undertaking" to accomplish total nuclear disarmament, without specifying any timeline.19 While Japanese diplomats did not figure in the final deal-making between the NAC and the nuclear powers, Japan's early seizure of the middle ground between the two helped point the way to the language that ultimately appeared in the conference's final document. Japan received praise for its more proactive role, though critics at home claimed that the nuclear-weapon states should have been pressed much harder on disarmament.20


Japan's Constraints

Tokyo's arms control diplomacy—particularly after the South Asian tests and during the NPT review conference—reveals both the Japanese potential to carve a larger role in international non-proliferation policy and the continuing contradictions and constraints that have hampered that role. Idealism Versus Realism

At the core of Japan's dilemma on non-proliferation and arms control is the contradiction between the Japanese people's traditional idealism about the abolition of nuclear weapons on the one hand, and their growing realism about the threatening security environment in Northeast Asia on the other. Some Japanese scholars have argued that Tokyo should abandon the U.S. nuclear umbrella in order to establish full credibility in non-proliferation policy, but the mainstream foreign policy community recognizes that this would be a self-defeating and not terribly effective ploy—renewed suspicion of Japanese nuclear intentions would only further undermine Japan's credibility in non-proliferation.

This tension between idealism and realism has grown as Japan's own neighborhood has become more uncertain. The North Korean Taepo Dong missile launch over Japan in August 1998 brought about radical changes in Japanese perceptions of security. For the first time, Japan came within range of possible missile attack from North Korea. What is worse, the missiles could be armed with WMD payloads. Following the test, the Japanese Diet engaged in unprecedented debates about the constitutionality of preemptive military strikes, and subsequent opinion polls showed over a third of the Japanese public thought war was now probable in Northeast Asia.21

Japan is particularly worried about China. Over the past five years, Japan's thinking on China has shifted from a faith in the powers of economic interdependence to a reluctant realism, prompted by China's nuclear weapons tests in 1995, the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, and the dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands. The Japanese government is concerned with China's deployment of over 200 short-range missiles across the strait from Taiwan, a force size projected to triple within five years.22 And, as mentioned, because of Beijing's concerns about a Japanese missile defense system, Tokyo has inferred that China targets Japan with nuclear weapons.

These developments have played against a backdrop of growing bilateral tensions with China over the treatment of wartime history and the future definition of the Asia-Pacific community. Japan still invests heavily in China and provides over $1 billion a year in concessional yen loans. Tokyo clearly wants improved relations with Beijing, if possible. But there is little question in Japan that the U.S. alliance and extended nuclear deterrent will be necessary for years to come to deal with lingering uncertainties about Chinese power and ambition.

Japan therefore faces a real bind. The popular sentiment in Japan is that the nation's status as the only victim of nuclear weapons should give some leverage and moral high ground to Japanese efforts in non-proliferation and arms control. But the reality is that this tragic history counts less in the eyes of China and the Koreas than the persecution those states suffered under Japan's wartime rule. In many respects, Japanese officials can be blind to this fact and are often surprised by the degree of suspicion created by Japanese policy on non-proliferation and nuclear issues.

This was certainly the case with Japan's approach to the NPT in the 1970s and the indefinite extension in 1995. During the negotiations over the indefinite extension in 1993, for example, the Miyazawa government dragged its feet on signing and forced other G-7 members to water down a June 1993 G-7 summit communiqué endorsing quick adoption of indefinite extension. This was not motivated by a desire for nuclear weapons so much as the aim of maintaining maximum diplomatic leverage on North Korea not to withdraw from the NPT and to resume compliance with IAEA inspections. It was also aimed at pushing the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states to reduce their arsenals in accordance with Article VI. Certainly, some Japanese wished to keep the nuclear option open, but Japan's strategy was more a matter of asserting diplomatic leverage. Nevertheless, this idealistic agenda was lost on many outside observers and Japan came under intense international criticism for dangerously hinting at its own nuclear option.

Suspicions About the Plutonium Program

Japan's single-minded focus on energy security also creates a drag on potential Japanese leadership in arms control and non-proliferation and raises suspicion in the region regarding the country's long-term intentions. Because Japan is using nuclear power technologies that most consider inefficient or dangerous, some countries fear that Japan's nuclear energy program might actually be the seed of a nuclear weapons program.

For example, Japan has been building a plant to reprocess the large amounts of surplus plutonium it has accumulated in spent fuel as part of its quest for greater energy independence and commensurate security. It is also currently developing a fast-breeder reactor—a reactor that produces more fissionable material than it consumes—to be fueled by mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX). In the interim, Japan is fueling ordinary light-water reactors with MOX. The Japanese government argues that irradiating plutonium as MOX fuel in power reactors will reduce uranium consumption by 25 percent, thereby decreasing Japan's dependence on imported fuel and benefiting Japan's own energy security.23 The government also maintains that burning plutonium as MOX will reduce the vulnerability of the potentially weapons-usable material, currently contained in spent fuel that is stored in reservoirs.

However, neither of these assertions is accepted by other countries, which view MOX as both too expensive and too risky.24 Japan is also one of the few countries still planning to extract plutonium from spent fuel for civilian purposes. Critics charge that far from guaranteeing energy security and safety, MOX is actually creating new dangers because of the possibility of terrorist attack and diversion—both during sea transportation from reprocessing plants in Europe to Japan, as well as in Japan, once Japan's reprocessing plant becomes operational. In addition, most countries have already abandoned fast-breeder reactor programs, largely because of the technical difficulties they pose. Combining MOX with fast-breeder reactors, the path chosen by Japan, is considered by most to be the least desirable option for generating nuclear power.

Though the future of Japan's plutonium-reprocessing and MOX-fuel programs is uncertain at best—in particular because of the recent accident at the Tokaimura uranium processing plant—Japan's unconventional pursuit of nuclear power continues to raise questions in the region regarding its ultimate intentions.

Shifting U.S. Priorities

Meanwhile, the tension between Japan's reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and its desire for a proactive arms control role has been further exacerbated by the general decline in U.S. political support for Cold War-era arms control agreements. Angered at the U.S. move on the CTBT, Japan dispatched Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ichita Yamamoto to complain to his former Georgetown University professor, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Tokyo was concerned that the Senate decision represented a deliberate move away from Article VI of the NPT and threatened to undermine Russian ratification of START II and future nuclear diplomacy with China. Worst of all, the Senate rejection of the CTBT widened the gap between the Japanese government's dual pledges to help maintain a robust extended U.S. nuclear deterrent and to work for total nuclear disarmament.

Japan has been more muted than Europe on the question of national missile defense (NMD), but leading Japanese figures have nevertheless voiced opposition. As Yoichi Funabashi wrote recently: "Japan must accept the hard reality that the current U.S. NMD debate warrants a serious domestic Japanese discussion of its implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance management process, as the United States could pursue a NMD policy that would be adverse to Japanese interests."25 Official Japan quietly worries that an early NMD deployment decision might increase pressure on Japan from China and Russia not to participate in the parallel TMD system, but it weighs this factor against the need to maintain alliance solidarity with the United States and to defend against the clear and present danger of North Korean—and ultimately Chinese and Russian—ballistic missiles. After all, TMD is NMD for Japan, and Tokyo cannot officially criticize U.S. NMD without undermining domestic support for its own program.

Institutional Weaknesses

Finally, Japan's nuclear non-proliferation policy is also constrained by institutional weakness, both domestic and international. The small Arms Control and Disarmament Division of MOFA, in cooperation with the Science and Nuclear Energy Division, mainly handles these issues, but its expertise is limited. Moreover, MOFA suffers from poor interagency coordination on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation with the JDA, the Science and Technology Agency, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and even MOFA's own North American Affairs Bureau. The larger arms control community is also shallow in expertise. Even at the university level, education focuses exclusively on anti-nuclear or total disarmament, with almost no courses on arms control. The lack of Japanese arms control professionals undermines the degree to which MOFA's small staff can call on outside help or expertise.


New Directions in Policy?

Given the desire for a more assertive voice in international affairs and the constraints listed above, where might Japan push for new initiatives in international arms control and non-proliferation or in its own nuclear-related strategy? The Scylla and Charybdis of desires for denuclearization on the one hand and dependence on extended deterrence on the other do not leave Japan much room. But the internal pressure for independent credibility on non-proliferation matters is building nonetheless.

One area to watch is Japan's approach to "no first use" (NFU). The United States maintains its policy of not renouncing the first use of nuclear weapons in order to deter other WMD or conventional aggression against it or its allies in Europe and Asia. Experts in Tokyo recognize that an official Japanese call for a U.S. policy of no first use would therefore have to be taken seriously in Washington. For those advocating a more assertive Japanese non-proliferation and arms control posture, NFU appears to offer leverage that could be used to force U.S. and even Chinese moves toward greater arms control (since Beijing has argued that the United States should drop first use).

The orthodox managers of the alliance in Tokyo are vociferously opposed to NFU, fearing that it would degrade the extended deterrent on which Japan relies. For example, in the spring of 1994, Ambassador Robert Gallucci was making a list of potential negotiating concessions with North Korea and urged that Washington drop all threats of first use once North Korea was in compliance with the NPT. However, as Leon Sigal has written, "When Gallucci broached the subject during a visit to Tokyo in March, Shunji Yanai, director of politico-military affairs in the Foreign Office, objected strenuously on the grounds that it punched a hole in the American nuclear umbrella."26

This MOFA battle over NFU replayed itself in the July 1999 Tokyo Forum. Before the opening of the final conference, Harvard Professor Joseph Nye proposed that the forum recommend universal adoption of a policy of no first use of weapons of mass destruction in the final report—as opposed to simply no first use of nuclear weapons.27 With this proposal, Nye meant to leave open the option of first use of nuclear weapons in retaliation to attacks with biological and chemical weapons. Japanese staff members, on loan from the Foreign Ministry, were at a loss as to what to do with this proposal because it would have compromised the Japanese official line formalized earlier that year by then-Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. Specifically, Komura had stated, "Japan will secure safety by the deterrent capabilities of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. The Japanese government does not intend to endorse immediately no first use of nuclear weapons."28

Of course, because the Tokyo Forum is not a governmental organization, its recommendation does not necessarily reflect the official line of the Japanese government. Even so, the government considered suggestion of no first use of weapons of mass destruction undesirable because such a final recommendation could create momentum to oppose Japan's official policy, thus weakening the U.S. nuclear umbrella over Japan.

Eventually, the Nye proposal was dropped. But the issue of no first use of nuclear weapons has since been championed by a number of nongovernmental security experts in Japan and could find new life if the Liberal Democratic Party falls out of power or is replaced by the Democratic Party of Japan, which adopted a platform this spring in support of nuclear NFU.29 Already leading scholars in two Japanese study groups on nuclear arms control are debating the advantage of nuclear NFU.30

With changes in Japan's increasingly volatile, though centrist, politics, a new government might overrule the bureaucracy and press the United States to adopt a no-first-use policy in order to jump-start nuclear arms control talks with China and Russia. MOFA has no intention of doing so, but rumblings are increasing in academic and political circles that Japan should take more control of its nuclear arms control policy.31 This trend will become more dominant if U.S. unilateralism continues or if the nuclear-weapon states fail to move toward implementing Article VI of the NPT.

Some might be tempted to dismiss the dangers even if Japan does diverge from the United States on an issue like NFU. Certainly, Japan's options for independent nuclear arms control strategy are limited by the contradictions and impediments discussed earlier. However, if Tokyo did openly break with the United States over NFU, a host of problems would emerge. First, regional confidence in the credibility of the extended U.S. deterrent and Japan's own self-restraint on nuclear weapons might come into question. Second, the atmosphere for overall U.S.-Japan security cooperation would be poisoned, pushing Japan in unilateral directions in other security areas that might undermine U.S. interests. Finally, joint U.S. and Japanese leverage on other nuclear-weapon and potential nuclear-weapon states would be significantly undermined.

It is possible that the United States might move on its own to a variation of NFU in the future (beyond the negative security assurances it has already issued). But whatever U.S. doctrine emerges on extended deterrence, it should reflect a careful dialogue between the United States and Japan and not a tug-of-war between Tokyo and Washington that undermines the credibility of the alliance vis-à-vis allies and potential adversaries in East Asia.



To date, the growing Japanese assertiveness on nuclear disarmament issues has not undermined U.S.-Japan security relations. Nevertheless, it is critical that U.S. policy treat Japan as an independent player that has other options (albeit bad options) for both nuclear strategy and nuclear arms control policy. At the same time, the United States can and should support Japanese diplomacy when it strengthens international regimes. Indeed, the United States should be actively building a partnership with Tokyo to encourage such a role for Japan.

In March, U.S. Senior Adviser on Arms Control and International Security John Holum and MOFA Director-General for Arms Control and Scientific Affairs Norio Hattori announced the establishment of the new U.S.-Japan Commission on Arms Control, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Verification. This commission will take what was an ad hoc style of policy coordination between Tokyo and Washington on these issues and raise it to the status and institutionalization of consultations like those held with NATO allies. This is an important first step. Of course, the work of shoring-up Japanese confidence in the U.S. nuclear umbrella and building a better bilateral agenda for arms control and non-proliferation should go well beyond the arms control community itself. In addition to the activities of the new commission, the United States should:

• Elevate U.S.-Japan coordination and dialogue on the interoperability and strategic implications of TMD, including the ramifications of a Taiwanese TMD. Current collaboration focuses almost entirely on joint technical cooperation.

• Strengthen U.S.-Japan information exchange and coordination in support of Russian denuclearization. Leading up to the July G-8 summit, Japan had been calling for G-8 financial support to dispose of surplus plutonium from Russian decommissioned nuclear weapons, which will cost about $2 billion.32 Washington should strongly encourage Japan's initiative in this arena.

• Deepen coordination of U.S. dialogue with China on arms control issues so that Japan's concerns are met and so that there are no surprises in either U.S. or Japanese diplomacy with Beijing on issues of mutual interest, such as TMD and NFU.

• Take opportunities to reassure Tokyo that the U.S. nuclear umbrella is intact and that U.S. forces will remain in Japan. The United States should also hold regular updates of its nuclear strategy and views of extended deterrence in the formal U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, possibly paralleled by a Track II or working-level discussion of the role of extended deterrence in the current East Asian security environment (including issues like NFU).

• Coordinate with Japan on implementation of the Agreed Framework with North Korea (for which Japan is providing about $1 billion in funding) and continue trilateral coordination with Seoul and Tokyo on negotiations with Pyongyang.

• Improve U.S. planning and coordination for a Japanese role in non-proliferation policy toward South Asia, including joint U.S.-Japan Track II diplomacy.

The Japanese elite is striving harder than ever to strike the best balance between its own idealism and a realism about national security interests. As Japan raises its head, the United States should be there to support a more proactive and responsible security policy in Japan. It is imperative that the United States actively support Japanese diplomatic initiatives that serve broad U.S. strategic interests. A strong and active Japan should be considered central to U.S. strategy. Policy coordination on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control should serve as a centerpiece for a larger global partnership that encourages Japan to utilize all of its diplomatic tools to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction that threaten both states.


The authors would like to thank Ogawa Shinichi of the National Institute for Defense Studies (Japan) and Benjamin Self of the Henry L. Stimson Center for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

1. "Sato Hinted at Japan Nuclear Option in '65," Japan Times, May 25, 1998.

2. "Hikaku 3 Gensoku ha Nansensu" (The Three Non-Nuclear Principles Are Nonsense), Kyodo Washington D.C., June 10, 2000.

3. Interview with Royama Michio, Asahi Shimbun, November 13, 1994.

4. "Hikaku Power: Haibokushugi Tsuranuki Ginen Harae" (Non-Nuclear Power: Sustain 'Defeatism' and Expel Skepticism of Other Countries), Asahi Shimbun, August 4, 1999.

5. John E. Endicott, commentary on Morton H. Halperin's, "The Nuclear Dimension of the U.S.-Japan Alliance," presented to the Nautilus Institute, July 9, 1999.

6. Morton H. Halperin, "The Nuclear Dimension of the U.S.-Japan Alliance," presented to the Nautilus Institute, July 9, 1999.

7. Heisei 11 nendo Boei Hakusho (Defense of Japan '99), Japan Defense Agency, 1999, p. 138.

8. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Challenge 21: Japan's Foreign Policy Toward the 21st Century, January 4, 2000.

9. Japan's Goals in the 21st Century: The Frontier Within: Individual Empowerment and Better Governance in the New Millennium, January 2000, Chapter 6, p. 12.

10. Yoichi Funabashi, "Tokyo's Depression Diplomacy," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998, p. 35.

11. Statement by Foreign Minister Ikeda Yukihiko at the Seminar on Nuclear Disarmament after the Indefinite Extension of the NPT, December 2, 1996, Kyoto, Japan.

12. Ibid.

13. "Ajia Hikakuka he Shitaji" (Paving a Way for Denuclearization in Asia), Asahi Shimbun, August 11, 1999.

14. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Arms Control and Disarmament Division, Japanese Cooperation for the Dismantling Nuclear Weapons in the former Soviet Union, OUTLINE, February 1, 2000.

15. Ibid.

16. The Democratic Party of Japan, Nuclear Policy, April 18, 2000.

17. Interview with senior MOFA official, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2000.

18. Interview with U.S. official, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1998.

19. NPT/CONF.2000/WP.1 (NPT conference document), April 24, 2000, and interviews with senior U.S. and Japanese officials.

20. See, for example, "NPT Taisei Ayausa mo Rotei" (NPT Regime Exposes Its Fragility), Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2000.

21. "More Japanese See Danger of War, Support Alliance With U.S.," Japan Digest, May 16, 2000.

22. Bates Gill and Michael O'Hanlon, "China's Hollow Military," The National Interest, Summer 1999, p. 60.

23. "Japanese Nuclear Game," The Economist, October 9, 1999, p. 101.

24. David Albright, et al., Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996 (New York: Oxford University Press), 1997, pp. 24-25.

25. Yoichi Funabashi, "Tokyo's Temperance," The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2000, p. 135.

26. Leon V. Sigal, Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press), 1998, p. 112.

27. Interview with Joseph S. Nye, February 25, 2000.

28. Cited in "Kaku Haizetsu no Michi he Seisaku Susumeru Toki" (Now is the Time to Promote Policy of Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons), Asahi Shimbun, August 4, 1999.

29. "Minshu ga Kaku Seisakuan" (Democratic Party Announces Its Nuclear Policy), Asahi Shimbun, April 14, 2000.

30. The Tokyo Foundation Study Group on U.S.-Japan Alliance and Nuclear Disarmament, and a group organized by the National Institute for Research Advancement.

31. See, for example, the policy recommendation by the Japan Forum on International Relations, Inc., "Examining Together with the U.S. the Feasibility of a No-First-Use Declaration on Nuclear Weapons" in Japan's Initiatives towards US, China and Russia, April 19, 1999.

32. Asahi Shimbun, June 29, 2000.

Michael J. Green is senior fellow for Asian security at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., and Katsuhisa Furukawa is a research associate for Asian security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

New Ambitions, Old Obstacles: Japan and Its Search For an Arms Control Strategy

U.S., Japan Establish Arms Control Working Group

April 2000

The United States and Japan recently announced a joint working group on a wide range of issues related to non-proliferation and arms control. In a joint statement released in Tokyo March 8, John Holum, senior adviser for arms control and international security, and Norio Hattori, director-general for arms control and scientific affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, announced the creation of the U.S.-Japan Commission on Arms Control, Disarmament, Nonproliferation and Verification.

The commission will meet every six months to discuss progress toward and offer direction on a wide range of non-proliferation goals, including strengthening the non-proliferation regime, encouraging early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), establishing a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention, and generating movement toward negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty in the UN Conference on Disarmament. Immediate priorities include the CTBT and ensuring the success of the upcoming nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference.

The commission intends to capitalize on shared interests between the United States and Japan to move beyond consultation on non-proliferation issues to actual cooperation. While there will not be permanent commissioners, each government will commit officials with appropriate expertise to each cooperative enterprise.

The first act of the commission, which first met in early March, was to establish the Technology Cooperation Working Group, which will focus on the use of technology for arms control verification. The working group's first project will be to improve the CTBT's International Monitoring System. Detailed work plans are set to be completed mid-April, when funding and implementation schedules will be discussed. The next meeting of the full commission has not yet been scheduled.

U.S., Japan Establish Arms Control Working Group

Japanese Minister Resigns Over Nuclear Remarks

Drawing domestic furor and international concern for his statement that Japan should consider developing nuclear weapons, Japanese Vice Defense Minister Shingo Nishimura resigned October 20 after being pressured into silence by the Japanese government.

In a magazine interview, Nishimura urged the Diet to consider arming Japan with nuclear weapons, despite the country's adherence to its post-war defense policy of three non-nuclear principles that ban the ownership, manufacturing or harboring of nuclear weapons. The only country to have had nuclear weapons used against it, Japan has been an adamantly anti-nuclear nation for more than half a century. On October 19, the Democratic, Social Democratic and Communist parties of Japan denounced the vice defense minister's remarks and accused Nishimura, a Liberal Party member, of making statements that ran counter to official Japanese nuclear policy. South Korea, which has cooperated with Tokyo on regional defense issues based on its non-nuclear policy, expressed "regret" over Nishimura's remarks and said it hoped his statements did not reflect official Japanese policy.

China said it was "greatly shocked" by Nishimura's remarks, but was reassured by Tokyo's restatement of its official nuclear policy. Nishimura, who is known for his hawkish views and frequent public disagreement with Japanese policy toward China, first sparked controversy in 1997 when, in opposition to his government, he traveled to a South China Sea island claimed by both China and Japan, and planted a Japanese flag in an attempt to demonstrate ownership.

U.S., Japan Formalize TMD Cooperation

After several years of discussions, the United States and Japan agreed in mid-August to formally begin joint technology research on Navy Theater Wide, a theater missile defense (TMD) system to be carried on Aegis ships. This cooperative effort responds to North Korea's August 1998 test of its 1,500-2,000 kilometer-range Taepo Dong-1 missile, which flew over Japanese territory. (See ACT, August/September 1998.) The August 16 memorandum of understanding, signed by the Department of Defense and the Japanese Defense Agency, directs the parties to focus their efforts on four key components—the sensor, advanced kinetic kill warhead, second-stage propulsion and lightweight nose cone—of the system's interceptor missile, known as the Standard Missile-3. No decision has been made on joint deployment. Russia and China have repeatedly criticized U.S. efforts to cooperate with Japan (and possibly Taiwan) on TMD. Grigory Berdennikov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department for security and disarmament, said August 19 that the U.S.-Japan agreement would threaten stability in Asia. Earlier this year, Ambassador Sha Zukang, director-general of the department of arms control and disarmament in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, argued that TMD in Taiwan would give pro-independence forces "a false sense of security, which may incite them to reckless moves." "This can only lead to instability across the Taiwan Strait or even in the entire North-East Asian region," he said on January 12. These warnings take on added significance following Taiwan's expression of interest in TMD on August 18. (See story.)


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