“Over the past 50 years, ACA has contributed to bridging diversity, equity, inclusion and that's by ensuring that women of color are elevated in this space.”
– Shalonda Spencer
Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation
June 2, 2022

Fukushima One Year Later

By Daryl G. Kimball Today, the people of Japan and people the world over pause to remember the nearly 20,000 people killed and unaccounted for as a result of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. An aerial view of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power, two weeks after the tsunami struck Japan. Japan is also still reeling from the man-made nuclear reactor meltdown calamity at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi complex, which will exact an enormous human, environmental, and economic price for decades to come. And, of course, we are still learning about the causes of Fukushima disaster, how a...

Will No-Test Condition Sink India-Japan Nuclear Deal?

By Eric Auner As I reported in September, India and Japan have been discussing a potential civil nuclear deal. As a major supporter of the nonproliferation regime, Japan has suggested that it will attach a condition whereby cooperation would cease in the event of a future Indian test. As Global Security Newswire reports, India is unenthusiastic about such a condition: India has spurned suggested language in a nuclear trade agreement with Japan that would freeze the deal should the South Asian state carry out another atomic test blast, Kyodo News reported today (see GSN, Aug. 23). "I hear...

India, Japan Discuss Terms of Nuclear Trade

Eric Auner and Daniel Salisbury

India is pursuing a civil nuclear trade deal with Japan, which has said that cooperation depends on India not conducting any further nuclear test explosions.

On Aug. 21, India and Japan concluded the latest round of their strategic dialogue, which included discussions of civil nuclear cooperation. At a joint press conference with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna that day in New Delhi, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that, in the event of a future Indian nuclear test, “Japan will have no option but to state that we shall suspend our cooperation.”

India also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Canada, and discussed nuclear cooperation with a high-profile British delegation.

India, which tested nuclear devices in 1974 and 1998, was barred from engaging in nuclear trade with Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members until 2008. NSG guidelines ban nuclear trade with countries that are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and that do not place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. India remains outside the NPT, but it obtained an NSG waiver in 2008 that allows it to conduct nuclear trade with the group’s members. (See ACT, October 2008.) India has placed some of its nuclear power reactors under safeguards.

Since the NSG decision, India has entered into nuclear cooperation agreements of various forms with a number of countries, including France, Russia, and the United States.

India and Japan formed a working group on nuclear energy in late April and engaged in two days of negotiations on the subject in late June. Talks on civil nuclear cooperation are taking place in the context of the “2+2” dialogue, which involves the foreign and defense ministers of both countries discussing a wide spectrum of economic and security issues

In addition to indicating that an Indian nuclear test would result in the suspension of a nuclear agreement, Okada urged India to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and make progress toward negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty.

Many Japanese nonproliferation advocates have opposed nuclear cooperation with India. The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, released a statement criticizing nuclear negotiations with India. “This means that a nation that has suffered atomic bombings itself is now severely weakening the NPT regime, which is beyond intolerable” he said Aug. 9 during a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

A Japanese condition suspending nuclear cooperation in the event of an Indian test would be similar to a section of the 2006 Hyde Act, which amended U.S. law to allow nuclear trade with India. The Hyde Act opened the door to the U.S.-Indian cooperation agreement; that accord, signed in 2007 and approved by Congress in 2008, does not itself contain a requirement that India forswear future nuclear tests. The Indian government has traditionally defended its right to conduct future nuclear tests although it currently is observing a moratorium.

India and Canada signed their cooperation agreement at the end of the June Group of 20 summit in Toronto after bilateral meetings between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The agreement will allow Canadian firms to export nuclear material, equipment, and technology to India and will encourage cooperation in nuclear safety and waste management.

Canada has a long history of involvement with India’s nuclear program. It sold a CIRUS research reactor, as well as two CANDU power reactors, to India in the 1950s and 1960s. Spent fuel from the CIRUS reactor was later used to produce the fissile material for India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion. Canada cut off nuclear trade in the wake of the 1974 test, opening a long-lasting diplomatic rift between the two countries.

At a June 27 press conference, Singh sought to ease concerns that Canadian nuclear exports would be used for military purposes. “We have complete civilian control and there is no scope whatsoever for any nuclear material or equipment being supplied going for any unintended purpose,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “Nuclear material supplied to India will be fully safeguarded” under the terms of India’s agreement signed with the IAEA, he said. He added that India has a “fool-proof system of export controls.” Singh and Harper released a joint June 27 statement in which both expressed their commitment to “the ratification of the agreement and the completion of all remaining steps necessary to ensure its early implementation.”

When asked about the nonproliferation assurances received by the Canadian government and whether Canada would cease nuclear cooperation in the event of an Indian nuclear test, Laura Markle, a spokeswoman at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said in an e-mail exchange last month that any use of Canadian materials or technology beyond “peaceful, civilian and non-explosive purposes” would “provide cause for the immediate suspension, and eventual termination of nuclear cooperation.”

The United Kingdom has been seeking greater participation in the Indian market as well. A high-profile British delegation, which included Prime Minister David Cameron, visited India in late July. While on the trip, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the countries already are cooperating on “a certain amount of modest research,” but want to move to “a higher level.” British companies “potentially could do a large amount of [nuclear] business in India,” he said. In February, India and the United Kingdom signed a Joint Declaration on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, in which the two governments expressed the desire “to promote extensive co-operation in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”


India is pursuing a civil nuclear trade deal with Japan, which has said that cooperation depends on India not conducting any further nuclear test explosions.

Letter to the Editor: The Coming Glut of Japanese Spent Fuel

Leonard Spector

Frank von Hippel’s article (“South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime,” January/February 2010) on the proliferation risks of South Korea’s plans for reprocessing spent fuel from its nuclear power program elegantly frames what is likely to become a major controversy as South Korea’s agreement for nuclear cooperation with the United States comes up for renewal in 2014.

Von Hippel argues that the South Korean approach, based on an unproven technology known as “pyroprocessing” and yet-to-be-designed fast reactors, is unlikely to succeed on a scale sufficient to alleviate South Korea’s spent fuel management problem. Moreover, he stresses, it could introduce new proliferation risks by creating stocks of material from which plutonium could be more easily extracted than from spent fuel.

To underscore his point, von Hippel highlights the great difficulties Japan has encountered in its own spent fuel reprocessing program, based on classic reprocessing technology that is well understood, and conventional reactors. The situation in Japan, however, is considerably worse than von Hippel describes, making his core point all the more powerful.

According to recent information, Japan plans to reprocess 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel (17,000 now in storage and 15,000 to be discharged in the future) over the next 40 years. But its reactors will discharge a total of 45,000 metric tons of spent fuel during this time, leaving it with 30,000 metric tons to be held at an interim storage facility to be built not far from the Rokkasho site.

At that point 40 years hence, with its current reprocessing plant at the end of its useful life, Japan would need to build another reprocessing plant to start working down this excess spent fuel; but during the operation of that plant, still more spent fuel will be discharged, probably at a greater rate than in the current 40-year period, as Japan’s nuclear sector grows. This implies that as far into the future as one can reasonably see, Japan will be storing tens of thousands of metric tons of spent fuel on an “interim” basis that in practical terms is likely to be perpetual because the Japanese reprocessing program never catches up with discharges.

Thus, although the Japanese spent fuel reprocessing program is presented as a solution to the country’s spent fuel management problem, it is only a partial solution at best. It is also an extremely costly one. Von Hippel notes that the Japanese have stated that the construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Rokkasho facility will amount to $100 billion. Assuming that the plant processes a total of 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel, the cost of the Japanese approach would be a hefty $3,125 per kilogram of heavy metal processed.

As von Hippel stresses, all of these challenges will confront the South Korean pyroprocessing endeavor, but will almost certainly be more severe, given the novelty of the technologies involved. As a result, almost certainly, the approach, like Japan’s, will be at most only a partial solution to Korea’s pending spent fuel glut.

Finally, we need to take von Hippel’s commentary one step further and articulate a strategy that works: strong international validation of 100- to 200-year interim storage of spent fuel as an appropriate spent fuel management option. Japan has tacitly accepted this option for half of its spent fuel. With the termination of the YuccaMountain underground repository project, it appears that the United States also is going to be forced to do so for its entire spent fuel output, the largest in the world.

This is, in truth, the de facto international standard. But it needs to be formally recognized. The environmental community, in particular, needs to express confidence that this option is safe and can adequately protect the public from harm for generations to come.


Leonard Spector is deputy director of the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies and heads the center’s Washington office.


The Role of Nuclear Weapons: Japan, the U.S., and “Sole Purpose”

By Masa Takubo

On September 22, a day before President Barack Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in New York, 13 nongovernmental U.S. security experts released an open letter calling on the two leaders “to support a U.S. policy declaring that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, and if necessary respond to, the use of nuclear weapons by other countries.”[1]

The letter was prompted in part by the coincidence of two events: the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is supposed to be completed by December and delivered to Congress shortly after, and the victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in August. The nuclear policies of the DPJ appear to be markedly different from those of its predecessor, the Liberal Democratic Party, which dominated Japanese politics for more than 50 years.

A key element of the Japanese-U.S. security relationship has been the U.S. pledge to protect Japan against any attack. That pledge has been understood by the Japanese government as an offer of a “nuclear umbrella,” or extended nuclear deterrence, covering attacks on Japan with conventional, chemical, or biological weapons, as well as nuclear weapons.

The security experts’ letter called for a policy of limiting the role of nuclear weapons to deterrence of only nuclear attacks.[2] The letter explained:

This policy would be consistent with President Obama’s [April 5] statement in Prague that he will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, and urge other countries to do the same.

Such a change in U.S. policy will also strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—a goal of both nations—by reinforcing the negative security assurances the nuclear weapons states have made not to use nuclear weapons against states without nuclear weapons. It will also reduce the incentive for more countries to acquire nuclear weapons.[3]

The current Japanese-U.S. arrangement has come to function as a barrier to global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Because of a fear in the United States and elsewhere of the perceived prospect that Japan might acquire its own nuclear arsenal if it came to regard the nuclear umbrella as unreliable, the arrangement in effect gives Japan significant leverage. It allows Japan to put pressure on the United States to avoid taking any significant steps to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in its security and military doctrines and thus impedes progress on freeing the world of nuclear weapons. Those in the United States who oppose narrowing the role of nuclear weapons could also use Japan’s position as an excuse for not changing the current U.S. policy.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, one of the four authors of Wall Street Journal op-eds calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, said in a recent meeting in Tokyo that he has also been calling on Obama to adopt a policy declaring that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter the use of such weapons by others.[4] He said this “sole purpose” declaration would amount to a no-first-use declaration but that the latter is not acceptable in the United States because the concept is tarnished by its abuse during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union advocated no-first-use while, as was later discovered, it was preparing for first use.[5] Thus, in discussions today, the sole purpose, or “only purpose,” declaration is usually interpreted as a euphemistic substitute for a no-first-use declaration.[6]

Katsuya Okada, Japan’s new foreign minister, has been a staunch advocate of no-first-use, but bureaucrats in his ministry are resisting that idea and the sole purpose concept. According to the security experts’ letter and other accounts, these Japanese skeptics are playing an important role in the U.S. NPR. The letter said that “[s]ome Japanese bureaucrats want to preserve the status quo, and argue that such a change in U.S. nuclear policy could undermine Japan’s confidence in U.S. security guarantees.”[7] It warned that some Americans “remain mired in Cold War thinking, and cite these Japanese concerns to argue against changing U.S. policy, which they contend could lead Japan to build its own nuclear weapons.”[8]

In an October 18 speech in Kyoto, Okada noted the central contradiction in Japanese policy on nuclear weapons: “Hitherto, the Japanese government has said to the U.S., ‘We don’t want you to declare no first use because it will weaken nuclear deterrence.’ However, it cannot be said to be consistent to call for nuclear abolition, while requesting the first use of nuclear weapons for yourself.”[9]

The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), co-chaired by former Foreign Ministers Yoriko Kawaguchi of Japan and Gareth Evans of Australia, is scheduled to issue its report in the coming months. Referring to the ICNND, which was meeting in Hiroshima the same day he spoke in Kyoto, Okada said, “As a general course, we should discuss what could be done to achieve no first use of nuclear weapons. I would expect that the Evans-Kawaguchi report would be along those lines. When the report comes out, I would like to discuss this no-first-use issue fully with the United States."[10]

Historical Background[11]

Why do some believe that Japan will seek a nuclear capability if the United States adopts a sole purpose policy? After all, Japan takes pride in having adopted three non-nuclear principles. Formalized in 1967 by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, they specify a clear commitment not to possess or produce nuclear weapons or to permit their entry into the country.[12] Japan is a strong supporter of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the lead sponsor of a widely supported UN General Assembly resolution on nuclear disarmament that has been adopted every year since 1994.[13]

The answer lies in the history of Japan’s nuclear policy. When Japan adopted its three non-nuclear principles, it was, in Sato’s mind, part of a package in which protection by the nuclear umbrella of U.S. extended deterrence was a precondition.[14] The implication is that Japan will not seek nuclear weapons as long as the nuclear umbrella is regarded as reliable.

Sato raised the issue of the nuclear umbrella during a conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on January 13, 1965. According to a summary, Sato said, “Please be careful about statements concerning bringing nuclear weapons onto the land. Of course, should a war break out, it would be a different story. We expect that the U.S. will immediately retaliate with nuclear weapons.”[15] These comments were made shortly after China’s first nuclear test, which took place on October 16, 1964.

In 1982 the Japanese government officially expressed its view that the U.S. nuclear umbrella provides for a first-use option in retaliation for an attack by conventional weapons. This explanation was given in response to a question raised by Diet member Takahiro Yokomichi on February 19, 1982, concerning a statement made the previous year by Eugene Rostow, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Rostow had said that, as with its extended deterrence policy for Western Europe, the United States would be prepared to use nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union attacked Japan with conventional weapons.[16] On June 25, 1982, a government official told the Diet that this understanding was implied in a 1975 press statement issued jointly by President Gerald Ford and Prime Minister Takeo Miki.[17] Referring to the joint statement, the official said, “We believe that in the sense that all the measures are included, it would mean that the nuclear deterrent or retaliation would not be limited to nuclear attacks against Japan.”[18]

Later, with the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union over, government officials and security experts in Japan started to consider the security implications of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as China’s conventional weapons buildup. In 2003, for example, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Mitoji Yabunaka, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, filed a request with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly “to make sure the United States does not again [as in 1994] promise not to use its nuclear weapons against North Korea if Pyongyang agrees to dismantle its nuclear development program.”[19]

More recently, when asked about encouraging the United States to adopt a no-first-use policy, Prime Minister Taro Aso told an August 9 press conference in Nagasaki that, “[i]n international society, there exist large arsenals including nuclear forces…. It could disturb the deterrence balance and undermine security to have a discussion separating nuclear weapons from other weapons.”[20] Reiterating what Masahiko Komura had said when foreign minister in 1999, Aso said, “Even if a nuclear power says it won’t make a pre-emptive strike, there’s no way to verify its intentions. I wonder if that’s a realistic way to ensure Japan’s safety.”[21]

Such assertions about the difficulty of verifying a no-first-use declaration might have been referring to China, which has maintained a no-first-use policy since 1964. That policy is often considered a piece of propaganda in Japan. The Japanese responses cited above intentionally or unintentionally confuse the no-first-use policies of an adversary, China, and those of an ally, the United States. Aso’s remarks were made in response to a question about U.S. policy, in the context of the United States perhaps being able to make a contribution to the efforts toward global nuclear disarmament by declaring a no-first-use policy. This declaration could reduce international tension and the role and value of nuclear weapons and perhaps prepare the way for further reductions in the number of nuclear weapons.

Japan is also said to be actively trying to influence other aspects of U.S. nuclear policy. In his Web log discussing nuclear-tipped Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM/N), Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists points out that Japan is being cited as the main reason for the potential life extension of the TLAM/N force, which has been virtually retired since the days of President George H. W. Bush.[22] The 2009 final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, headed by Perry and James Schlesinger, says:

In Asia, extended deterrence relies heavily on the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles on some Los Angeles[-]class attack submarines – the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile/Nuclear (TLAM/N). This capability will be retired in 2013 unless steps are taken to maintain it. U.S. allies in Asia are not integrated in the same way [as NATO countries] into nuclear planning and have not been asked to make commitments to delivery systems. In our work as a Commission it has become clear to us that some U.S. allies in Asia would be very concerned by TLAM/N retirement.[23]

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee May 6, Schlesinger said Japan “is the country that has perhaps the greatest leaning, amongst the 30-odd nations that we have under the umbrella, to create its own nuclear force, and therefore, intimate discussions with the Japanese, I think, are mandatory at this stage.”[24] Perry followed Schlesinger by saying that even if the United States does not see the need to deploy certain weapons, it should take into consideration the concerns of its allies. He said there still is “great concern in both Europe and in Asia about the credibility of our extended deterrence…. It is important for us to pay attention to their concern and not try to judge whether deterrence is effective by our standard, but we have to take their standards into account as well. And a failure to do this…would be that those nations would feel that they had to provide their own deterrence. They would have to build their own nuclear weapons.”[25]

The position of past Japanese administrations has influenced the deliberations of the ICNND, although the commission is an independent body. In addition to commission co-chair Kawaguchi, the advisory board has three Japanese members. Two are former high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are strongly opposed to the idea of limiting the role of nuclear weapons to the sole purpose of deterring nuclear attacks, let alone a no-first-use declaration by the United States. The third adviser is the chair of the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission, who was presumably chosen in part to protect another aspect of Japan’s nuclear policy: Japan’s right to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

When Evans came to Japan in May, he warned that Japan’s position on the need for the nuclear umbrella against conventional, chemical, and biological weapons was a major obstacle to the commission's approval of a recommendation to call on the United States to adopt a no-first-use policy.[26]

The Australian newspaper The Age reported September 4 that although “most of the 15-member commission, including Australia's co-chairman, former foreign minister Gareth Evans, plan to call on nuclear-armed states to change their defence doctrine and declare they will only use atomic weapons when faced with direct nuclear attack,” Kawaguchi opposed the idea.[27]

Later that month, Japan’s Kyodo News said the Japanese team opposed language in the draft report calling for U.S. statements on nuclear doctrine before the May 2010 NPT Review Conference. According to the article, the draft report said the ''sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter use of nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies and (possibly) that the United States is willing to consider moving in combination with other nuclear armed states to a clear no-first-use posture.”[28]

Overestimated Threat

How strong are Japan’s objections to U.S. adoption of a new policy on the role of nuclear weapons and deeper nuclear weapons reductions? Is it actually likely that if the United States adopted such a policy, Japan would violate its NPT obligations and seek to acquire nuclear weapons against the wishes of the United States and world opinion? There is a big difference between a theoretical possibility and a realistic probability that Japan will go nuclear. Also, a U.S. no-first-use policy does not imply the cessation of Japanese-U.S. security arrangements or a withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella against possible nuclear attacks. Furthermore, a Japanese nuclear-weapon program could in fact jeopardize Japan’s security arrangement with the United States and its position in the international community. Former Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiba, who is known for his knowledge of nuclear and military affairs, recently said about Japan exercising the option to develop nuclear weapons, “That would naturally mean Japan withdrawing from the NPT. We would not be able to obtain nuclear fuel.... With dependency on nuclear power for about 40% of [our] electricity, we would experience a major decline in economic activities. Japan going nuclear would automatically mean the collapse of the NPT regime and there would be nuclear countries all around us.”[29] In a book published three years ago, Ishiba said, “In any case, the voters would not allow such a thing as possession of nuclear weapons.”[30] Japan would have to consider these realities before going nuclear, which so-called realists in the United States tend to ignore. Ishiba, a conservative, knows about these realities. If the United States adopts a sole purpose policy, can one really argue that Japan would believe that whatever benefits it might gain from going nuclear would outweigh the negative consequences?

The DPJ, which won a landslide victory in Japan’s August 30 election, declared its nuclear policy supporting no-first-use in 2000. Okada was the head of the team that developed this policy. Although the current official status of the document is not clear, on May 12, 2009, Okada, who was DPJ secretary-general at the time, told a Diet session that “a norm not allowing at least first use, or making it illegal to use nuclear weapons against countries not possessing nuclear weapons, should be established. Japan should be at the forefront of this effort as a leader.”[31] In an interview soon after, Okada elaborated on his position:

I believe that Japan should advocate the following three points: that the states possessing nuclear weapons, the United States in particular, should declare no first use; formation of an agreement that it is illegal to use nuclear weapons against countries without nuclear weapons; and, partly overlapping with these two, the initiative of a Northeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.

If the United States declares no first use, that does not mean that Japan will be completely outside the nuclear umbrella. In a situation where nuclear weapons actually exist in this world, it would be natural that people feel worried about the nuclear umbrella going away.

I talk about going out of the nuclear umbrella halfway, where first use would not be exercised, but in the unfortunate case that Japan suffers a nuclear attack, we are not ruling out a nuclear response to it. We have such an assurance ultimately. So please understand that I am not just talking about an idealistic theory.[32]

He said, however, that “[w]e do not necessarily need a nuclear umbrella against the nuclear threat of North Korea. I think conventional weapons are enough to deal with it.”[33]

At the recent Tokyo meeting, Perry said that the combined conventional forces of Japan and the United States would be enough to deter nuclear attacks of North Korea and that those forces could cause devastating damage. North Korea’s leaders know that, and they are not suicidal, he said.[34]

Okada repeated his position in the inaugural Cabinet press conference on September 16, saying, “My own personal belief has been to question whether countries which declare their willingness to make first use of nuclear weapons have any right to speak about nuclear disarmament, or nuclear nonproliferation, in particular nonproliferation.”[35]

During an October 20 meeting in Japan with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Okada told Gates that the Japanese government currently is examining the no-first-use issue and that he would like to discuss it with the United States. Gates responded that the flexibility of deterrence is necessary.[36] Three days later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen expressed his agreement with Gates while in Tokyo.[37] Thus, U.S. defense officials appear to be resisting adoption of a new policy advocated by a Japanese foreign minister, rather than the other way around.

Okada also has taken steps to investigate secret understandings between Japan and the United States, which include those related to the third non-nuclear principle of not permitting nuclear weapons to enter Japan.[38] The United States and Japan have not strictly adhered to this principle. Documents declassified in the United States show a secret agreement at the time of the 1960 revision of the Japanese-U.S. security treaty to allow port calls by U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons.[39] On September 17, Okada ordered the Foreign Ministry’s top bureaucrat to investigate the issue of secret pacts. Because of the 1991 decision by Bush to withdraw nuclear weapons from surface ships and attack submarines, the port-call issue has been moot. Yet, the alleged request by Japan to put TLAM/N on attack submarines, which frequently stop at Japanese ports, would, if realized, lead to a situation necessitating secret pacts or abandonment of the third principle. The logical step for Okada is to investigate these “requests” and withdraw them officially if Japan is to come clean and keep the third principle intact. It would be rather difficult for Japan to tell the United States not to bring in any nuclear weapons, while demanding that the United States put tactical weapons on attack submarines that roam around Japan and keep open the option of using nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack on Japan.

The picture should be clear to Obama. Okada’s speech in Kyoto and his explanation to Gates about the policy review taking place within the Japanese government should be interpreted as a message to the Obama administration to act boldly in its NPR process and adopt a sole purpose policy, if not a no-first-use policy.


The Guardian reported September 20 that Obama rejected a draft NPR because it was too timid. According to the report, Obama called for a range of more far-reaching options, including more radical reductions of nuclear weapons and a redrafting of nuclear doctrine to narrow the range of conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.[40] In his September 23 speech to the UN General Assembly, Obama appeared to provide a hint of his intentions when he said: “We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.”[41]

The ICNND is expected to release its final report in a weakened form around January 2010.[42] The Japanese government should not wait until then to express its official support for a sole purpose policy. Japan also should encourage the United States to declare a clear no-first-use policy. However, Obama should not wait for Japanese action to make bold changes in U.S. nuclear policy.

The world now has an opportunity to make significant steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. Outdated and misunderstood policies should not stand in the way.

Masa Takubo is an independent analyst on nuclear issues living in Japan and operator of the nuclear information Web site Kakujoho. This article is based in part on a chapter on Japan’s attitudes toward nuclear disarmament in a forthcoming report by the International Panel on Fissile Materials.


Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author’s.

1. Union of Concerned Scientists, “Letter Urges Obama, Hatoyama to Change Nuclear Policy,” September 22, 2009, www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/letter-urges-us-japan-nuclear-0285.html (hereinafter Union of Concerned Scientists letter).

2. This would mean adoption of “core deterrence,” defined by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control as “the restricted form of extended nuclear deterrence in which coverage is intended against nuclear threats—and only nuclear threats—to one’s own country and to one’s allies.” See Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, “The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” 1997, p.15, www.puaf.umd.edu/Fetter/1997-fun.pdf.

3. Union of Concerned Scientists letter.

4. William Perry, Remarks at “The Japan-US Partnership Toward A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Tokyo, October 21, 2009 (hereinafter Perry remarks).

5. Ibid.

6. Some Cold War thinkers could interpret “sole purpose” to allow for a scenario for first use: a counterforce first strike for the purpose of limiting the damage when the enemy is considered to be about to attack with nuclear weapons. Therefore it will eventually be necessary to rule out this scenario by making a clear-cut no-first-use declaration. See Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Ivan Oelrich, “From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence: A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons,” Occasional Paper No. 7, Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council, April 2009.

7. Union of Concerned Scientists letter.

8. Ibid.

9. Katsuya Okada, Remarks at “Atarashii Jidai no Nichibei Kankei” [Japan-U.S. relationship in a new era], Kyoto, October 18, 2009.

10. Ibid.

11. For more information, see Masa Takubo, “Japan's Challenges and Dilemmas Over Nuclear Disarmament,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 91 (Summer 2009).

12. The policy of the three non-nuclear principles was first expressed by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato at the Diet (House of Representatives Budget Committee) on December 11, 1967. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], December 11, 1967, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/057/0514/05712110514002a.html.

13. See Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Adoption of Nuclear Disarmament Resolution Submitted by Japan to the 63rd Plenary Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” December 3, 2008, www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2008/12/1185313_1080.html; UN General Assembly, “Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Philippines, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine: Draft Resolution: Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” A/C.1/63/L.58, October 23, 2008, www.mofa.go.jp/policy/un/disarmament/arms/un0810.pdf.

14. Sato explained the relationship between the nuclear umbrella and the principles as follows: “What should Japan do about its security under the three principles concerning nuclear weapons: not possessing, not producing, and not bringing in nuclear weapons?… When I met President Johnson last time in 1965, and this time too, I said: ‘Could the Japan-U.S. security treaty defend Japan against any kind of attacks?’ In other words, is it useful against nuclear attacks? President Johnson said [that the U.S.] will clearly defend Japan against any attacks.” House of Representatives Budget Committee, December 11, 1967. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], December 11, 1967, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/057/0514/05712110514002a.html.

15. “Sato Makunamara Kaidan no Omona Yaritori” [Main conversation at the Sato-McNamara meeting], Kyodo News, December 22, 2008, http://yamagata-np.jp/news_core/index_pr.php?kate=Detail&no=2008122101000153&keyword=. The summary was among the documents declassified last December by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

16. House of Representataives Budget Committee, February 19, 1982. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], February 19, 1982, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/096/0380/09602190380013a.html.

17. “Further, they recognized that the US nuclear deterrent is an important contributor to the security of Japan. In this connection, the President reassured the Prime Minister that the United States would continue to abide by its defense commitment to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in the event of armed attack against Japan, whether by nuclear or conventional forces.” For the full statement, see “Japan-U.S. Joint Announcement to the Press (by Prime Minister Takeo Miki and President Gerald R. Ford),” Washington, August 6, 1975, www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPUS/19750806.O1E.html (hereinafter Miki-Ford statement).

18. House of Representatives Budget Committee, June 25, 1982. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives Minutes], June 25, 1982, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/096/0380/09606250380022a.html.

19. “Govt Wants U.S. to Keep North Korea N-Deterrent,” Daily Yomiuri, August 23, 2003.

20. “Shusho Kaku Senseifushiyo niwa Hiteiteki” [Prime minister negative about no first use], Nihon Hoso Kyokai [Japan Broadcasting Corporation], August 9, 2009.

21. Ibid.

22. Hans Kristensen, “Japan, TLAM/N, and Extended Deterrence,” FAS Strategic Security Web log, July 2, 2009, www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2009/07/tlam.php. See Jeffrey Lewis, "Japan ♥ TLAM/N,” ArmsControlWonk Web log, May 8, 2009, www.armscontrolwonk.com/2284/japan-tlamn.

23. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” 2009, p. 26, http://media.usip.org/reports/strat_posture_report.pdf. The commission’s wording in this passage could be read to suggest that TLAM/N are currently deployed on the Los Angeles-class submarines. As discussed elsewhere in this article, that is not the case.

24. James Schlesinger, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, May 6, 2009, http://armedservices.house.gov/hearing_information-jan-may2009.shtml.

25. William J. Perry, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, May 6, 2009, http://armedservices.house.gov/hearing_information-jan-may2009.shtml.

26. Yumi Kanazaki,“Kakuno Kasa Kaishaku Saikowo” [Interpretation of nuclear umbrella should be reexamined], Chugoku Shimbun, May 28, 2009.

27. Daniel Flitton, “Australia, Japan in Nuclear Rift,” The Age, September 4, 2009, www.theage.com.au/national/australia-japan-in-nuclear-rift-20090903-f9yw.html.

28. “Japan Reluctant to Accept Proposal for U.S. to Reduce Role of Nukes,” Kyodo News, September 13, 2009, www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9AMDKV80&show_article=1.

29. Shigeru Ishiba and Kazuhisa Ogawa, Nhihon no Senso to Heiwa [Japan’s war and peace] (Tokyo: Bijinesu Sha, 2009), p. 284.

30. Shigeru Ishiba and Shinichi Kiyotani, Gunjiwo Shirazushite Heiwa wo Kataruna [Without knowing military affairs, do not talk about peace] (Tokyo: KK Best Sellers, 2006), p. 176.

31. House of Representatives Budget Committee, May 12, 2009. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], May 12, 2009, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/171/0018/17105120018027a.html. LDP member Taro Kono argued in the Diet in 1999 for a Japanese-U.S. joint declaration for no-first-use. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, June 12, 1999). See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], June 12, 1999, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/145/0005/14506020005008c.html.

32. Katsuya Okada, “Interview: Ajia no Naka no Nihon toshite Anzen Hosho Seiseku wo Kochiku Shinakereba Naranai” [We should develop a security policy as Japan inside Asia], Sekai, July 2009, pp. 138-143.

33. Ibid.

34. Perry remarks. He also emphasized the importance of nonmilitary deterrence, including economic power.

35. Katsuya Okada, Remarks at ministers’ inaugural press conference, September 16, 2009. See Seifu Intanet Terevi [Government Internet TV], “Daijin Shunin Kaiken” [Ministers' inaugural press conference], September 16, 2009, http://nettv.gov-online.go.jp/prg/prg2758.html.

36. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Press Conference by the Deputy Press Secretary (English),” October 22, 2009, www.mofa.go.jp/announce/press/2009/10/1022.html.

37. “Top U.S. Military Officer Warns Japan Against Reneging on Futemma Plan,” Kyodo News, October 23, 2009, www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9BGR3R84&show_article=1.

38. Tomoko A. Hosaka, “Japan launches probe of secret pacts with US,” Associated Press, September 24, 2009, www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/09/24/international/i224839D04.DTL&feed=rss.business.

39. For related declassified documents, see www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb291/index.htm.

40. Julian Borger, “Barack Obama Ready to Slash US Nuclear Arsenal,” The Guardian, September 20, 2009, www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/20/barack-obama-us-nuclear-weapons.

41. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by the President to the United Nations General Assembly,” United Nations headquarters, New York, September 23, 2009, www.whitehouse.gov.

42. “International Panel Calls for Nuke Disarmament After 2025 at Conference in Hiroshima,” Mainichi Daily News, October 21, 2009, http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20091021p2a00m0na016000c.html.


On September 22, a day before President Barack Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in New York, 13 nongovernmental U.S. security experts released an open letter calling on the two leaders “to support a U.S. policy declaring that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, and if necessary respond to, the use of nuclear weapons by other countries.”

Not Going Nuclear: Japan’s Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Hajime Izumi and Katsuhisa Furukawa

Since North Korea’s nuclear test on October 9, 2006, there has been considerable foreign speculation that the explosion might prompt Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons arsenal. These views do not reflect the relatively restrained reaction in Japan itself. Although the test helped break a public taboo on discussing the possibility of a Japanese nuclear capability, there is little serious desire to replace the U.S. nuclear umbrella with a homegrown nuclear option.

Indeed, the discussions themselves may have been aimed in part at shoring up the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. Rather than relying on nuclear weapons, Japan’s security policy seems more geared toward strengthening cooperation with the United States while shoring up global nonproliferation efforts.

North Korea’s nuclear test certainly shocked the Japanese public. Just after the test, an Asahi Shimbun poll found that 82 percent of the respondents were “concerned.” Some 44 percent of those polled felt a “strong threat” from North Korea, and 38 percent felt “some level of threat.” It seems, however, that such concerns were neither deep nor sustained. The Japanese public in general did not demonstrate active interest in taking any specific measures, such as establishing underground shelters. Rather the Japanese media focused primarily on the radioactive contamination risks the test might pose to Japan. Having recognized that such risk was almost nonexistent, the public interest on this issue faded away promptly.

After November 2006, the Japanese media’s coverage of North Korea focused more on Pyongyang’s decades-old abduction of Japanese citizens than concern over North Korea’s current nuclear weapon programs. There is a view among some experts that the Japanese public’s “sense of loathing” toward the Kim Jong Il regime may have overridden its perception of the threat emanating from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear-weapon programs.

The Japanese government also has been restrained in several regards in its response to the tests. First, although it imposed sanctions on North Korea, Tokyo appears to place a higher priority on the abductions matter. Following his 2006 inauguration, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quickly established within his cabinet an office to manage the abductions issue. Abe did not create an equivalent office to address Pyongyang’s nuclear or missile programs, despite his repeated statements that North Korea’s nuclear weapons presented the gravest threat to Japan, nor was any voice raised among the Japanese media in support of establishing such an office.

Second, Tokyo remains reluctant to negotiate with North Korea on ballistic missile development and deployment, although Japan is the country that should be most concerned about Pyongyang’s medium-range ballistic missile programs.

Third, despite North Korea’s nuclear testing and missile firings, Japan has not seriously discussed or received strong domestic pressure to increase the defense budget. The reduction of the government’s accumulated deficit, almost 150 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP), still remains one of Tokyo’s top priorities, and the defense budget remains at less than 1 percent of GDP. Each military service branch of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, for instance, has been forced to cut back on personnel and procurement.

Fourth, soon after North Korea’s nuclear test, Japanese officials discussed the need to enact new legislation to enable interdiction and inspection of North Korean ships with suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related cargoes on the high seas, but such discussion has faded. Similarly, Japanese officials also weighed procuring and deploying an offensive weapon system to take out North Korea’s missile launching sites. This discussion has faded as well.

To be sure, Tokyo has speeded up deployment of proposed anti-missile systems, and a limited number of politicians and experts have argued in favor of Japan pursuing a nuclear option. It is difficult, however, to find convincing evidence that the Japanese public feels so gravely threatened by North Korea’s nuclear program that they want to take concrete action as a response. Most Japanese regard foreign countries’ concerns about Japan’s nuclear future as exaggerated. In fact, the Japanese media rarely conducts any extensive or serious discussion about Japan’s nuclear weapons capability or what might constitute Tokyo’s nuclear doctrine if it were to pursue such an option.

Changing Regional Security Environment

Speculation that Japan might pursue nuclear weapons surfaced first in the aftermath of China’s initial nuclear tests in the 1960s and then during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993-1994, as well as at the time of the international negotiations over the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) both in the 1970s and in 1994-1995. With the 2006 North Korean test, those concerns have been renewed, especially in the United States and a few Asian countries. Some countries fear North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons might lead to a potential tsunami of nuclear proliferation in Asia that would engulf Japan and force it to shift its position on nuclear armament.

This overstates the influence of North Korea on the thinking of Japanese defense authorities. Although North Korea’s WMD programs certainly represent one of the gravest threats to Japan’s national security, the North Korean challenge is not necessarily regarded as the sole determinant factor shaping Japan’s national security strategy.

 Other problems Tokyo is concerned about include:

• The increasing capabilities of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), particularly its ballistic missiles capabilities that can strike targets in Japan;

• The activities of the PLA Navy (PLAN) that have been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the Law of the Sea treaty, occasionally even violating this pact;

• The uncertain future of a reviving Russia;

• Ongoing territorial disputes with China, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan;

• Nontraditional security threats, including natural disasters, infectious diseases, man-made accidents, and terrorism; and

• Japan’s perceived vulnerability to an energy supply cutoff because it depends heavily on oil from the Middle East.

Indeed, there is even a widespread view among Japanese security experts that North Korea’s provocations provide Japan with legitimate cover to advance its defense posture and capability in order to meet these threats and uncertainties, especially those related to China.

As it weighs the North Korea threat, Japan also has to place equal if not greater value on strengthening its bilateral alliance with the United States. Perhaps even more importantly, Tokyo today aspires to enhance its diplomatic standing in the world in order to balance against China’s rising political influence. To do so, Japan is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and trying to foster regional integration and institutionalization in Asia, with the aim of shaping rather than reacting to the global and regional security environment.

The changing geopolitical landscape in Asia is prompting Japan to resort to a new diplomatic principle of “value-oriented diplomacy,” emphasizing the adoption of universal values and disciplines as major diplomatic instruments, such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and the market economy.

Japan is currently embarking on a new major diplomatic initiative to build an “arc of freedom and prosperity” around the outer rim of the Eurasian continent through diplomacy that emphasizes values.[1] Tokyo decision-makers regard Japan’s international reputation as an asset the country has nurtured since the end of World War II. They regard it as too valuable to throw away simply for the sake of establishing its own nuclear deterrent against North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

Debating Japan’s Nuclear Option

To be sure, since North Korea expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in December 2002, there has been some open debate in Japan about whether to acquire nuclear weapons. This discussion has been fairly marginal, however, and included several consistent characteristics.

First, a limited number of conservative politicians have for decades argued for a vision of Japan with an independent military capability.

Second, it still remains very difficult and controversial for many Japanese politicians to advocate nuclear weapons. Careless comments by Cabinet members on this matter can trigger a huge controversy. For example, Shoichi Nakagawa, chairman of the Policy Research Council of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), made public remarks on Japan’s nuclear option repeatedly after North Korea’s nuclear test, which made world headlines. He continued to repeat this remark despite strong pressures from the other LDP leaders to retract his comments. Even he, however, did not go beyond saying that Japan needed open discussions on its nuclear option.

Third, as noted, a majority of the Japanese public does not yet seem to perceive neighboring countries’ nuclear weapons as an issue of the highest priority. In fact, the presence of nuclear weapons on the neighboring continent is nothing new to Japan. Since the 1960s, Japan has learned to “peacefully” co-exist with Chinese nuclear weapons. (In a sense, this may be a reflection of the public’s tacit confidence in the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence.)

Fourth, it is no longer taboo to discuss nuclear strategy and the hypothetical possibility that Japan could require such weapons. Although a nuclear option is still unacceptable to the general public, there is recognition that such an option should be discussed openly. Within the national security community, experts are raising voices to call for pragmatic debate on Japan’s nuclear option, but no one dares to take the lead in such a discussion because the issue is still relatively sensitive. Leading this kind of discussion could negatively affect the government’s funding of an individual researcher’s work.

Overall, a majority of the Japanese public does not support the possession of nuclear weapons, at least so far, and there is only limited support for even examining whether Japan’s nuclear weapons would contribute to strengthening deterrence against any adversary and whether Japan would actually be able to develop nuclear weapons if it should decide to do so.

The Utility of Japan’s Nuclear Armament

Technically, experts have long contended that Japan possesses the basic capabilities to produce crude nuclear weapons. Indeed, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said last fall that “Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons.” But he added, “We are not saying we have plans to possess nuclear weapons.”

Japan has nuclear fuel-cycle programs that produce reactor-grade plutonium, although in the form of mixed-oxide fuel, for civilian purposes. Japan also has the M-V and H2-A rockets, which have potential intercontinental capabilities.

Japan has not yet established the warhead control technology necessary for operational missiles. In addition, Japan does not have the basic infrastructure that would be essential for nuclear weaponry, including a nuclear doctrine, a stringent legal framework to protect classified information, a unified command and control system, or a unified intelligence system.

Moreover, Japan’s use of any nuclear material has been strictly regulated by bilateral and international treaties. It is illegal for Japan to use its plutonium for weapons purposes without the consent of its treaty counterparts, unless Japan dare follow the brinksmanship strategy of North Korea. Even the proponents of Japan’s nuclear armament acknowledge that Japan would not be able to develop nuclear weapons without the approval and cooperation from other countries, most importantly the United States, because of Japan’s obligations under bilateral treaties to use imported nuclear materials, equipment, facilities, and technologies for peaceful purposes.

Furthermore, Japan’s scientific and academic communities still remain within the pacifist tradition despite the general trend toward Japan becoming a more “normal country.” It would take enormous effort to establish a working relationship between these communities and the national security community. This would invariably make it difficult to mobilize resources essential for the construction of any sophisticated nuclear weapon.

Additionally, under Japan’s democratic government, selecting the location of nuclear weapons facilities could prove a painstaking process. Over the past decades, for instance, the selection of a location for a radioactive-waste storage site has faced strong opposition from local communities nationwide.

The Japanese government has quietly re-examined its nuclear option several times, most poignantly in the 1960s when China conducted its first nuclear test. All such examinations have reached the same conclusion: Japan’s possession of its own nuclear arsenal had little strategic merit. These studies have determined that a nuclear Japan could motivate a number of other countries to pursue nuclear development, and Japan could not secure a location to store nuclear weapons safely given its geographic limitations. Even the option to base nuclear weapons on submarines could not be completed before a decade and would require an enormous amount of investment, a challenge given Japan’s current budget deficit.

Furthermore, Japan believes that the credibility of the international nonproliferation regimes is still intact. These regimes are certainly imperfect, but Japan believes they have established legitimacy in the international community. As a result, Japan has intensified its efforts to strengthen these regimes by complementing them with various national, bilateral, and multilateral measures. Japan assesses that the relative costs associated with noncompliance with the treaties outweigh and should continue to outweigh the relative costs associated with observing the regimes.

Lastly, most of the pragmatic thinkers who support examining, though not necessarily pursuing, Japan’s nuclear option favor a strong Japanese-U.S. alliance. For example, former Japanese ambassador to Thailand, Hisahiko Okazaki, one of Japan’s most prominent strategic thinkers, argues that Japan’s nuclear armament should proceed in tandem with the strengthened bilateral alliance with the United States, while recognizing that the potential utility of Japan’s own nuclear weapons could be fairly marginal. In his view, the real utility of Japan’s discussion of a nuclear option may lie in its utility to indirectly press the United States to continue its nuclear commitment to protect Japan.[2]

Indeed, this also has been the line of thinking among some of Japan’s key strategic thinkers over the past decades. In the 1970s, Takuya Kubo, then bureau director of defense policy of Japan’s Defense Agency, wrote an article articulating Japan’s defense posture: “[I]f Japan prepares latent nuclear capability by which it would enable Japan to develop significant nuclear armament at anytime…the United States would hope to sustain [the] Japan-U.S. security system by providing [a] nuclear guarantee to Japan, because otherwise, the U.S. would be afraid of a rapid deterioration of the stability in…international relations triggered by nuclear proliferation.” [3] Even today, the authors have met several journalists and officials who have also expressed similar views, although privately.

Japan’s Deterrence Posture

Given those relative merits and demerits, Tokyo’s decision-makers have been pursuing another option as a response to North Korea’s nuclear testing, in contrast to the political rhetoric surrounding the nuclear option. These policymakers are determined to continue efforts to strengthen deterrence on multiple fronts by further institutionalizing the bilateral alliance with the United States and by developing a comprehensive national security posture. In fact, over the past years, Japan has been developing a comprehensive national security strategy to cover and integrate a wide range of areas, including assurance, dissuasion, deterrence, denial, defense, and damage confinement as well as crisis management, in order to keep up with the changing security environment.

The strongest indirect supporter of these efforts has been North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Since the 1990s, Japan’s national security policy and the Japanese-U.S. alliance have consistently evolved every time when there was a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

After the North Korean crisis in 1993-1994, Japan decided to redefine its roles and missions within the alliance, announced a Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security in 1996, and created the new Japanese-U.S. defense guidelines in 1998. When North Korea launched the Taepo Dong missile over Japan that same year, Japan decided to embark on joint research into missile defenses with the United States. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the new North Korean crisis since 2002, Japan has strengthened its alliance with the United States by demonstrating its support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and for the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. In addition, in the aftermath of the October 2006 North Korean nuclear test, Japan has launched a new initiative to cooperate with NATO and other U.S. allies and friendly countries to tackle issues of global security jointly so that Japan will be regarded as a responsible global stakeholder.

Japan has also been steadily strengthening its deterrence capability, as defined by its “National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG) for FY 2005 and After.” In contrast to the previous NDPG, which defined Japan’s national security almost solely in terms of Japan’s homeland defense, it has clearly introduced protecting the international security environment as an essential component that defines Japan’s national security. This document offers three approaches to achieve Japan’s national security: Japan’s own defense efforts, Japan’s cooperation with the United States, and Japan’s cooperation with the international community. The last element provides the basic rationale for Japan Self-Defense Forces actively to participate in operations abroad in coordination with the United States and the United Nations.

Traditionally, the Japanese-U.S. alliance has focused primarily on bilateral cooperation at a strategic level, that is, Japan’s reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, without any specific definition of the two militaries’ roles and missions and without any concrete joint military planning. The alliance was not really structured to deal effectively with security problems at tactical or theater levels. As Sugio Takahashi, senior fellow of the Japan National Institute of Defense Studies, argues, the current process of strengthening the bilateral alliance would enhance the credibility of deterrence by filling in the “blank spot” in the escalation ladder from the tactical and theater levels to the strategic level.

The strengthening of the Japanese-U.S. alliance has been implemented in tandem with a U.S. effort to forge an alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region consisting of multiple bilateral alliance systems. For example, U.S. allies and friendly countries have conducted regular multilateral joint exercises. The strengthened Japanese-U.S. alliance, supplemented by multilateral security dialogues, is expected to constitute an indispensable basis for constructing this dense alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region. It also is expected to serve as an essential confidence-building tool among Asian-Pacific nations to enhance the credibility of deterrence and even to enable adoption of coercive measures against hostile countries or WMD proliferators when inevitable. In addition, Japan has been striving to initiate cooperation with NATO with the intention of attaching a global horizon to its bilateral alliance with the United States.

Japan also is accelerating deployment of a two-tiered integrated missile defense system that consists of sea-based systems to be deployed on Aegis destroyers and a land-based Patriot system. After North Korea’s July 2006 missile launches and its October 2006 nuclear weapons test, the Japanese government has decided to shorten the system’s deployment schedule. The entire architecture of the missile defense system is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011. The Japanese government decided in early 2006 that the missile defense interceptor (the SM-3 missile) was already deployable because it had demonstrated a reasonable record of interceptions. The SM-3 missiles are scheduled to be introduced on Japan’s Aegis destroyers in this fiscal year. The infrastructure on the Aegis destroyers also has been improved in order to perform the missile defense mission.

The primary immediate objective of the anti-missile system is to defeat incoming medium-range ballistic missiles, particularly North Korea’s Nodong missiles. Japanese defense officials have demonstrated increasing confidence in the system’s ability to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, a capability that is improving steadily. There is an emerging view among Japanese defense officials that as Japan increases the number of deployed interceptors in the coming years, the system could be expected theoretically to negate an adversary’s missiles, such as North Korea’s Nodong missiles, by outpacing their speed of deployment. Whether this will occur depends on the resources available for Japan’s anti-missile system versus that of its adversary.

Simultaneously, the missile defense system is expected to complicate an adversary’s strategic calculation about the probability of a successful attack on Japanese targets, thereby creating uncertainty regarding the relative merits of launching such a missile toward Japan. This would further strengthen deterrence.

The current plan is to have Japan’s system operate autonomously, independent from the U.S. system against longer-range missiles. As such, it remains unclear to what extent the Japanese government’s and the U.S. government’s command and control systems will be integrated when these systems are deployed or what level of interoperability can be achieved between the two militaries. Additionally, it is unclear whether Japan can legally intercept any long-range ballistic missiles heading toward the United States because doing so could violate the Japanese government’s interpretation of its constitution, which prohibits itself from engagement in the act of collective self-defense. Abe has launched a commission to examine these issues.

Japan’s Strategic Push

In addition to the above efforts, Japanese officials would like more detailed discussions with their U.S. counterparts on U.S. nuclear doctrine and strategy, including its operational details, as an additional measure to sustain the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. There have been few bilateral discussions on such matters so far. Although Japan must establish stringent mechanisms for information protection before discussing such sensitive matters with the United States, once it does so, the Japanese government may want to have a regularized bilateral mechanism to discuss the strategic details, somewhat similar to the institutional framework of the Nuclear Planning Group of NATO.

In fact, Japanese government officials and experts have recently been discussing the possibility of establishing a Japan-U.S. Nuclear Planning Group. As Michael Green, former senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council in the Bush administration, has said, Tokyo may want to have “some control of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”

Certainly, Japanese security experts and officials have expressed frustration over the ambiguous nature of U.S. declaratory policy about its nuclear umbrella. There is an emerging view in Japan that it should ask for a more explicit statement of policy from the U.S. government, for example, by revising the bilateral defense guidelines to state that the United States would retaliate with nuclear weapons if Japan were to be attacked by an adversary’s nuclear weapon. Indeed, as they manage the alliance, U.S. policymakers would be well advised to consider how to manage Japan’s increasing aspiration to be consulted in the formation of the U.S. nuclear posture and to participate in the operation of U.S. extended deterrence. This should capture more attention than worries that Japan will pursue a nuclear weapons option.


As noted, Japan’s domestic reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test has been much more restrained than predicted by some foreign experts, particularly in the United States. Similar predictions followed China’s nuclear tests in the 1960s and the North Korea nuclear crisis of 1992-1994. Then, as now, these predictions have proven ill founded.

It is difficult to find in Japan any major public leader who strongly advocates Japan’s pursuit of its own nuclear option or who questions the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence. Shifts in Japan’s regional security environment and strategic culture from pacifism to realism in recent years have ended the taboo on discussing publicly the hypothetical possibility that Japan might pursue a nuclear option. After North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test, Japanese media highlighted remarks by a limited number of Japanese politicians, including Cabinet members, who argued in favor of a public discussion about Japan’s nuclear option. Others countered that such a discussion could invoke regional concerns about Japan’s nuclear intentions. Tokyo’s decision-makers are concerned that such a discussion might undermine the trust it has fostered with its neighbors since the end of World War II. These political leaders deem retaining this trust to be of greater value to Japan than developing a nuclear deterrent against North Korea.

Thus, the consensus in Japan today favors continued reliance on the Japanese-U.S. alliance, the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and missile defense to negate North Korea’s nuclear capability. Of course, the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence is key here. Certainly, Japanese political leaders and strategic planners aspire to secure the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. In the minds of Japanese political leaders and strategic planners, the answer to this challenge is not whether to pursue Japan’s nuclear option, but rather how to secure some control or participation in the process of shaping and sustaining U.S. extended deterrence. The focus is to examine what type of bilateral mechanism may be appropriate to conduct regularized dialogue with the United States on nuclear strategy issues, whether in official or unofficial channels, and what agenda Japan may want to discuss as well as what type of information the United States may want to share with Japan under what conditions. In a way, Japan and the United States now have a unique opportunity to shape each other’s priorities in the realm of nuclear strategic affairs.

Hajime Izumi is a professor at the University of Shizuoka in Shizuoka, Japan. Katsuhisa Furukawa is a research fellow at the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society at the Japan Science and Technology Agency in Tokyo.


1. Taro Aso, “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity: Japan’s Expanding Diplomatic Horizons,” Speech at the Japan Institute of International Affairs Seminar, November 30, 2006, Tokyo.

2. Hisahiko Okazaki, “Time to Consider a Nuclear Strategy for Japan,” Daily Yomiuri, April 8, 2007.

3. Takuya Kubo, “Boueiryoku Seibi no Kangaekata [A framework to consider the arrangement of Japan’s defense capabilities],” February 20, 1971, found at http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPSC/19710220.O1J.html (in Japanese).

Japan, Australia Sanction North Korea

Paul Kerr

In a coordinated action, Japan and Australia announced Sept. 19 that they had adopted sanctions targeting multiple foreign entities tied to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

The governments said that the sanctions were adopted in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1695, which the council adopted in July after North Korea launched several ballistic missiles. (See ACT, September 2006.) The resolution condemned the launches and called on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis surrounding the country’s nuclear weapons program. The last round of such talks was held in November 2005. (See ACT, September 2006.)

The resolution requires states to prevent missiles and related “items, materials, goods and technology” from being transferred to North Korea’s missile or chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs. This requirement includes preventing the transfer of “any financial resources in relation to” Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

Australia and Japan each punished the same 12 organizations, as well as a Swiss citizen. All are already subject to similar U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, May 2006.) Japan also designated three additional institutions as suspect.

The sanctions restrict the designated entities’ ability to conduct financial transactions in the two countries. In Australia, the designees are prohibited from conducting financial transactions without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of Australia, the country’s central bank. A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that Tokyo’s sanctions prohibit financial transactions between the designated entities and Japanese citizens or institutions.

During a Sept. 19 press briefing, Tomohiko Taniguchi, deputy press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would not say whether Tokyo plans to renew other sanctions previously imposed after the missile tests. These included barring North Korean officials and a North Korean passenger ferry from entering Japan.

A Sept. 19 Department of State press release praised the actions by Japan and Australia and indicated that Washington might place additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the missile tests.

The statement added that the United States “strongly encourage[s] other states” to take actions similar to Australia’s and Japan’s, but none have yet done so. For example, South Korea halted food and fertilizer assistance to North Korea following the tests but has not announced any further measures.

For its part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters Sept. 19 that Beijing “opposes” the new sanctions.

More Talks?

Taniguchi stated that the measures are meant to send a “powerful message” that North Korea should return to the six-party talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang, however, has not indicated that it will do so.

Meanwhile, the United States appears to have somewhat softened its resistance to engaging in bilateral talks with North Korea before the six-party talks resume. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow indicated during a Sept. 21 interview with South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill would be willing to travel to Pyongyang for bilateral meetings should North Korea agree to return to the talks.

North Korea has expressed interest in such a meeting. A June Foreign Ministry statement invited Hill to visit the country and “directly explain” the Bush administration’s position regarding the talks.

Hill has never visited North Korea, but the two countries have previously held bilateral meetings elsewhere. For example, U.S. officials met with their North Korean counterparts during past rounds of the six-party talks and held lower-level meetings in New York. (See ACT, September 2005.) Furthermore, U.S. officials told North Korea last fall that Hill was willing to visit the country if Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor. North Korea rejected the proposal. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Vershbow’s recent statement indicates a slight shift in the administration’s position. U.S. statements in recent months have suggested that the United States would only hold bilateral talks with North Korea during another session of the six-party talks.

Other participants in the talks have argued that Washington and Pyongyang should meet to resolve concerns about the September 2005 U.S. designation of Macau-based Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.”

Pyongyang has repeatedly cited that designation, which was followed by Macau’s decision to freeze the bank’s North Korean assets, as the reason for its refusal to return to the talks.


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.






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