Japan’s hierarchy has reassured the United States that it is not about to embark on a nuclear-weapons program. “Absolutely not considering” it, said Foreign Minister Taro Aso. “The debate is finished,” asserted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
And that stance is to be applauded. Japan’s 60-year renunciation of nuclear weapons — the nation being the only one to have suffered a nuclear attack — and reliance on the United States’ pledge of defense and nuclear umbrella have served both nations well. The equation is very simple: The more nuclear weapons and the more nations that have them, the more the likelihood someone will try to use one.
Abe insists that the debate is finished, but what is remarkable is that there was any debate about launching a nuclear-weapons program at all. The topic has long been taboo. But until Abe put his foot down, his foreign minister had been saying “it’s important to have discussions on the matter.” The discussions have been in response to North Korea’s test of a nuclear device, and those discussions will grow more intense if North Korea goes ahead, as it has threatened to do, and tests three more bombs.
Look at it from Japan’s standpoint: It has a belligerent neighbor, now nuclear-armed, in North Korea, which has already fired one long-range missile in its direction. Its protector, the United States, is in political turmoil. And the one nation that could resolve this crisis, China, has so far been ineffectual in its representations to North Korea.
The debate may be finished, but it’s far from over.