Editorial: U.S. nuclear weapons must not be allowed on Japanese territory

The three non-nuclear principles have long been the policy of our nation: Japan will not possess, produce, or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons into its territory. However, the words of an influential politician may shake these fundamental principles.

“Is it really right for us to say that we want the protection of U.S. nuclear weapons, but we don’t want them stationed inside our country?” said Shigeru Ishiba, the former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on a television program.

Mr. Ishiba’s remarks were presumably made with the intention of starting debate over whether or not U.S. nuclear arms should be deployed on Japanese territory in order to strengthen the nation’s deterrence against North Korea, which has repeatedly launched missiles and performed nuclear tests. Such remarks, though, are appalling.

As the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack, Japan has long called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is only right that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, when asked about Mr. Ishiba’s comment at a press conference, stressed that Japan would steadfastly maintain the three non-nuclear principles.

Mr. Ishiba’s remarks are utterly unacceptable, a flat denial of the dogged efforts and earnest desire of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fact that a ruling party heavyweight would mention the idea of deploying nuclear weapons could draw international criticism.

Mr. Ishiba, who has also served as defense minister, has expounded on this subject before. This time he cast doubt on the three non-nuclear principles by saying, “Not possessing, producing, or introducing nuclear weapons into the country, and not even discussing the matter...is that really okay?” He may be suggesting that overall deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, cannot be maintained unless nuclear weapons are placed on Japanese soil.

Were these remarks made, in the form of a proposal from a politician who is savvy on defense issues, to fuel a drastic shift in current defense policy? Although he has drawn the line at Japan possessing its own nuclear arms, his words nevertheless trample upon the sentiments of the A-bombed cities. Such rhetoric cannot be overlooked.

It is dismaying, too, that there are politicians within the LDP who reportedly have expressed sympathy with Mr. Ishiba’s ideas. Moreover, some have even suggested that the debate be about not only “bringing nuclear weapons into Japan” but about the three non-nuclear principles themselves. While Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga has said that the Japanese government will abide by the three non-nuclear principles, he is tolerant of the debate over this matter within his party.

For politicians of the A-bombed nation, which has been appealing for nuclear abolition on the foundation of the three non-nuclear principles, rhetoric of this nature is a thoughtless act and demonstrates a poor grasp of this crucial issue.

Meanwhile, Fumio Kishida, the chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, is opposed to hosting nuclear weapons, saying that any debate about deterrence should be made without touching the three non-nuclear principles. The ruling coalition of the Komeito party shares Mr. Kishida’s opinion, stating that “No change should be made in nuclear policy.”

The opposition parties have voiced concern, arguing that expressions of support for revising nuclear policy may “lead to an argument that Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons.” In fact, some comments made in the United States have backed the idea of Japan going nuclear. We also hear that some in South Korea, Japan’s neighbor, have begun to again voice the option of nuclear arms. These developments may have occurred in reaction to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches, which have alarmed the citizens of Japan and South Korea, but we should not waver.

If we respond to nuclear dangers by picking up nuclear arms ourselves, this will only escalate nuclear development and proliferation, and the risk of a nuclear war accidentally breaking out rises even higher.

In fact, these tense international conditions concerning North Korea make clear the limits of the idea of nuclear deterrence. The only way to be free from the nuclear threat is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

To abolish nuclear weapons, and denuclearize the Korean peninsula, Japan must stand firm on the three non-nuclear principles. Both economic pressure and diplomatic means are needed to compel North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Nuclear deterrence will only result in a crisis. It is now time to ponder the importance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We strongly urge the nuclear nations, as well as the countries that continue to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, including Japan, to reconsider their position and become supporters of this treaty.

(Originally published on September 9, 2017)