Editorial: Japanese government should not support U.S. in strengthening its nuclear arsenal

The Japanese government welcomed a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the guidelines for nuclear strategy recently released by the U.S. Trump administration, saying that this will strengthen extended nuclear deterrence. This is a questionable response from a government that has consistently appealed for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as “the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime.”

The new NPR includes relaxing the conditions for the use of nuclear arms as well as pursuing the development of smaller nuclear weapons. Such objectives are more than simply inconsistent with Japan’s policy. Japan has an important mission, as the world’s only A-bombed nation, to lead the international discussion toward a world without nuclear weapons. However, its support for nuclear deterrence has caused it to stray much too far from this mission.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced the inhumane nature of nuclear arms first-hand when the United States dropped atomic bombs on these cities 73 years ago. The Japanese government should know that its stance is very different from the wish of the A-bomb survivors who have been calling for nuclear abolition with the words “no others should be forced to endure the same fate.”

During the Cold War, humanity experienced a nuclear arms race which resulted in many people becoming “hibakusha” (radiation sufferers) through the process of developing and producing nuclear weapons. Surely we have learned that nuclear weapons are an “absolute evil” and only their total elimination will keep us secure. The “world without nuclear weapons” that former U.S. President Barack Obama advocated can be seen as an extension of this course.

But the latest NPR reverses this course. It also refers to the potential use of nuclear weapons in response to any attack with non-nuclear weapons on the United States or its allies. Although the new NPR does not clearly articulate this point, a cyberattack would seem to be no exception for nuclear retaliation.

The Trump administration stresses worsening international conditions since the release of the previous NPR, in 2010, under the Obama administration. Naming countries like Russia, China, and North Korea, the United States emphasizes the need for a “flexible and diversified nuclear capability.”

The Trump administration contends that low-yield nuclear weapons, which are smaller and less powerful bombs with the force of a few kilotons, should be developed as part of its “flexible and diversified nuclear capability.” These smaller bombs are dubbed “usable weapons” because the damage they would wreak is limited to isolated areas compared to the use of larger nuclear bombs. However, this isn’t deterrence; on the contrary, it would lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons. This aim is unacceptable.

If the United States beefs up its nuclear capability, and considers the use of nuclear weapons a feasible option, other countries could use this as an excuse to advance their own nuclear development, arguing that they need to take countermeasures. It’s quite clear that the “diversified” nuclear strategy that the United States seeks to pursue would only accelerate the nuclear arms race.

Last month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a U.S. science journal, announced a new time for the Doomsday Clock, which represents, conceptually, how close the world is to a global catastrophe. The clock was set forward 30 seconds from last year, the hands now indicating two minutes to midnight. The nuclear powers and their allies are strongly urged to make efforts to turn this clock back.

The development of nuclear cruise missiles that could be launched from a ship as well as a submarine is also included in the NPR. These missiles could be deployed on the Pacific Ocean in the future. We can’t deny the possibility that nuclear weapons would be brought into Japanese ports, which violates the Japan’s three non-nuclear principles: not producing, not possessing, and not allowing the entry of nuclear weapons into the country.

The NPR completely rejects the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which was adopted last year, by saying that it’s based on “unrealistic hope.” Not only that, the NPR goes on to say that the United States will not even support ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which is the pillar of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime of which the U.S. is a signatory member. The Japanese government should keep in mind that they have a responsibility to urge the United States to ratify the CTBT in order to realize its early entry into force.

The NPR also calls for “burden sharing” for U.S. allies. That the A-bombed nation would support the United States in its goal of strengthening its nuclear arsenal is completely unacceptable.

(Originally published on February 6, 2018)