Criticism mounts against comment made by Japanese foreign minister, welcoming new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

One after another, opposition parties have criticized Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the ongoing regular Diet session over Mr. Kono’s comment that Japan “highly appreciates” the latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The strategic guidelines for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, put forth by the Trump administration, have clearly expressed the intention of expanding the role of nuclear weapons. Some lawmakers of the opposition parties will continue to grill Mr. Kono with questions.

Since February 5, legislators from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party of Japan have persistently questioned Mr. Kono in the Budget Committee session of the Lower House, saying, “Do you appreciate the NPR even though it retreats from the aim of abolishing nuclear weapons?” and “The Japanese government has declared that it is taking the lead in nuclear disarmament efforts, but your statement contradicts this.” Behind their questioning is the fact that the NPR, the first released by the Trump administration, mentions the possibility of launching a nuclear strike in retaliation for an attack made by conventional weapons, and plainly states that the United States will seek to develop smaller, low-yield nuclear arms.

In response to this questioning, Mr. Kono said repeatedly, “North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons pose a real threat to us. As we have no other option but to rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence to protect the lives of the people of Japan, it is appropriate that the Japanese government highly appreciates the NPR.” With regard to the concern that the United States has shifted its nuclear policy from the policy pursued by former President Barack Obama’s administration, which had sought a reduced role for nuclear weapons, he said, “With security conditions changing in the world, it is only natural for the NPR to change as well.”

On February 7, the Research Committee on International Economy and Foreign Affairs met in the Upper House. Akira Kawasaki, a member of the international steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, took part in the meeting and provided unsworn testimony. Criticizing the government, Mr. Kawasaki said, “The NPR raises the risk of nuclear catastrophe, and for nothing. Japan should warn the United States of this fact.”

The Japanese Communist Party also plans to emphasize in the Diet that Mr. Kono’s attitude toward the new NPR is problematic.

Meanwhile, Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister of Germany, another nation which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, released a statement on February 4 and expressed grave concern that the NPR could lead to a new nuclear arms race.

Mr. Kawasaki pointed out, “There is a clear contrast between the responses of these two nations. Japan lacks the awareness of the risk that the new NPR could play in fueling a nuclear arms race in the world.”

(Originally published on February 11, 2018)