Japan’s Nuclear Option: Security, Politics, and Policy in the 21st Century

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Edited by Jeffrey W. Thompson and Benjamin Self

Will Japan-the only victim of atomic attack-decide to “go nuclear?” Despite deep-seated anti-nuclear sentiment among the Japanese public, the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea has inflamed speculation about Japan’s own intentions and capabilities, particularly its plutonium reprocessing program. Change within Japan itself has intensified the concerns of those who are suspicious: the erosion of postwar pacifism has led to a new willingness to dispatch forces abroad, while threats in the regional and global security environment are inducing ever-closer cooperation with the United States in areas such as missile defense and counter-terrorism. Along with burgeoning nationalism and renewed debate about revising its Peace Constitution, sympathetic consideration of “the nuclear option” has become a more commonplace feature of the strategic dialogue among some Japanese. An increasing number of observers, therefore, are no longer confident that the long-standing underpinnings of Japan’s non-nuclear posture are entirely reliable as a guide to future policy.

The Stimson Center assembled a joint US-Japan task force to examine the issues surrounding Japan’s nuclear option, comprising specialists on Japanese domestic politics, East Asian regional security, and nuclear non-proliferation, guided by an esteemed group of advisors. While nobody at all familiar with this problem can be entirely without preconceptions, the team brought together diverse views and addressed the questions deeply, delving beyond oversimplifications of the “nuclear allergy” or the implacable logic of Neorealism. The product of the project, this volume approaches Japan’s nuclear options from three perspectives-Japan’s security, political, and policy contexts. While noting areas of debate over Japan’s current non-nuclear posture, overall the studies conclude that Japan does not now view the development of nuclear arms to be in its national interest and that it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. In coming to this conclusion, the task force members explore the implications of the issue for future Japanese strategic thinking, the US-Japan alliance, and the East Asian security environment.

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