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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Will Japan Become the Next Nuclear Superpower?

On the 18th, the policy chief of Japan's governing party called the US use of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki 'a crime.' Normally, when japanese government officials speak of the use of atomic weapons at the end of WWII, they call it 'regrettable.' But a common point of view from Japan's right wing is that Nagasaki and Hiroshima represent a war crime for which the US has never been held to account.

BBC News:

Mr Nakagawa has attracted controversy recently, calling for a debate on whether Japan should have nuclear arms.

He raised the possibility that North Koreans might try to attack Japan with their own nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Nagasaki over the weekend, Mr Nakagawa - a right-winger - said that atomic bombings were a crime. The American decision to drop the atomic bomb was truly impermissible on humanitarian grounds, he said.

He repeated the comments on Monday, telling Reuters news agency: "By dropping two atomic bombs, many people, including ordinary citizens, were killed... I believe that such an act can be called a crime."

The comments reflect the way that japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pulled his country to the right, while raising the possibility of a nuclear armed Japan.

Last month, Foreign Minister Taro Aso announced that Japan is nuclear capable -- meaning they have the ability to build a weapon, but haven't. No one should be surprised to learn that Japan, a nation with a powerful economy and a high level of technology, is capable of building nuclear weapons. But it's the announcement that's important -- the japanese right want the world to know that they can be a military, as well as economic, powerhouse.

The move toward a nuclear Japan would require them to amend their constitution. Japan has a 'peace constitution,' drawn up after the japanese surrender in WWII, that limits the country to a defensive military. Strategic arms, such as nukes, are impossible to cast as anything other than offensive -- decades of US spin to the contrary -- and pursuing a nuclear program would require amending the constitution.

Associated Press:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he wants to pass legislation next year that would allow a national referendum on changing Japan‘s pacifist Constitution.

He took office in September after winning a three-year term as ruling party president. The U.S.-drafted Constitution, which bars Japan from warfare overseas, has never been amended since taking effect in 1947.

The Constitution stipulates that a referendum is required for constitutional change. Special legislation would be required for such a referendum to take place.

Part of the problem is the frustration of the right with the UN. Many japanese believe their country should have standing in proportion with their economic power -- which, to them, means a seat on the powerful UN Security Council. If their military power is equal to their economic power, they believe other UN nations will be more likely to give them the respect they deserve.

It's hard to disregard the tense relationship between Japan and North Korea in all this. And China, remembering japanese war crimes, is unhappy with the prospect of japanese nukes -- as well as any new nukes, there are too many in the neighborhood as it is -- but Japan is taking steps to calm chinese nervousness.

The way things stand now, a nuclear Japan is unlikely any time soon. But if six party talks with North Korea continue to go nowhere, it may become a reality.

And it could trigger an asian nuclear arms race.


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