Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Europe and Denuclear Japan

Obama's April 5 Prague speech advocating the end of nuclear weapons has not yet stimulated the world's nuclear states to offer their own nonproliferation proposals. However, the speech has inspired our European allies and the new Japanese DPJ-led government to use denuclearization to press their own political agendas. Both seem to reject the deterrence effect of nuclear weapons, and both want to keep the peace by other means.

On October 14th, four prominent French politicians (Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister; Bernard Norlain, General, former commander of the air combat force; Alain Richard, former Minister of Defense; Michel Rocard, former Prime Minister) wrote a letter to Le Monde calling into question the necessity of nuclear weapons and efficacy of deterrence. For them, nuclear weapons have become mere expressions of state vanity.

In Europe and Japan, politicians want to take Obama at his word that nuclear weapons are "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War" and that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to lead as the only nation ever to have used one. The Hatoyama Administration is busy readying a proposal on a Northeast Asian nuclear free zone. Currently, the DPJ government is trying to clarify what secret nuclear agreements exist between the U.S. and Japan.

Past Japanese administrations were fearful that the U.S. might withdraw its nuclear umbrella and end its policy of extended deterrence. Reportedly, government representatives went so far as to list what nuclear weapons they wanted the Americans to keep in Japan. Japanese diplomats submitted to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States a memo outlining some of the nuclear capabilities they wanted retained, such as advanced nuclear warheads, nuclear submarines and B-52 bombers.

In an October 18 speech in Kyoto, Okada noted the central contradiction in Japanese policy on nuclear weapons: “Hitherto, the Japanese government has said to the U.S., ‘We don’t want you to declare no first use because it will weaken nuclear deterrence.’ However, it cannot be said to be consistent to call for nuclear abolition, while requesting the first use of nuclear weapons for yourself." (Katsuya Okada, Remarks at Atarashii Jidai no Nichibei Kankei [Japan-U.S. relationship in a new era], Kyoto, October 18, 2009) Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been a bit more circumspect in seeking a nuclear-free world. He has indicated understanding about the need for a nuclear deterrent, calling it "one way of thinking to deal with current threats."

For their part, the Europeans are pressing for the removal of remaining nuclear warheads in Western Europe. Five European nations -- Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey -- are believed to house roughly 200 U.S. B-61 gravity bombs. On Friday, November 6th, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of his new coalition government's desire for the withdrawal of the 18 nuclear weapons that are speculated to be located on German soil.

The Germans have backing from the Belgians and Dutch. The new Norwegian government also called for a debate within Nato, as it revises its basic doctrine, known as the strategic concept, due to be completed in the first half of next year

"These moves bring out into the open a topic which for too long has been discussed by diplomats and technocrats only," said former British Defense Minister Des Browne, who now leads a group of British parliamentarians that focuses on nuclear disarmament. "(It) makes possible a genuine debate between allies about the role of nuclear weapons in the NATO strategy, as set out in the strategic concept which guides alliance generals.

Japan is often the outlier in international political and economic policy. Yet, in regard to the movement to rethink deterrence theory and press for denuclearization, the new Japanese government appears uncannily in sync with Europe. It is not that Japan is rejecting all things Western, it is that Tokyo is rejecting the American model. The "constant" of Japan siding with the Americans on security is becoming undone--likely to the satisfaction of the Europeans and others.

See: Opportunity to Lead: Japan's Critical Role in the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Hiroshima Peace Media Center, Oct. 12 2009, by Joe Cirincione.

The Role of Nuclear Weapons: Japan, the U.S., and “Sole Purpose Arms Control Today, November 2009, Arms Control Association, by Masa Takubo.

Later: At a National Defense Forum breakfast on November 11th, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command said, "When looking into the future a basic question is ... will we still need nuclear weapons 40 years from now? I believe the answer to that question is yes."

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