Monday, November 06, 2006

Japan Goes Nuclear?

I read in the news today that there is controversy in Japan over whether the country should pursue a nuclear weapons program. I'm sincerely glad to hear it.

I don't really mind if Japan goes nuclear. Or, more accurately, I don't think anyone has the right to complain if they do. Japan is, to any objective view, the most likely target of a North Korean missile attack. They have a right to defend themselves in kind. Now that the North has nukes (erm...something like nukes), there's nothing serious that anyone can say against Japan trying to get the same for themselves.

Of course, there are good reasons why Japan shouldn't go nuclear. For one thing, there is the possiblity of a domino escalation (as China responds by restarting its program, India reacts to this, Pakistan reacts to Indian, Iran intensifies its efforts, etc.). For another, it's usually better to have fewer nukes floating around. Japan is technically protected by the US nuclear shield and so in theory doesn't need weapons of its own.

However, if I were Japanese, I know that I would want nuclear weapons for my country right about now, and I don't feel I can begrudge them that. No one wants to trust their national security to a foreign power!

I don't think Japan will probably develop nuclear weapons openly, if they even develop them at all. It's true that there is an anti-nuclear taboo in Japan - and yes, because of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But I think it's a Very Good Thing that they're talking about it.

I don't mean that in terms of Japanese internal politics. Japan's resurgent nationalism is not a good thing on the whole - though it may be short-term necessary to tolerate and even encourage it a bit to prod Japan into taking more of an active role in its security situation. No, I mean it's a Good Thing in the sense that it's a consequence to dangle in front of North Korea for its bluster.

Members of the North Korean military may well entertain fantasies about a "rematch" with Japan - to pay them back for the 1910-1945 colonial period. In fact, I would be surprised, given the level of nationalistic propaganda that goes on in North Korea, if they didn't. The very nation is founded on the myth of Kim Il Sung the fearless resistance fighter on a white horse coming over Mt. Paekdu to save the Korean people, etc. There is a score to settle with the Japanese - no doubt about it. But China wants no such thing. Things are going too well in China now. The economy is growing rapidly, and China's political influence grows daily. They have nothing to gain (and everything to lose) by allowing North Korea to ratchet up tensions in this way.

Japan openly discussing getting the bomb for itself can have only made China angry - at North Korea. And this is what we want - as much tension between China and the Kim regime as possible. I very much believe that China is planning for an eventual coup against the Kim family. They have been quietly taking over operational control of a lot of the North's infrastructure for the past 5 years. The typical view on this is that they are simply trying to prevent a collapse - since a collapse of the Kim regime would mean a flood of refugees and associated economic problems that China doesn't need right now. But I think it goes further than that. They're also putting themselves in a position to back a successor - one of the local party bosses, or else a group of them. What China is doing (probably) is setting up regional power bases. They're setting up contacts and distribution networks at the local level so that they can reward people loyal to Beijing and also prop them up should Pyongyang start to get hostile and crack down. In this way, they gain lots of political influence inside the World's Most Isolated Nation. If China doesn't want the Kim Regime ousted now, it's only because they're not yet sure they can control the outcome.

That's why it's all the more important to encourage a coup now - to finesse their trumps. Making China angry at Kim and straining relations between Beijing and Pyongyang is a good way to get this ball rolling.

Japan, whether it knows it or not, is playing its part beautifully, and I encourage them to keep up the good work!


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