Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles and the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella

by Yumi Kanazaki, Editorial Writer

This is the logic that is repeatedly put forward: It is the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the United States, Japan’s ally, that protects our nation. In order to ensure this strategy, U.S. nuclear arms must be brought into Japanese territory in times of need. If not, then Japan must possess its own nuclear arsenal.

But does Japan’s peace and security depend only on nuclear weapons? Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no precise answer to this question. I suspect, however, that the nation’s reliance on nuclear weapons is simply accepted as conventional wisdom and has been overemphasized. Recently, my suspicions have been rekindled.

About ten days ago, Toru Hashimoto, deputy leader of the Japan Restoration Party, paid a visit to the city of Hiroshima. On that occasion, while indicating that his party will abide by the tenets of the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, he remarked, “If nuclear weapons are needed in Japan, I would like to address this question to the public and seek their understanding.” Behind this remark is Mr. Hashimoto’s stated belief that the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet should be carrying nuclear arms.

The Seventh Fleet is that nation’s forward-deployed naval force operating in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. In its command are naval vessels, including an aircraft carrier stationed in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and carrier-based aircraft in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Under a “secret agreement” between the Japanese and U.S. governments, ships carrying nuclear weapons made repeated visits to Japanese ports in the past. As a result, the Three Non-Nuclear Principles were diluted, a betrayal of public opinion.

But about 20 years ago, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union came to an end, the situation changed dramatically. George H. Bush, then the U.S. president, made the decision to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons deployed on ocean-going ships and nuclear-powered attack submarines. By 1994, this “denuclearization” was complete.

After his remarks, Mr. Hashimoto amended his comment about the Seventh Fleet, adding that “We need to confirm whether or not the fleet is carrying nuclear weapons.” In reality, though, such confirmation is unnecessary.

The “umbrella” that the U.S. navy provides Japan is limited to nuclear missiles on strategic nuclear-powered submarines. Their ports are located on the U.S. mainland and the missiles they fire can travel over 7,000 kilometers. In the United States, it is understood that there is no need for the strategic submarines to visit Japanese ports and show off their colossal forms.

In U.S. eyes, nuclear weapons loaded in nuclear-powered submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles located on the U.S. mainland are sufficient to cope with any situation. Bringing nuclear arms into Japan would thus be incomprehensible. The assumption on which such an argument is based has no real foundation.

Yet the issue of playing host to nuclear weapons has not been put to rest. The idea of a nuclear-armed Japan still simmers here. There is no guarantee that the Japanese government will stick to its non-nuclear policy far into the future, no matter who assumes office in Japan and the United States. Efforts to enshrine into law the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, which stipulate that nuclear arms must not be possessed, produced, or brought into Japanese territory, as well as actions undertaken by municipalities that have declared their communities “nuclear-free,” are becoming increasingly important.

Mr. Hashimoto conveyed his thoughts on Twitter as well, saying: “Envisioning a strategy for making Japan a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council should be a priority. Appealing for nuclear abolition without such a strategy is pointless; it’s like commenting on foreign policy and security issues at a local assembly meeting.”

I believe the priority must be to face up to the inconsistent stance perpetuated by the Japanese government, which proclaims its support for nuclear abolition and adherence to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles while continuing to stand beneath the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Appealing for the elimination of nuclear weapons is never a pointless act. The voices of various individuals and organizations, including those from the A-bombed city, have made an impact on politics before.

In July 2009, it was learned that a debate had brewed within the U.S. administration over the cruise missile Tomahawk. Reportedly, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged conservatives in the United States to act to resist the elimination of this missile.

Tomahawk is a tactical nuclear weapon which once threatened the Three Non-Nuclear Principles and had been removed from Japan 20 years prior. Still, the missiles had avoided elimination. Was Japan still clinging to the Tomahawk as an aspect of the nuclear umbrella, though the missiles now sat in storage and had become merely a relic of the Cold War past? Questions over the Japanese government’s handling of this matter were raised in Hiroshima as well.

Six months later, the issue was resolved. Katsuya Okada, who was then the foreign minister, stated, “My view apparently differs from that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Hans Kristensen, a nuclear expert who is familiar with the matter, pointed to Mr. Okada’s comment as a key factor in the Obama administration’s decision to eliminate the Tomahawk.

The number of nuclear warheads in the world today stands at nearly 20,000—a grim reality. The A-bombed nation thus has an important role to play. I wonder if the general election in Japan next month will serve as an opportunity to question the enthusiasm of politicians when it comes to nuclear issues.

(Originally published on November 22, 2012)