East Asia Nuclear Policy Project
Morton H. Halperin, The Nuclear Dimension of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Commentary by John Endicott


The following comments are by John E. Endicott, Director,
Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, and Interim Secretariat of the Limited Nuclear Weapons Free Zone For Northeast Asia.

Having just concluded reading the paper by Mort Halperin, I am torn by two responses. First, as a specialist on Japan, especially the nuclear issue, I find the manner in which the argument is presented to the reader far too simplistic. I find myself writing all sorts of commentary, not vermilion to be sure, in the margins that take exception with Dr. Haperin's assertion that Japanese "Leaders" took this or that position on the nuclear issue without, in the main, identifying these "Leaders." To a layperson interested in the nuclear issue, it must almost surely seem after completing this reading that the Japanese government has been much more interested in obtaining a nuclear weapons' capability than is actually the case.

We are not introduced to the legal constraints of the very limiting Atomic Energy Basic Law which in Article 2 states: "The research, development and utilization of atomic energy shall be limited to peaceful purposes and performed independently under democratic management, the result therefrom shall be made public to contribute to international cooperation."1

Nor are we introduced to the debate leading to the signing in 1970 of the NPT and its ratification on May 24th, 1976. Even in the face of adamant opposition from the Soshinkai (Pure Hearts Society) with high representation from the then important Sato, Fukuda, and Ishii Factions of the LDP, Prime Minister Miki with support from the Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (the important commercial lobby), the middle-of-the-road LDP factions (Shiina, Funada, Mizuta, Nakasone, and Ohira), the opposition parties, and the average Japanese citizen,2 realized ratification of the treaty.

In fact, the entire debate, save for some interesting developments since the end of the Cold War, is dismissed by Dr. Halperin by his decision to "leave aside the question of political feasibility in Japan in order to focus on how U.S. policy choices on nuclear weapons and on Korean unification would affect the domestic political climate in Japan and the views of Japanese leaders on what nuclear posture it should adopt."3 This can be effective in closed government circles where the object is often to think the unthinkable and prepare for all options, but to leave aside such a fundamental aspect of the situation in a public commentary is to risk the formulation of pressures on American policy based on incomplete and possibly stereotypic information. It is risky business at best, and need not be resorted to when we are not faced with an imminent crisis.

My second response to Dr. Halperin is to find myself in agreement with many of the actual proposals presented in the paper. I agree with the options available to the United States regarding nuclear policy: Deterring Deliberate Attacks, Preventing Accidental Attacks, Deterring Nuclear and Conventional Attacks on Allies, and Deterring Actions of Rogue States. Especially I agree when he opines that the future role of nuclear weapons in the international system will be primarily determined by what happens in Northeast Asia.4 I do take exception, however, with his statement that "no Russian objective in Europe or Asia could possibly rise to the level that Russian leaders would view launching a surprise attack as a rational and justifiable act...5" As events in Yugoslavia evolve in the light of NATO enlargement, one could posit several scenarios involving NATO expansion into the Baltic or unforeseen problems from Serbia that could lead revanchist Russian nationalists into a desperation that would not be "rational" from our standpoint, but clearly so in a reasoning comparable to that of Imperial Japan in 1941. Therefore, an American nuclear force structure capable of responding to that kind of eventuality should not be dismissed.

In the discussion regarding nuclear attacks on allies, the subject of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe is first developed and latter expanded upon in the presentation. I would like to tie this subject with that of the paragraph immediately above. Much could be gained in re-assuring Russia that NATO's enlargement is not threatening, or less so, by revisiting our assumptions of the rationale for storing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Some could be re-deployed to the CONUS with the ultimate goal of the entire American nuclear force being either at sea or stored/deployed within the Continental U.S. Clearly, the world can see that technology makes the collocation of nuclear weapons to the theater employed unnecessary. The states of Asia seem to relate to the U.S. nuclear guarantee quite well, even after the consolidation of tactical nuclear weapons by President George Bush in 1991. I would agree with Dr. Halperin that it is time to recognize the safety of the United States for such storage sites, but at the same time, demonstrate some faith in the Russians by coordinating with them, in addition to our NATO Allies, all along the way.

In speaking of U.S. Policy Options with regard to nuclear weapons, three options are identified: Maintain current policy, Stigmatize nuclear weapons further and reduce arsenals, Reemphasize the role of nuclear weapons. While I largely agree with the author, I would suggest adding a fourth option and placing it in the second position. "Reformulate American Non-proliferation Policy" to make it responsive to changed worldwide conditions. In this respect, I would call on the government to reassess its criteria for nuclear free zones, especially those that limit U.S. participation in the creation of new zones, the requirement that all states in a region participate from the beginning in such a zone, and the stipulation that all states in the zone be effectively prohibited from developing or possessing any nuclear devices for whatever purpose.6 This would be a positive option that could then build on the existence of regional nuclear free zones worldwide to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and contribute to the creation of cooperative security environments in many areas of the globe. Dr. Halperin later seems to endorse a greater role for such bodies and agrees that some such structure in Northeast Asia is essential.

In the discussion regarding stigmatizing nuclear weapons, Dr. Halperin makes the point that at some time the U.S. may wish to "... rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack on Japan...."7 However, he correctly notes that such an announcement would "generate very serious disquiet on the part of Japanese leaders." I believe, in light of the Japanese response to the 31 August 1998 missile launch that overflew Japan, this is an understatement in the extreme.

In this same section discussing the stigmatizing of nuclear weapons, a reference is made to the fact that nuclear forces under such a concept "would be de-alerted in a transparent way."8 Of course, de-alerting slows down the ability to respond in a timely manner if the situation calls for the employment of nuclear weapons. Allow this reviewer an observation at this point. As effective as de-alerting may be as an observable CBM, there might come a time when the act of nullifying existing de-alerting procedures could readily restore rationality to an adversary's train of thought. The very transparent re-mating of warheads to missiles, or the revocation of de-targeting agreements, or the removal of rocks from a hardened silo cover could all send clear messages in an era of electronic transparency that could be very useful to the decision maker at the highest level.

In the section dealing with reemphasizing nuclear weapons, the point is made that the U.S., in an emergency or escalating crisis, could "again station nuclear weapons on ships and in bases around the world to make this threat credible."9 It is clearly 20th Century thinking, not 21st Century thinking, to believe it is necessary to place nuclear weapons anywhere in or next to a theater where nuclear weapons may be employed for them to be effective. All that relocating weapons does is to produce an additional target that must be defended in depth against terrorists or special forces who might otherwise not have such a high value American target nearby. We have many visible conventional systems that are designed specifically to be mobile. Let us use those and keep high value targets within the continental U.S.

In discussing Japan and stigmatizing nuclear weapons, the aspect of making the nuclear power program of Japan more transparent is discussed. I believe I am on very firm ground when I indicate that there is no other peaceful nuclear power program so thoroughly examined by the IAEA as Japan. It is by law open both by the Basic Law and by international agreements, both bilateral and multilateral. I do not know how fissile materials in Japan would be channeled into weapons programs without the world knowing. Probably the greatest safeguard in this case are Japanese scientists themselves.

Under this particular option, Dr. Halperin has Japan taking the lead in developing a nuclear weapons free zone in Northeast Asia. Here I join in saying "amen." Since 1991, the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy of Georgia Tech (not the University of Georgia as noted in Dr. Halperin's Footnote # 31) has been examining, as a means to create a cooperative security regime in Northeast Asia, the notion of a nuclear weapons free zone. Japanese participation has been key since the beginning and has been led by the enlightened vision of Lt. General Toshiyuki Shikata, a retired Ground Self Defense Force Officer.

From the very beginning, however, we have been addressing such a zone as a means to get at the crucial area of creating a cooperative security infrastructure and environment in NEA, the heart of which would be a regional agency that would enforce the agreement, once made, and would serve as the mechanism for regularized and frequent interaction by security specialists of Northeast Asia. It would, in essence, become the first working group in the region that would address a specific security issue. Of course, the hope is that it would move on to other areas once confidence and trust has been achieved in the course of realizing a weapons free zone.

This particular concept was first introduced by CISTP to a Washington, D.C. review panel at the Institute for Defense Analyses in February 1992, then internationally in Beijing the month following. It received a positive reaction from all but the Chinese, even including the North Koreans (DPRK) who were present in addition to representatives from the Republic of Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, Mongolia, Russia, and the United States. A year later, when the DPRK threatened to leave the NPT system, the same Chinese participants who had been so unpleasant turned to indicate that they too could be positively interested in such a notion. They wished a nuclear armed North Korea about as much as everyone else in NEA.

Since then we have held meetings to discuss the characteristics of possible zones, the review group growing from the five general officers invited to Atlanta for five weeks in 1995 to over 70 specialists from the military, diplomatic, nuclear power, and peace activist communities of NEA who met in Helsinki last October with the co-sponsorship of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the interim, we had meetings in Buenos Aires, Bordeaux, and Moscow. Over time, the original concept was modified to recognize realities in NEA, and the term "limited" was added to the title. Just as in the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the group of experts recommended a step-by-step approach. We have just concluded a planning meeting in Shanghai to make certain that the October Tokyo plenary meeting will be the most productive yet. Four major areas of discussion will be examined at this meeting: the need for an international review of nuclear free zone criteria; Theater missile defenses and NEA; bilateral and multilateral structures in NEA; and the role of nuclear weapons in NEA interstate relationships.

While all of our efforts have been on the Track II, unofficial level, this coming October meeting in Tokyo will be co-funded by the Council for Global Partnership of the Japan Foundation and the W. Alton Jones Foundation of the United States. At the meeting in Helsinki last October, Finnish experts on the CSCE process took part ensuring that applicable processes could be introduced to the LNWFZ-NEA (Limited Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Northeast Asia) experience. As a result, three baskets have been created: the LNWFZ-NEA, Related CBMs, and Economic Incentives to Insure DPRK Participation.

The reader can readily guess that this reviewer is fully supportive of Dr. Halperin's comments for an active Japan leading NEA into a nuclear free zone, with an agency supportive secretariat and possible OSCD structures to insure to prepare for cooperative security, not confrontation in NEA. However, when he begins to discuss Japan's third option, that of becoming a nuclear weapon state, he makes some comments and statements that clearly need to be footnoted for substantiation. In the discussion about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of "one major impediment to a Japanese nuclear posture,"10 he notes: "Japanese leaders had recognized that they could not match the very large nuclear forces of the Soviet Union; now, they believe that over time, Japan could match the nuclear forces of Russia and China...."11 I would very much like to know who said this among "Japanese leaders." Secondly, Dr. Halperin notes that "As the cold war came to an end, some Japanese leaders appeared to give serious consideration to ending the alliance with the United States and to developing an independent Japanese role in Asia, including the development of an independent nuclear capability."12 This is footnoted as "15-8" from Selig S. Harrison's "Japan's Nuclear Future: The Plutonium Debate and East Asian Security." In checking pages 15-(1)8, the event described deals with December 1971. This quote is so important that it clearly needs a correct cite.13 Moreover, the assertion that "A consensus rejecting this option has now reemerged in Japan," is not footnoted. These are all vital to the thrust of the argument at this point. I would like to agree with the author, but I would also like to view his evidence.

The final section of the paper expressly dealing with Japan addresses the nexus between U.S. nuclear policy and Japanese nuclear weapons. Halperin correctly, in this reviewer's opinion, identifies the three conditions under which Japan might develop nuclear weapons: a failed U.S. relationship; a challenging Korean nuclear weapons capability; and a stalemated non-proliferation environment coupled with an enhanced Chinese threat.14 He asserts that if the U.S. "took the lead in suggesting a Northeast Asian nuclear free zone, Japan would not find it possible to resist." I fundamentally agree with this point, but the current criteria dictating U.S. responses to nuclear free zones requires that they come out of the region affected, not be created as a result of U.S. policy involvement. Here is where a major problem currently exists within our arms control guidance.

Dr. Halperin suggests the membership for a nuclear free zone for NEA. He sees one involving the two Koreas, Japan, possibly Taiwan and Mongolia, " but not any part of the territory of China, Russia, or the United States."15 That differs from the CISTP formula that involves them all (but Taiwan at this point). In discussions over the past eight years, it is clear that the U.S., some of its territory, and some of its weapons must be involved. The U.S. must start to view itself as part of NEA--like it or not, technology has linked us together. U.S. territorial involvement, if only a little bit, assures the kind of participation desired from all players. Also, to have China and Russia as members, not observers, assures that China becomes involved in an arms control measure crucial to the future of NEA. Russian participation, if only in tactical weapons, brings the significant weapons inventory in the region into the game. This is an opportunity to begin an Asian security community; all states of the region should be players even though the waters may well be uncharted.

From pages 24 to 32, almost one/third of the paper, Dr. Halperin reviews the very important Korean Peninsula, a Cooperative Security Arrangement, and A Regional Security Structure.16 To examine it closely in this review would send the review into extra innings. Not needed. He makes the key point when he notes: "If the United States is truly interested in 'engaging' China, it should work hard to draw it into a serious dialogue on cooperative security in Northeast Asia and to establish a security framework in which all key counties with interests in the region could seek to find solutions reflecting a cooperative security approach."17 This reviewer is in full accord, except I would add Russia to the compound so that it reads "China and Russia."

His concluding comments refer to a regional security structure that we should strive to shape in the years ahead that would function as a "new international forum for discussing the security problems of Northeast Asia."18 The components recommended include: a united, democratic Korea; U.S. forces remaining in Korea; an international agreement on security for the Korean peninsula; a nuclear free zone for Northeast Asia; and a Northeast Asian Cooperative Security Organization. This is what is needed as we enter into the 21st Century. The work CISTP has been pursing since 1991 in this regard differs in detail, but the main thrust of this paper and our work is to get America started on a new and imaginative policy for one of the most important areas of the globe. Halperin in his work demonstrates the need for the U.S. to adopt a foreign policy that can engage all the states of NEA in the creation of a new and vital security community that can enhance the security and prosperity of all living in the region and those trading with it. Viewing nuclear weapons as instruments of peace by using their control to create a new NEA only continues a lesson learned by us all after events of October 1962.

Go to paper index

1 John E. Endicott, Japan's Nuclear Option: Political, Technical, and Strategic Factors (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975), p. 44. Back

2 A poll taken by the Sankei Shimbun in December 1975 revealed that 54% of Japanese respondents favored ratification as compared to 17% opposed. Back

3 Morton H. Halperin, "The Nuclear Dimension of the U.S.-Japan Alliance," p. 15. Back

4 Halperin, p. 3. Back

5 Ibid., p. 5. Back

6 See John E. Endicott, "A Limited Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia: A Track II Initiative," Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue Number 35, March 1999, pp. 19-22. Back

7 Halperin, p. 13. Back

8 Halperin, p. 14. Back

9 Ibid., p. 15. Back

10 Halperin, p. 18. Back

11 Ibid. Back

12 Ibid., p. 19. Back

13 Selig S. Harrison, Ed., Japan's Nuclear Future: The Plutonium Debate and East Asian Security (Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment,1996), pp. 15-18. Back

14 Halperin, p. 23. Back

15 Ibid., p. 24. Back

16 Given the structure of this paper, a title that is more inclusive of the subjects covered is in order. This paper is really about collective security in NEA and American policy imperatives -- Japan's nuclear option happens to be one very important part. Back

17 Halperin, p. 29. Back

18 Ibid., p. 30. Back


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