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

Section 1, "Introduction"



Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is increasingly cited as one of the most important, if not the most important, objective of U.S. policy in the post-cold war period. Speaking before the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council in December 1997, for example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "I trust we also agree that the gravest potential threat to our security in the next century may come from beyond Europe, from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."1 Furthermore, both NATO and the G-8 have emphasized the centrality of the proliferation problem.2

Specifically, U.S. officials suggest that the greatest danger to U.S. national security is the acquisition and use of nuclear weapons by rogue states or terrorist groups against the United States or its allies.3 Despite policymakers' professed beliefs, however, operational and procurement policy for nuclear forces remains focused on deterring a deliberate surprise attack on U.S. territory by the strategic nuclear forces of Russia. 4 The strategic nuclear forces remain on alert ready to be targeted and fired at a range of military targets in Russia.

However, any realistic appraisal of nuclear dangers would suggest that neither rogue states/terrorist groups nor a deliberate Russian attack is the right focus if the goal of U.S. national security policy is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. The most immediate danger is that India and Pakistan will stumble into a nuclear war following their nuclear tests and their apparent determination to deploy nuclear forces. A second danger will continue to be that Russian missiles will be fired on the United States by accident or as a result of unauthorized action. Over the longer run, these threats will be eclipsed by the danger that the non-proliferation regime will collapse and other states will develop nuclear weapons. A terrorist threat should, in my view, become a matter of serious concern only if there is much wider dispersal of nuclear weapons among states stemming from an open collapse of the non-proliferation regime.

Preventing nuclear proliferation depends on addressing the problem not only on a global basis, but also region by region in key areas of the world. Specifically, preventing further proliferation in Northeast Asia- and in particular, in Japan- is the subject of this paper.

If conflict is to occur among the major nuclear weapons powers, it is most likely to take place in Northeast Asia. The United States, Russia, and China all have substantial military forces in the region as well as major stakes in the area; in addition, there are many sources of potential conflict among the three and their allies within the region, including the future of both the Korean peninsula and Taiwan, and control of both natural resources and territory in local seas.

Not only do these three most active nuclear weapons states confront each other in this area, but it is also the home to four other states - Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and North Korea - that have contemplated the development of nuclear weapons and have the capacity to develop a serious nuclear weapons capability.5 Thus, there is no doubt that the future of nuclear weapons in the international system will be determined in substantial part by what happens in Northeast Asia, and the future of international politics in this area will have a major impact on efforts to control nuclear proliferation.

In order to understand the non-proliferation policy options - and their interaction - in Northeast Asia, this paper will first examine the purposes for which the United States maintains nuclear weapons and explore alternative scenarios for the development of U.S. nuclear policy; it will then examine choices for the Japanese nuclear program.

After discussing these scenarios, the paper will propose U.S. policies designed to ensure that Japan remains both non-nuclear and confident that the U.S. nuclear umbrella will deter nuclear attacks on Japan, while strengthening prospects for cooperative security in Asia.

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1 Statement at the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council Meeting, Brussels, Belgium (17 December 1997). Back

2 For example, see Martin Butcher, "NATO Formulating New Strategic Concept," BASIC Reports 66 (23 October 1998) and "The Birmingham [G8] Summit: Final Communique" (17 May 1998). Back

3 For example, see Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's remarks at the Town Hall Meeting, Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio, (18 February 1998); remarks by the President in his Address to the 51st General Assembly of the United Nations (24 September 1996); and remarks by Samuel R. Berger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, at The Wilson Center, Washington, D.C. (18 June 1996). Back

4 See, for example, the statement by Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Toby T. Gati before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (5 February 1997). Back

5 For information about Japan's nuclear capability, see Selig S. Harrison, "Japan and Nuclear Weapons," in Selig S. Harrison, editor, Japan's Nuclear Future: The Plutonium Debate and East Asian Security (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1996): 3-44; and Taewoo Kim, "Japanese Ambitions, U.S. Constraints, and South Korea's Nuclear Future," in Harrison, Japan's Nuclear Future: 93; for information about Taiwan's nuclear capability, see Leonard S. Spector with Jacqueline R. Smith, Nuclear Ambitions: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons 1989-90 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990): 60, 315-16n. Back


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