September 21, 2016

Untangling Japan’s Nuclear Dilemma: Deterrence before Disarmament

NOBUYASU ABE  AND HIROFUMI TOSAKI

Introduction

In his historic Prague speech in 2009, President Barack Obama committed the United States to take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons while maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal for deterrence and reassurance as long as nuclear weapons exist.1Obama, Barack. “Remarks by President Barack Obama.” Official Speech, Prague, Czech Republic, 5 April, 2010. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-ByPresident-Barack-Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered/ In response, Tokyo expressed strong support for his first goal, but also concern that a reduced role and size of US nuclear forces might weaken US ex-tended nuclear deterrence, the so-called nuclear umbrella. This seemingly paradoxical response reflects a long standing dilemma in Japanese security policy regarding nuclear weapons.

The total elimination of nuclear weapons has been an earnest and pervasive desire in Japan since the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan also sees the promotion of nuclear disarmament as strength-ening its security by mitigating the nuclear threats that it faces. But, given the security imperatives imposed by its fragile security environment, Japan has depended on US extended nuclear deterrence for many decades. The fact that former Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Eisaku Sato had to accept a secret understanding with the United States that undermined Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles is testimony to the depth of the dilemma that Japan faces. While Japan maintains this set of policies renouncing the possession and manufacturing of nuclear weapons and their introduction into Japanese territory, in 2010 a government-organised committee headed by Professor Shinichi Kitaoka confirmed the existence of a secret “tacit” agreement with the United States to allow passage of American nuclear weapons through Japanese territory.2“Iwayuru ‘Mitsuyaku’ Mondai ni Kansuru Yushikisya Iinkai Houkokusyo”(“Report on the Commission of the So-Called ‘Secret Agreements’.”) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan), 9 March, 2010. http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/gaiko/mitsuyaku/pdfs/hoko ku_yushiki.pdf. The agreement has been obsolete for two decades

Unlike the situation for US allies in the European theatre, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not alleviate all of Japan’s security concerns. Rather, Tokyo perceives that the security environment in Northeast Asia is becoming more unstable and complicated, with such diverse threats and chal-lenges as the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait; North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; China’s rapid and aggressive military modernisation; unresolved is-sues over territory and maritime interests; and the possibility of a power transition due to China’s rise and the relative decline of US power. It is true that thick and complex interdependence has developed among Northeast Asian countries (except North Korea), making it difficult for them to resort to war in order to resolve disputes or enforce their will on others. Still, “[m]ilitary-political security has priority, and the use of force, even all-out war is understood as a possibility”3Buzan, Barry and Ole Wæver. Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 95 in this region.

Japan’s Nuclear Umbrella Dilemma:
Between Aversion and Abandonment

The US nuclear umbrella over Japan has been characterised as existential deterrence based on the US possession of massive nuclear forces, mutual defence commitments under the Japan-US Security Treaty and occasional reaffirmations by Washington. Unlike in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and South Korea during the Cold War, US nuclear forces were not deployed in Japan, nor were operational plans for the use of nuclear weapons or a so-called “escalation ladder” established. Indeed, Tokyo and Washington had not even discussed the details of extended deter-rence until recently.

The credibility of the nuclear umbrella was never a significant issue for Japan during the Cold War except when China conducted its first nuclear test in 1964 and Japan was seriously considering its accession to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) during the 1960s and 1970s.

In Northeast Asia, US nuclear and conventional forces were superior to those of the Soviet Union, and, in particular, the combined naval and air ca-pabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and US forces had a high denial capability. In addition, the possibility of US counter-attack, including the use of nuclear weapons to defend Japan, was regarded as realistic because of Japan’s importance to the US strategy to contain the Soviet Union. Japan’s fear at this time was of “entrapment” in a US-Soviet clash rather than “abandonment” by the United States.

Given the changes in the regional and international security environment after the Cold War, Japan’s interest in extended nuclear deterrence has been increasing for some time now. Its primary concerns have gradually shifted from entrapment to abandonment and the potential weakening of the credibility of the nuclear umbrella. President Obama’s commitment to reducing the role and number of US nuclear weapons has thus invited Japan’s attention.

Minimum Deterrence

Theoretically, even if the United States drastically reduced the role and the size of its nuclear arsenal, and, for example, adopted a minimum deterrence posture, the deterrent effect of its nuclear umbrella could persist due to unpredictability in the use of such tremendously destructive weapons. A prospective attacker simply could not be confident that Washington would never use its nuclear weapons to defend Japan.4Shinichi Ogawa, “Kaku Gunshuku to ‘Kaku no Kasa’”(“Nuclear Disarmament and ‘Nuclear Umbrella’,”) in Tairyouhakai Heiki no Gunshuku Ron (Disarmament of Weapons of Mass Destruction,) edited by Mitsuru Kurosawa, 42. Tokyo: Shinzan-Sha, 2004. Besides, as indicated in the Joint Statement of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee (2+2) in May 2007, “the full range of U.S. military capabilities – both nuclear and non-nuclear strike forces and defensive capabilities – form the core of extended deterrence and support U.S. commitments to the defense of Japan.”5“Alliance Transformation: Advancing United States-Japan Security and Defense Cooperation.” Joint Statement of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, Ministry of For- eign Affairs (Japan), 1 May, 2007. http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/namerica/us/security/scc/joint0705.html. The role of US conventional deterrence has been expanding significantly and complements nuclear deterrence. Still, Japan could well be concerned about deeper cuts in the number of US weapons to the extent that it expects the US nuclear umbrella to perform roles other than minimum deterrence.

Deterrence by Denial

One possible role Japan might expect of the US nuclear forces is deterrence by denial and damage limitation through counterforce operations if de-terrence failed. The establishment of an effective denial posture would reduce the probability that the United States and/or Japan would suffer seri-ous damage from a nuclear attack. In theory, such a posture would also enhance the credibility of US extended deterrence. This would seem to require a large number of nuclear weapons and a broad range of strike options, including first strike or even pre-emption.

However, Tokyo does not appear to be wedded to this potential role for the US arsenal. Japan did not express concern or opposition, at least officially, when the Obama Administration decided to terminate programs for the research and development of new nuclear weapons, including the robust nuclear earth penetrator and “mini-nukes”, which the George W Bush Administration had abortively sought to develop for attacking and defeating hard and deeply buried targets, mobile and relocatable targets, and chemical or biological agents.

The lack of Japanese opposition might have re-flected Japan’s basic position calling for eventual complete nuclear disarmament, or a judgment that existing US nuclear forces could fulfill the re-quirements of a denial posture. At the same time, considering that the Bush Administration pursued these capabilities because of a perceived lack of capabilities for a denial posture, Japan’s indiffer-ence may also imply that it perceives denial as a less important role for US extended nuclear deterrence.

Deterrence by Punishment

If Japan indeed accords little importance to deter-rence by denial, the remaining role that it expects the US nuclear arsenal to play is deterrence by punishment. As Japan is unable to possess any retaliatory capability against enemy territory under the current interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, Tokyo has counted upon the US nuclear umbrella to deter not just nuclear but also biological, chemical and even massive conventional attacks or threats of such attacks.

This is one of the reasons Tokyo is concerned about the possible curtailment of the roles of US nuclear weapons at a time when Japan still faces those threats.

Some Japanese security officials and experts express concern about the consequences were the United States to reduce its strategic nuclear arsenal to below 1,000 warheads in the current security environment. This number does not seem to reflect a thorough calculation of the number of weapons needed for the missions and targeting necessary to maintain extended nuclear deterrence by punishment on Japan’s behalf. Rather, it is more likely to be a largely psychological calculation: Japan would only feel reassured if the US nuclear capability remains undoubtedly second to none.

US Declaratory Policy

Japan has also carefully watched the debate over US declaratory policy. The declaratory policy set out in the 2010 NPR seems to have been a meeting point between those who favoured a reduced role for nuclear weapons (with an eye toward a world without such weapons) and those who favoured maintaining nuclear deterrence and thus reassuring Tokyo.

On the one hand, reflecting the vision of nuclear weapon free world advocates, the NPR declared that “the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons … is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners,” and the United States “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.”6Department of Defense (U.S.). Nuclear Posture Review Report, 2010, 15.

On the other hand, it satisfies the concerns of supporters of extended deterrence with statements such as “in the case of countries not covered by this assurance – states that possess nuclear weap-ons and states not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations – there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW attack against the U.S. or its allies and partners.”7Ibid., 16.

Their concerns were also alleviated when the 2010 NPR also stated that “the United States will consult with allies and partners regarding the conditions under which it would be prudent to shift to a policy under which deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”8Ibid., 48.
These questions, compromises and concerns about the adequacy of US nuclear posture and capabilities to support the nuclear umbrella give rise to a number of challenges that Japan and the United States must manage cooperatively.

The issue regarding the TLAM-Ns and US declaratory policy seems to reveal the gap between the perceptions of the United States and its allies. The fact is that certain allies continue to attach importance to particular weapons systems or measures while the United States sees particular weapons systems in narrower terms of their practical effectiveness in providing deterrence. It will be vital for regional stability and Japan’s security for the United States and its allies, including Japan, to find ways to manage the challenges posed by these perception gaps in terms of deterrence and reassurance so as to maintain alliance cohesion and integrity.

Another challenge is how reasonably to limit Ja-pan’s expectations of the US nuclear umbrella. How can Japan resist the temptation to expect extended deterrence to do more than that of which it is capable? Extended nuclear deterrence remains the ultimate guarantor of Japan’s security, but it is also true that this umbrella cannot deter all the contingencies Japan may face. Therefore, it is important to establish postures for deterring and countering the wide range of contingencies that Japan may face in the future, and do so using non-nuclear capabilities to a much larger extent than before.

The 2010 NPR hinted that the United States would require its allies to strengthen their own defence capability, stating that the US “Administration is pursuing strategic dialogues with its allies and partners in East Asia and the Middle East to determine how best to cooperatively strengthen regional security architectures to enhance peace and security.”9Ibid., 32 This implies that Japan is required to strengthen its own conventional deterrence to compensate for reduced US reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Extended Conventional Deterrence

According to one US analyst, “bureaucratic reor-ganization and reform, procurement and moderni-zation programs, and even the missions assigned to deployed military units have changed in ways that deemphasize the role of U.S. nuclear forces in military operations and planning.”10Wirtz, James J. “United States: Nuclear Policy at a Crossroads,” in The Long Shadow: Nuclear Weapons and Security in 21st Century Asia, edited by Muthiah Alagappa, 114. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008. This change is reflected in the various US Nuclear Posture Reviews.

In the 2002 NPR the Bush Administration intro-duced a “New Triad” which consisted of offence (nuclear and non-nuclear), defence and responsive infrastructure.

The Obama Administration embarked on quest to fulfil its unequivocal commitment to maintain deterrence with a reduced role for a smaller arsenal of nuclear weapons by continuing to strengthen its overwhelming conventional capabilities. Regarding regional issues in particular, the 2010 NPR indicated that “enhancing regional security architectures are key parts of the U.S. strategy for strengthening regional deterrence while reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons. These regional security architectures include effective missile defense, counter-WMD capabilities, conventional power-projection capabilities, and integrated command and control,”11Department of Defense (U.S.). Nuclear Posture Review Report, 2010, 32-33 in addition to forward-deployed nuclear forces.

The physical and psychological impact of conven-tional forces falls short of that of nuclear forces, and US conventional deterrence may fail if the other side underestimates US capabilities. Just as worryingly, an adversary that perceives its forces to be greatly inferior to US conventional forces might be tempted to bolster its position by acquiring and building such capabilities as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), ballistic missiles and special forces.12 Regarding the limits of conventional deterrence, see, for example, Payne, Keith B. “Post-Cold War Requirements for US Nuclear Deterrence Policy.” Comparative Strategy 17, 3 (1998): 227-277, 259; Morgan, Patrick M. “The Impact of the Revolution in Military Affairs,” in Preventing the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, edited by Eric Herring, 143-150. London: Frank Cass, 2000; Ogawa, Shinichi. “Kakuheiki no Igi to Kadai: Kako to Shorai” (“Significances and Problems of Nuclear Weapons: Past and Future,”) in Senso no Honshitu to Gunjiryoku no Shoso (Essence of War and Armed Forces,) edited by. Tomoyuki Ishizu, 190-191. Tokyo: Sairyu-Sha, 2004

Regardless of such arguments, it cannot be denied that improving the accuracy and yield of US con-ventional forces provides a greater range of more flexible options for retaliation prior to any need to use nuclear forces, ranging from a decapitation attack against the opponent’s leadership to a large and devastating conventional military response. Since the threshold for using conventional forces is much lower than that for nuclear use, a broader and more flexible range of options for convention-al retaliation can complement nuclear deterrence by punishment, the credibility of which is often questioned.

Furthermore, “when U.S. priority goals include post-conflict ‘nation-building’ and the reconstruc-tion of a defeated opponent, U.S. advanced non-nuclear capabilit[ies] may be more credible.”13Payne, Keith B. The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Theory and Practice from the Cold War to the Twenty-First Century. Fairfax: National Institute Press, 2010, 409
Certainly the development of US conventional forces has also strengthened its denial posture. Dramatic improvement of conventional offensive capabilities, including the development of a con-ventional prompt global strike (CPGS) capability, would help expand the options for attacking an enemy’s high-value assets.

The United States is also developing and deploying a missile defence system. The United States is seeking to build a denial posture with effective conventional damage limitation capabilities.

Still, this requires enormous investment of money and time – and both may be in short supply, given the new constraints on the US defence budget from 2011 onwards and the rate at which the re-gion’s strategic balance appears to be changing. In addition, since capability rather than will is the essential ingredient for effective conventional deterrence, its reinforcement may be more likely to stimulate an arms race among the countries concerned than would nuclear deterrence. It could be argued that an adversary that faces US overwhelming conventional capabilities might be tempted to use its WMD and ballistic missiles at an early stage of a conflict before losing them.14Fortmann, Michel and Stefanie von Hlatky. “The Revolution in Military Affairs: Impact of Emerging Technologies on Deterrence,” in Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age, edited by. T. V. Paul, Patrick M. Morgan and James J. Wirtz, 316-317. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009 Moreover, a war-fighting capability may not always be interpreted as a deterrent capability.15 Joseph, Robert G. and John F. Reichart. Deterrence and Defense in a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Environment. Washington DC: National Defense University Press, 1999. 21.

All of these limits inherent in conventional deter-rence mean that, although the United States may prevail in most regional conflicts without using nuclear forces, it is inconceivable that conventional deterrence would completely replace the nuclear umbrella in regions such as Northeast Asia in the near future. Without extended nuclear deterrence, Washington’s allies, including Japan, would question the credibility of the US commitment to their security and the region’s security. Therefore the United States and its allies need to work together to construct a “regional security architecture” tailored to meet a mix of nuclear and conventional.

Conclusion

Japan has adjusted its security policy in order to hedge against an uncertain future in Northeast Asia. While the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States will continue to play a significant role as the ultimate guarantor of Japan’s security, the role of conventional deterrence has been increasing. Under these circumstances Japan needs to increase its efforts to strengthen its own deterrence capability rather than rely exclusively on US extended deterrence. This will also bolster conventional deterrence within the alliance.

At the same time, in order to reduce the negative consequences of strengthened deterrence, such as the security dilemma and demands on defence budgets, diplomacy is of obvious importance.

Therefore, Japan should also take proactive steps toward establishing a stable security environment in Northeast Asia. Until such a goal is achieved, extended deterrence under the Japan-US Security Treaty will play an important stabilising role, maintaining regional and Japanese security by deterring attempts to change the status quo or threaten regional order.

In addition, the US provision of extended deter-rence has mitigated the effects of Tokyo’s concerns about instability in the region, reducing the need for Japan to consider more drastic measures such as a rapid and massive conventional build-up, major changes in its security policy or the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which might trigger further instability or arms racing in the region.

Ultimately, these multilayered efforts can be understood as a method of realising a Northeast Asia where the US nuclear umbrella is no longer needed. In other words, they can prepare the way to a world without nuclear weapons. In this sense, US provision of extended deterrence, including the nuclear umbrella and the US-Japan reinforcement of deterrence with conventional capabilities do not contradict nuclear disarmament. When understood this way, Japan’s apparent nuclear dilemma between disarmament and extended deterrence has the potential to frame a strategy for reconciling Japan’s disarmament idealism and actual circumstances in a way that permits its ideals to be progressively realised.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

  • PROF. NOBUYASU ABE has been serving as Director of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-proliferation (CPDNP), Japan Institute of International Affairs since 2008. He served as U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (2003-06), as Ambassador of Japan to the IAEA and other international organizations in Vienna (1999-2001), Saudi Arabia (2001-03) and Switzerland (2006-08) and as Director-General for Arms Control and Science Affairs of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1997-99).
  • DR. TOSAKI HIROFUMI has been Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-proliferation (CPDNP), Japan Institute of International Affairs since 2007. Since 1996 he previously served as a Research Fellow at CPDNP. In 2003, he obtained his Ph.D. in International Public Policy from Osaka School of International Public Policy, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan.

References   [ + ]

1. Obama, Barack. “Remarks by President Barack Obama.” Official Speech, Prague, Czech Republic, 5 April, 2010. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-ByPresident-Barack-Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered/
2. “Iwayuru ‘Mitsuyaku’ Mondai ni Kansuru Yushikisya Iinkai Houkokusyo”(“Report on the Commission of the So-Called ‘Secret Agreements’.”) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan), 9 March, 2010. http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/gaiko/mitsuyaku/pdfs/hoko ku_yushiki.pdf. The agreement has been obsolete for two decades
3. Buzan, Barry and Ole Wæver. Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 95
4. Shinichi Ogawa, “Kaku Gunshuku to ‘Kaku no Kasa’”(“Nuclear Disarmament and ‘Nuclear Umbrella’,”) in Tairyouhakai Heiki no Gunshuku Ron (Disarmament of Weapons of Mass Destruction,) edited by Mitsuru Kurosawa, 42. Tokyo: Shinzan-Sha, 2004.
5. “Alliance Transformation: Advancing United States-Japan Security and Defense Cooperation.” Joint Statement of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, Ministry of For- eign Affairs (Japan), 1 May, 2007. http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/namerica/us/security/scc/joint0705.html.
6. Department of Defense (U.S.). Nuclear Posture Review Report, 2010, 15.
7. Ibid., 16.
8. Ibid., 48.
9. Ibid., 32
10. Wirtz, James J. “United States: Nuclear Policy at a Crossroads,” in The Long Shadow: Nuclear Weapons and Security in 21st Century Asia, edited by Muthiah Alagappa, 114. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.
11. Department of Defense (U.S.). Nuclear Posture Review Report, 2010, 32-33
12. Regarding the limits of conventional deterrence, see, for example, Payne, Keith B. “Post-Cold War Requirements for US Nuclear Deterrence Policy.” Comparative Strategy 17, 3 (1998): 227-277, 259; Morgan, Patrick M. “The Impact of the Revolution in Military Affairs,” in Preventing the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, edited by Eric Herring, 143-150. London: Frank Cass, 2000; Ogawa, Shinichi. “Kakuheiki no Igi to Kadai: Kako to Shorai” (“Significances and Problems of Nuclear Weapons: Past and Future,”) in Senso no Honshitu to Gunjiryoku no Shoso (Essence of War and Armed Forces,) edited by. Tomoyuki Ishizu, 190-191. Tokyo: Sairyu-Sha, 2004
13. Payne, Keith B. The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Theory and Practice from the Cold War to the Twenty-First Century. Fairfax: National Institute Press, 2010, 409
14. Fortmann, Michel and Stefanie von Hlatky. “The Revolution in Military Affairs: Impact of Emerging Technologies on Deterrence,” in Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age, edited by. T. V. Paul, Patrick M. Morgan and James J. Wirtz, 316-317. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009
15. Joseph, Robert G. and John F. Reichart. Deterrence and Defense in a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Environment. Washington DC: National Defense University Press, 1999. 21.
Rob van Riet

About Rob van Riet

Rob van Riet is Coordinator of the Disarmament Programme at the World Future Council. In addition, he has been U.K. Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND) since 2011 and has served as the Director of the Nuclear Abolition Forum since its founding in 2011. He was a co-author of the InterParliamentary Union/PNND Parliamentary Handbook Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, released during the 127th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Quebec City, Canada, in October 2012.

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