Nuclear Weapons for Japan?

By Cyril Powles | 2002-10-01 12:00:00

The Japanese people take pride in their Peace Constitution and have repeatedly resisted attempts to revise it. They speak proudly about their government's three non-nuclear principles: not possessing, bringing in, or using nuclear arms, for which Prime Minister Eisaku Sato was awarded the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize. But, as scholars have pointed out recently, their pacifism is tempered by a latent nationalism which allows conservative political leaders to reinterpret the constitution's rejection of war in an increasingly militaristic direction. It is against this background of what one Japanese writer has termed a kind of creeping or fuzzy fascism that we need to see a recent outbreak of militaristic sentiment on the part of several leading government figures.1

In a lecture April 6, the leader of the Liberal Party, Ichiro Ozawa, stated,

"... if China gets too inflated, Japanese people will get hysterical. It would be easy for us to produce nuclear warheads.... Japanese nuclear power plants have enough plutonium for production of thousands of nuclear warheads. We could have better military equipment than China, if we really got serious."2

The uproar caused by this statement was augmented by an opinion voiced somewhat later by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's closest aide, that the three non-nuclear principles are as amendable as the constitution itself. In the face of (recent) calls to amend the constitution, he is quoted as saying, the amendment of the three principles may also become an issue in the future...depending upon the world situation, circumstances and public opinion could require Japan to possess nuclear weapons.3

On June 3, a coalition of four opposition parties -- the Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party, Liberal Party and Japan Communist Party agreed to demand Fukuda's resignation. Backing them up, 50 members of Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers) loudly denounced Fukuda in front of the prime ministers office, demanding that Fukuda step down.

Apology for Intemperate Words

In the face of this uproar, Fukuda apologized to both the Diet and his own party for his intemperate words, backing up the prime minister's strong statement that his administration would adhere to the decades-old nonnuclear principles. Even if Japan becomes an economic giant, it will not become a military giant, he said.4

A Nationalistic Heart

What are we to make of this to-ing and fro-ing on the part of prominent government figures? We know that, behind a rock star image,Prime Minister Koizumi hides a fiercely nationalistic heart. He himself has made ambiguous statements about the need to revise the peace clauses of a Made in USA constitution. He is also conscious of American pressure for Japan to take on more of its own defence, including the creation of its own nuclear arms. At the same time he knows the strength of the opposition this would arouse. Could it be that his minister's statements are part of a process of accustoming the populace to a change toward a greater reliance by Japan on military power?

As a conservative American think-tank has observed, the nuclear taboo remains strong. Poll after poll has revealed that over 80 percent of Japanese oppose obtaining nuclear arms. At the same time, as the same group admitted, Japan is not a democracy. That is implicit in the idea that a small cabal could steer policy against the wishes of the majority of the public.5 Only insofar as the people of Japan deepen their commitment to democratic government and come to understand that the Peace Constitution and the non-nuclear principles represent a contribution to regional security rather than a constraint on national rights can we hope for true peace in the Pacific area, of which Canada forms a part.

Cyril Powles is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

1 For ambivalence, see Robert Kisala, Prophets of Peace (1999: University of Hawaii Press). For fuzzy fascism, Takatsune Saji, The Present Situation in Japan (unpublished paper, Tokyo, 2000).

2 Japan Times, Tokyo, April 7, 2002.

3 Japan Times, June 4, 2002.

4 Japan Times, June 11.

5 Brad Glosserman, in Japan Times, June 25, 2002.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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