Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Japan's Nuclear Umbrella: Why is the US Explicating the Previously Unspoken

Why did President Trump state the obvious for the first time:
Kayoko Geji and Hajimu Takeda Statement of nuclear option to defend Japan a first in 42 years THE ASAHI SHIMBUN February 15, 2017 at 17:20 JST

The latest joint statement by Japanese and U.S. leaders mentions nuclear weapons as a U.S. option to defend Japan for the first time since 1975, reflecting growing concerns about North Korea.

The statement released Feb. 10 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump after their summit talks in Washington states: “The U.S. commitment to defend Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, is unwavering."

....That is believed to be the first document to unequivocally announce that Japan was covered by the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.”
The article states that the concept of the nuclear umbrella was only directly referenced once before, by Gerald Ford in 1975 in a statement to Japanese PM Takeo Miki.

The latest reference to the nuclear umbrella is interpreted as even more explicit and is explained in terms of hostilities with North Korea. But I wonder whether there may be other dynamics at work that led to such an explicit affirmation of the nuclear umbrella.

There are many reasons this nuclear umbrella is rarely explicitly referenced by elected officials.

In my 2013 book, Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk ( here ). I describe Japanese ambivalence about the US nuclear "umbrella."

Many in Japan are uncomfortable with relying on the U.S. ‘nuclear umbrella,’ as it has come to be called. Japan’s more pacifist, anti-nuclear groups and its more hawk-like nationalists all take issue with the U.S. nuclear umbrella, albeit for very different reasons since the doves want to abolish all nuclear while the hawks want to formally institutionalize Japan’s own nuclear deterrent capabilities.

Until recently, Japan’s leadership was content to rely formally on the U.S. for deterrence power. In 2010, Prime Minister Naoto Kan re-affirmed the nuclear deterrence power implicit in U.S.- Japan defense agreements, despite the pleas of Hiroshima mayor Akiba to forego nuclear protection.

At this time, Kan also reiterated Japan’s adherence to the three non-nuclear principles against production, possession and introduction of nuclear weapons in Japan, but would not support or sign legislation that would make the principles law. Japan’s status as nuclear weapons-capable is loudly broadcast through its uranium enrichment, plutonium stockpiles, and advanced aeronautical capabilities.

In 2008 Japan passed the Aerospace Basic Law of 2008, which included a provision allowing development of space technology in relation to its ‘contribution to national security.’ Japan’s entry into this sector meant it would be working on missile technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

In 2011 Japan lifted its prohibition against producing advanced weapons for export. That same year Japan purchased 42 of Lockheed Martin Corporation’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter planes to replace its Air Self Defense Force's 1960s-era F-4 jets. Japan has most, if not all, the capacities of a nuclear armed nation while still enjoying the overt protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Does Japan have a  nuclear "bomb in the basement"? (see my discussion here:

It is impossible to know with certainty whether Japan is has a secretive weapons program, but the country most definitely has the supply chain in place to produce a nuclear bomb "just in time."

Japan developed a breeder reactor program after achieving independence that produced plutonium. This program was formally ended in a February 23, 2012 review by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which concluded that technological considerations prevented the program from being a realistic option.
By this time Japan had vast stockpiles of plutonium, stored domestically and abroad. In 2011, Japan had an inventory of more than 46 tons (8.7 Tons in Japan, approximately 37 tons in Europe) of separated plutonium. 46 tons of plutonium equals to 41,730 kilograms. Joseph Trento claims Japan’s inventory of plutonium is actually 70 tons.[i] It was recognized that efforts would need to be made to draw down these plutonium stockpiles. The commission recommended that some of it be recycled into MOX fuel that could be used in adapted boiling water reactors. 
All of this begs the question as to why Japan and the US are re-affirming nuclear deterrence in the most explicit of ways possible when Japan is quite capable of leading its own defense?

J. Trento (19 April 2012) ‘US Circumvented Laws to Help Japan Accumulate tons of Plutonium’, National Security News Service,, date accessed 20 April 2012. 

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