The United States has informally told Japan it will retire its sea-based Tomahawk cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads, in line with President Barack Obama’s policy to pursue a world free of atomic weapons, government sources said Monday.
Washington said the move would not affect the nuclear umbrella, addressing concerns in Tokyo about the step’s effect on U.S. deterrence against potential attacks from China, North Korea or other countries, the sources said.
The retirement will probably be stipulated in the Nuclear Posture Review, a new nuclear strategic guideline the Obama administration is slated to submit to Congress next month, they said.
U.S. subs carrying nuclear-tipped Tomahawks called in Japan during the Cold War, but the missiles were later removed for storage at bases on the U.S. mainland.
Their retirement will also likely affect debate in Japan over Tokyo’s ongoing investigation into a secret pact with Washington to allow the U.S. military to bring nuclear weapons to Japan, because decommissioning will rule out the possibility of nuclear missiles coming into the country.
Past port calls and passage through Japanese waters by submarines armed with Tomahawks have raised controversy in terms of Tokyo’s three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear arms on its territory.
Washington notified Tokyo earlier this year of its policy to gradually decommission the nuclear Tomahawks, citing the cost for maintaining the missiles, the sources said.
The U.S. side also explained that it can maintain its nuclear umbrella with other nuclear and conventional capabilities, the sources said.
Officials from both governments have already begun discussions on the future of the U.S. deterrence on the premise the Tomahawk will be retired, they said.
Last February, before the Liberal Democratic Party was ousted from power, Japanese diplomats concerned about a weakening of the U.S. deterrence asked the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States that Tokyo be consulted ahead of any decision on the Tomahawk missiles.
The commission urged the U.S. government in its final report in May to take steps to retain the Tomahawk.