WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed concern over the possible nuclear weapons policy of “no first use” being considered by the Obama administration, according to a column in the Monday edition of the Washington Post.
Citing a weakening of deterrence against countries such as North Korea, Abe conveyed his concern to Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, columnist Josh Rogin wrote, quoting two U.S. government officials.
Rogin said Abe “personally” conveyed the message to Harris “recently,” without providing details. But the two are likely to have discussed the issue during a meeting July 26 at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.
Quoting U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and nuclear experts, the column said U.S. allies such as Japan, South Korea, France and Britain have privately communicated their concerns about a potential declaration by President Barack Obama of such a policy.
“Japan, in particular, believes that if Obama declares a ‘no first use’ policy, deterrence against countries such as North Korea will suffer and the risks of conflict will rise,” according to the column headlined “Allies unite to block Obama ‘legacy.’ “
If Obama were to declare a no first use policy, it would represent a landmark change in the U.S. nuclear posture.
A Japanese government source was noncommittal about the report, saying Tuesday in Tokyo, “The United States is studying (its options), and as it is still in the middle of making a policy decision, (Japan) cannot comment on every news report.”
Given that he will leave office in January, Obama is reportedly considering taking steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons with an eye to their eventual abolition, as he pledged in his landmark speech in 2009 in Prague.
However, Rogin wrote that an Obama administration official told him that, in part because of allied concerns, the internal push on no first use “was not gaining traction.”
According to the column, diplomats from allied countries argued that if the United States takes a nuclear first strike off the table, the risk of a conventional conflict with countries such as North Korea, China and Russia could increase.
“Moreover, allied governments don’t believe that a unilateral ‘no first use’ declaration would necessarily help to establish an international norm, because there’s no guarantee that other countries would follow suit,” it said.
Along with a potential no first use declaration, the Obama administration is considering reducing the budget for modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons and calling for a ban on testing nuclear weapons in a resolution it plans to submit to the U.N. Security Council, possibly next month, according to U.S. government officials.
Survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and members of anti-nuclear groups expressed their anger over the Abe government’s opposition to Obama’s move, saying it runs counter to their efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
“North Korea repeatedly conducts nuclear tests. Deterrence is not working,” said Kazuo Okoshi, 76, secretary-general of an A-bomb survivors group, challenging Abe’s position that the existing U.S. nuclear posture is effective at deterring the threat from Pyongyang.
North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test in January.