This year’s August end-of-war anniversaries have seen yet another round of Japanese appeals for nuclear disarmament. Past atomic bomb sufferings give Japan a special moral authority in this area, it is claimed.
But calls for nuclear disarmament also demand close argument and tight logic, given the fact that nuclear weapons have almost certainly prevented World War III for over half a century. The sight of Hiroshima antinuclear activists bitterly criticizing the United States for using the atomic bomb while ignoring the reasons why the Allies felt the bomb was needed, not to mention their own city’s gritty role in supporting Japan’s former militarism, is hardly a good start in the logic stakes.
An NHK round-table debate on the subject earlier this month saw almost all in agreement that, whatever the reasons, the U.S.’ willingness in 1945 to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki civilians for military ends represented a new low in wartime immorality.
Really? Then what are we to say about the Japan’s three-month bombing attacks on Shanghai civilians as early as 1937? Or the savage bombing of Chungking civilians, day after day, throughout the early 1940s, in a bid to force the then Chinese government to surrender? Or the indiscriminate use of germ and gas warfare against Chinese villagers?
Twenty million Chinese civilians killed for purposes that today no one could possibly endorse adds up to a lot more immorality than the few hundred thousand Japanese civilians who died to force a quick end to a senseless war in which the Japanese themselves would have been the main victims.
But these and other arguments cut little ice even with Japanese pacifists, it seems. The particularism that makes the Japanese such an attractive and well-behaved people at home is quite unable to handle judgments on an international scale.
And what are we to say about the government officials who keep a straight face in calling for nuclear disarmament while knowing full well that their government’s wholehearted endorsement of the U.S. nuclear presence in Asia, including right of first strike, is a key reason why the world is not going to see nuclear disarmament for a very long time? Here we are talking hypocrisy, not particularism.
The NHK program saw an otherwise moderate commentator bitterly condemn China for its development of nuclear weapons in the early ’60s. No one on the panel seemed to remember that Beijing twice, in 1954 and 1958, had been threatened with U.S. nuclear attack when it tried to end Taipei’s control over some islands close to its coastline that were being used to stage commando and sabotage raids into China.
The 1958 dispute led to Moscow withdrawing its guarantee of support for China if the latter were subjected to nuclear attack. Beijing then had no choice but to develop its own nuclear weapons.
A key factor in all this, and in China’s third brush with U.S. nuclear threats during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996, was Japan’s close military alliance with the U.S. But even Japan’s activist doves seem unable to begin to realize their own nation’s responsibility for China’s decision to go nuclear.
Japan’s hawks are even less able to realize such a thing. For them, China’s belated efforts to acquire some military strength are sinister threats that prove the need for even more Japanese military spending and closer cooperation with the U.S.
In its recent White Paper, Japan’s Defense Agency has suddenly replaced the alleged missile threat from North Korea with a claimed threat from China. Japan, it says darkly, lies within range of Chinese missiles. Participation in the U.S. plan for a theater missile defense scheme to protect Japan is now urged.
Of course Japan lies within range of Chinese missiles. One reason is that Japan provides the U.S. with the bases needed to target massive military power against China. But an even better reason is that for a credible defense against future U.S. nuclear threats, China needs at least a few missiles that can reach the West Coast of the U.S. And if they can reach that far, they can certainly reach Japan.
Of course, there might be some basis for the Japanese position if you believe that the U.S. only resorts to nuclear and other threats when it is clear that the other side deserves such treatment. But if you believe that, it is likely you also believe in fairies.
Proponents of TMD insist angrily that the scheme is purely defensive. This is nonsense. No one can seriously imagine that China or the once-designated rogue states of North Korea, Iran or Iraq would suddenly want to start dropping rockets on the U.S., leaving themselves open to massive U.S. nuclear retaliation.
What nations like China or North Korea have to fear is that if they are involved in some dispute, no matter how petty, an all-powerful U.S. will feel free once again to intervene and threaten nuclear or other force to end the dispute on its own terms.
The one thing that can protect them from this kind of arbitrary pressure is the ability to say that at least one or two long-range missiles can be fired back in retaliation. TMD would, if effective, put an end even to that limited ability. In this sense, it is not defensive. It is highly aggressive, giving carte blanche to recent U.S. global hegemonic urges.
It is also highly destabilizing, since in theory at least it forces everyone else to acquire the same very expensive system of antimissile defense. The Western European leaders who also oppose TMD realize this.
This explains much of the Chinese distress over last year’s NATO attack on Kosovo. If the U.S. could claim the right to wipe out the political and economic infrastructure of a sovereign nation simply to force its own highly arbitrary and dubious settlement in the case of a complex domestic dispute, what happens if it decides, once again, that it does not like some aspect of Chinese policies?
From now on, vulnerable nations need not just a few long-distance missiles; they also need to match highly sophisticated U.S. smart-bomb technologies.
Few of these subtleties find much understanding in Japan, where the intricacies of the Kosovo conflict are virtually unknown and the TMD debate has been reduced to the simplistic level of arguing over whether the U.S. in fact needs to defend itself against so-called rogue-nation attacks. Even progressive Japanese find it hard to understand the cold cause-and-effect logic of international affairs, not to mention the details.
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