The ongoing debate in Japan on nuclear arms lacks sophistication. On May 31, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said if the international situation were to change, public opinion might favor a nuclear-armed Japan. He was commenting on the government’s long-standing three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, manufacturing or allowing the entry of nuclear arms. The remarks touched off controversy at home and abroad.

Fukuda’s remarks followed Liberal Party chief Ichiro Ozawa’s statement during a lecture April 6 that Japan could easily build nuclear warheads.

Criticizing China for its continuing military buildup, Ozawa said: “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.”

The remarks by Fukuda and Ozawa suggested a changing consciousness in Japan about nuclear arms. Although Ozawa sometimes makes illogical remarks, I understood what he meant. Fukuda’s observations on “future possibilities” do not deserve censure.

The three nonnuclear principles were announced under special circumstances — immediately before the reversion of then-U.S.-ruled Okinawa to Japan in 1972. It would be foolish to think that the principles would be valid forever.

China lodged a strong protest against Fukuda’s remarks, since it does not want to see Japan develop into a strong military power. It is strange, though, that Japanese politicians from both the ruling coalition and opposition forces are trying to negate Fukuda’s views. They should be considering all possibilities to protect national interests. That is why I say the current debate lacks sophistication.

Nevertheless, I saw two problems with Fukuda’s remarks. First, they were untimely when the international community was working hard to avert a war between the nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Japanese Senior Foreign Vice Minister Seiken Sugiura visited India and Pakistan to persuade the two countries to end the fighting. Fukuda’s comment caused confusion about Japanese intentions.

Second, it was unclear what political calculations Fukuda had made prior to his remarks. The merits and demerits of Japan’s potential nuclear-arms capability are unknown. Of more than 180 countries in the world, nuclear powers are a minority. What would Japan gain by acquiring nuclear arms and joining the minority?

Regarding the Indian-Pakistan conflict, Japan should coordinate with all nonnuclear powers to apply pressure on both countries to avert war, instead of trying to persuade each nation to do so.

The United States and Britain, the major nuclear powers, are making major diplomatic efforts to prevent a war between India and Pakistan. As a nonnuclear power, Japan could pursue independent diplomacy with the two nations. I believe that Japan would have more influence as a nonnuclear power than as a nuclear power.

Has Japan been promoting diplomacy as a nuclear-capable but nonnuclear power? This is the question that we should ask ourselves before debating the pros and cons of the three nonnuclear principles. Sophisticated debate on nuclear options should be based on the evaluation of the merits and demerits of nuclear weapons.

I have proposed that Japan modify its nonnuclear principles by removing the phrase “not allowing nuclear arms into Japan.” If Japan seeks to maintain the principles of not possessing and not manufacturing nuclear arms and adapt to the realities of depending on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for national security, the only choice would be to preserve two of the three principles. This position may be hard to accept for those who uphold all three nonnuclear principles as dogma.

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