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Some influential Japanese politicians have called for debate on whether the nation should adopt nuclear arms, causing repercussions at home and abroad. Since 1967, Japan has upheld the three-point policy of not possessing, making or allowing the entry of nuclear arms, while remaining under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

From time to time, foreign media have reported on the possibility of Japan’s going nuclear. The recent series of comments by politicians, following North Korea’s nuclear test Oct. 9 and reports of Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities, could stir the mistaken notion abroad that Japan is gearing up to join the nuclear-arms race.

Aren’t politicians aware that their comments are hurting Japan’s credibility in the international community? Powerful politicians should step up international efforts to realize nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, instead of talking about the nuclear-arms option.

Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a political partner of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fired the opening salvo on this issue. In a television program, he said the Constitution does not specifically prohibit Japan from possessing nuclear arms. “Nuclear armament could deter foreign attacks, and there should be discussions on the issue,” he said.

Nakagawa later told reporters that Japan should not immediately abolish its three-point nonnuclear principle but that thorough debate should be held on whether the principle needs revision.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso later told the Diet that if a neighboring country moves to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, debate should be held on the issues involved. At the same time, though, Aso stressed that Japan remained committed to its three-point nonnuclear principle. Abe also ruled out the possibility of Japan’s going nuclear, saying his government would abide by the nonnuclear principle.

Aso and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting in Tokyo on Oct. 18, reconfirmed their commitment to bolstering the Japan-U.S. alliance under the bilateral security treaty. The announcement of the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan was apparently intended to remove anxieties that talk of a Japanese debate on a nuclear option had caused in the international community.

In a news conference after the talks, Rice said she had reaffirmed President George W. Bush’s Oct. 9 statement that “the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range — and I underscore full range — of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan.” This appeared to reflect strong U.S. interest in the proposed debate on a nuclear-arms capability.

Aso told the Diet later, while commenting on the nuclear issue, that no opinion should be suppressed in Japan, which “enjoys freedom of the press.” Nakagawa said debate should be held on the pros and cons of developing nuclear arms to prepare for possible nuclear attacks.

Although both Aso and Nakagawa insist that they uphold the government’s nonnuclear principles, it would not be far-fetched to say that their true intentions lie in stirring debate on nuclear armament.

Some Cabinet ministers, as well as politicians of both the ruling and opposition camps, have criticized suggestions for debate over a nuclear option. Defense Agency Director General Fumio Kyuma, speaking before the Diet, expressed concern that such proposals could send a wrong signal to other countries.

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, meeting with Aso in Seoul, reportedly expressed similar concern. Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international department, told Abe in Tokyo that he highly valued Japan’s nonnuclear principle. These comments show that Japan’s neighboring countries are jittery about the proposed debate.

A nuclear-armed Japan would destroy the postwar international order and damage the Japan-U.S. alliance. Past secret reviews by the government have concluded that Japan would not gain a diplomatic, political and military advantages by going nuclear. Thus, to call for debate on the nuclear option, as Japanese politicians have done, is absurd.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is based on nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Outside the framework of the treaty, India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear tests, and Israel is regarded as a de facto nuclear power.

The NPT regime has been shaken by North Korea’s nuclear test and Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Meanwhile, the U.S. has signed a nuclear-power agreement with India, inviting international criticisms of a “double standard.”

The 2005 review conference of NPT parties broke down due in part to strong U.S. resistance to total nuclear disarmament.

Nobuaki Tanaka, U.N. undersecretary general for disarmament affairs, told the 18th U.N. conference on disarmament issues held in Yokohama in August that the U.N. was having difficulty overcoming the deadlock in disarmament efforts. The NPT is at a crossroads.

As the world’s only country that has suffered atomic-bomb attacks, Japan has been pushing efforts toward nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation. Since 1994, Japan has annually submitted nuclear disarmament resolutions to the U.N. General Assembly. Last year the Japanese-sponsored resolution was supported by 168 countries, the largest ever. But the U.S. and India opposed the resolution and seven countries, including China and North Korea, abstained.

Japan should lead the world in nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation now — when the NPT regime is facing serious trouble. Japanese politicians’ thoughtless comments on nuclear armament could weaken Japan’s position in the international community.

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