Arming with Japan satisfies Krauthammer’s desire for action, which he believes as superior to the multilateral efforts he considers a “humiliation.” The target of a nuclear Japan, Krauthammer admits, would not be North Korea — it would be China. He argues that a nuclear Japan would force China to move to pressure North Korea.
Of course, this could have the opposite result of leading China to redirect whatever effort it has directed to impoverished North Korea’s tiny and unsophisticated arsenal to the sophisticated arsenal that a nuclear Japan would deploy.
But aside from Krauthammer’s dubious assertion that China will be bludgeoned into bludgeoning North Korea by the mere existence of a nuclear Japan, Berman calls attention to the not inconsiderable domestic obstacles in Japan that make Krauthammer’s proposal fanciful. How can the US “unleash” Japan if the Japanese people and a significant portion of Japan’s elite do not want to be unleashed in the first place? The Japanese government has made a clear commitment to the US-Japan alliance over autonomous defense capabilities. If anything, these preferences are even more applicable when it comes to nuclear weapons.
(It bears noting that Llewelyn Hughes ably made the case for why Japan will not go nuclear in International Security in 2007.)
There is no problem that will be solved by a Japanese nuclear arsenal — only the problem of how Japan’s conservatives can leave behind the postwar regime. In effect, the implication of Krauthammer’s proposal is that a Japanese nuclear arsenal is desirable because it is less predictable than the US nuclear arsenal. A nuclear Japan would be a wild card in the region. The US nuclear umbrella by contrast is stabilizing. As I wrote the other day, the task for the Obama administration is to do whatever necessary to reassure Japan that the nuclear umbrella remains in place. The administration will not help its cause by overstating the impact of North Korea’s latest test. As Stephen Walt writes, “…The Obama administration should avoid making a lot of sweeping statements about how it will not ‘tolerate’ a North Korean nuclear capability. The fact is that we’ve tolerated it for some time now, and since we don’t have good options for dealing with it, that’s precisely what we will continue to do.”