Will/Can Japan Go Nuclear?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Dec , 2020

With China set to match/overtake US economy by 2035 C.E. geo-strategic scenario, specifically the ‘world power centre’ is likely to change. Most ardent supporters of Karl Marx propagated communism had never dared to predict that by middle of 21st century capitalist domination of world affairs will have to face a serious challenge for numero uno position and that too from a nation that barely 50 years back was impoverished- China. Likewise no one could have predicted break up of erstwhile Soviet Union (USSR) in 1989. Even without COVID 19 onslaught in 2020 radical changes in geo-politics viz unlawful expansionist designs and introduction of hitherto unknown practice of debt trap diplomacy along with new political affiliations among nations are set to alter the political demography of the globe.

USA must accept the entire responsibility/blame for virtually forcing China to get her act together as a nation state for exercising nuclear option. US warning to China about possible use of nukes during Korean war stirred the middle kingdom’s self esteem and China as a nation vowed never to be blackmailed in future. China exploded her first nuclear device on 16th October, 1964. Coincidentally in China going nuclear there is an irony for India; US message, rather threat, of use of nukes was conveyed through Indian embassy. North Korea becoming a ‘PARIAH’ state also falls in the lap of USA.

Having followed US politics extremely closely since 22nd November, 1963, the day JF Kennedy was assassinated, I find USA has an uncanny knack of fighting fire with GASOLINE. Few instances will prove the point, albeit partially. After Jimmy Carter, Trump was the first POTUS, during whose tenure additional US Military was not deployed overseas. In fact Trump reduced the numbers already deployed yet he lost the election. Carter took the boldest decision/initiative to send a rescue mission to free the US embassy officials, who were held in Iran unlawfully. Unfortunately the now infamous mission ‘OPERATION EAGLE CLAW’ failed due to craziest of circumstances. Instead of Americans lauding Jimmy Carter for taking such bold decision, Americans held him responsible for mission failure. Carter, too, lost the election.

Trump’s candid and unequivocal assertions that all countries, whose security interests are looked after/taken care of by USA, must contribute financially, be they be NATO members, Philippines, Taiwan and for that matter Japan. It makes great strategic sense but the Americans interpreted it as Trump’s folly in annoying the allies. He also challenged China openly, the first POTUS to do so in recent times, which is termed as trade war. China’s continued belligerence cannot be ignored by nations in close proximity of China, in particular which are at the rim of South China Sea.

China’s belligerence and open challenge to existing world order came as a jolt to international community, when China declared the entire air space over and around South China Sea as an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) under Chinese control. This issue has been largely glossed over by military strategists but it is of enormous significance because declaration of ADIZ empowers China to take offensive action including shooting down any aircraft/UAV/Missile flying into ADIZ. US bombers continue to make the transgressions, which China calls as illegal.

From a bi-polar world of cold war era, dismemberment of USSR resulting in a uni-polar world has been challenged in less than quarter century. China has emerged as a befitting challenger to USA supremacy, both militarily as well as economically. China has surpassed USA in the field of ‘strategic buying’ of impoverished nations. USA failed to even take control of Cuba with all the financial muscle supported by unchallenged military power. China on the other hand developed the military muscle but chose a more sophisticated method of Debt Trap Diplomacy to trap numerous nations across the globe in her inescapable financial tentacles. Few examples are:

Investment on China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) involving USD 65 Billion Dollar in Pakistan.

    • Development of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.
    • Development of two ports in Myanmar.
    • Development of Ports in Mombassa.
    • Development of precious metals mining facilities in Africa.
    • Catching up with US and European oil companies in Africa.
    • Iron ore mining in Liberia, Copper mining in Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo.
    • USD 15 Billion road project linking Nairobi an Mombassa.
    • Hundreds of Chinese companies operating in Jo’berg, Capetown and Port Elizabeth.

The list is endless.

At present and even in foreseeable future China cannot match USA supremacy only in one field which is US Sea Power. Chinese Navy of 2020 can at best be termed as a ‘Green Navy’ capable of looking after its maritime boundaries and South China Sea as long as US carriers are not sailing there. China is at least two/three decades away from catching up with US Navy built around a dozen super carriers and huge fleet of nuke capable submarines. But in all other fields China will match USA within two decades. However Blue Water Chinese Navy is a distant dream.

Will USA allow China to take over the numero uno position in the world? Does USA have any option to tie down China? USA is acutely aware of fissures within NATO, a ‘brain dead alliance’, which cannot act as a counter balance. Is there an option? More often than not Geography provides the answers to most complex issues. Even in this case it is the ‘Globe’, which has near perfect answer.

India is already a nuclear power but cannot be called a US ally in spite of having signed four agreements broadly related to security with BECA being the latest agreement. USA will be looking for a ‘permanent’ ally. Keeping in view the stark reality that ‘bete-noire’ for USA, North Korea has and will continue to have the backing of China in foreseeable future, USA needs a nuclear weapon state as an ally in Asia. Pakistan is not only too far away from China but also will not support USA against China. That leaves only two nations in the proximity; South Korea and Japan. Any attempt to nuclearise South Korea will invite instant reaction from North Korea, a risk USA cannot take.

That leaves Japan as the only option.

Will Japan agree/opt to go nuclear? Asking this question to a Japanese might have been akin to a sacrilege few years back, but it is no longer an untouchable option. China-Japan animosity over few island territories is a burning issue between them. China’s aversion to existence of Taiwan as an independent nation is only too well known. However Chinese expansionist design in South China Sea and unilaterally drawing up Nine/Ten Dash line declaring the entire area as Chinese is not acceptable to Japan.

Japan cannot match China militarily unless Japan exercise the nuclear option. A nuclear Japan will change the security matrix not only in Asia but in the entire globe virtually overnight. Chinese offensive posturing based on its nuclear arsenal and financial muscle would no longer be capable of posing the current level/degree of threat. In fact a nuclear capable Japan will be able to pose the most potent threat to soft underbelly of China. China will be forced rather coerced into revisiting her nuclear doctrine, expansionist design and policy of debt trap diplomacy. ‘No First Use’ is the currently ‘stated’ policy of China wrt Nukes. But with a nuclear capable Japan, Chinese nuclear doctrine might have to be altered to ‘LAUNCH ON DETECTION’.

China of 21st century is governed by intelligent persons with deep foresight, therefore, China is unlikely to provoke/take any action, which will/may provoke Japan. However China will continue to pose a ‘proxy’ threat to Japan through North Korea’s offensive actions from time to time as has already happened in recent times. Japan, therefore, would/may exercise the nuclear option to silence North Korea thus achieving twin objectives of not only neutralizing North Korea but also silencing North Korean regime, both present and future.

Japan is technologically capable of producing a nuke, if she decides. At present at least 25% electricity produced in Japan is by nuclear reactors. Building centrifuge assembly to enrich Uranium is well within her capability. Japan’s space programme is world class, hence delivery vehicles are already available. In any case to target China, Japan needs a MRBM capability only. Japan Air Force is world class. With impending acquisition of F-35s in large numbers, Japan will be capable of delivering nukes by aircraft as well. Although Japan can acquire/build nuclear capable submarines but Japan may not need the third component of triad; nuke capable submarines because of geography and her position on the globe vis-à-vis China. Although not yet recognized, Japan has an aircraft carrier as well or at least the technology/expertise to build one.

Let us now examine what will Japanese nuclear deterrent look like? Japan does not require to invest in classic nuclear ‘TRIAD’. In fact with Japanese expertise in miniaturizing virtually everything and extremely high degree of sophistication achieved in electronics, Japan just might become the first nuclear weapon capable state to possess ‘DRONE MOUNTED NUCLEAR WEAPON DELIVERY SYSTEM’.

Land based nuclear tipped missiles with a ten kiloton warhead could be based in any of numerous Japanese islands, particularly in northern Japan. If Japan opts for introducing MIRVed MRBMs, Japanese nuclear threat will be even more potent. However land based missiles in silos are easy target because their positions are known to adversary. A mobile trailer mounted MRBM has greater survivability. Japan is already developing a sixth generation fighter, which will decidedly be a nuclear weapon delivery capable machine.

As of now Japan does not have nuclear warhead development/production expertise. Surely USA could be asked to provide the necessary help, a highly probable and possible option. If USA genuinely desired to threaten China’s underbelly, it could be achieved by making Japan partner in Ohio Replacement Programme. As per a post in a defence website;

“The Columbia class is being designed to replace the UGM-133 Trident II–armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, whose remaining boats will be decommissioned, one per year, beginning in 2027. … A total of 12 submarines are planned, with construction of the lead boat planned to begin in 2021.”

The decommissioned ‘boats’ of US Navy could be transferred to Japanese Navy. Such transaction, if it happens will be a boon to USA as well as Japan.

In spite of gruesome history behind Japan being the only nation to have suffered the wrath of a nuke, situation demands that Japan consider the option of going nuclear to eliminate/minimize the possibility of a repeat of 6th and 9th August 1945.

Economically Japan is capable of investing in producing nukes. A fair guess would be that Japan keeps/or is likely to be in readiness to go nuclear should the circumstances warrant. Chinese forcible accession of Taiwan might prove to be the proverbial ‘last straw’.

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