9 April 2016

Should Japan and South Korea be permitted to develop nuclear weapons? That was the very good question posed last week by candidate Donald Trump.

Washington’s elite and neocon war party threw up their hands in horror at Trump’s heretical question. The media, heavily influenced by neocons who hate Trump’s call for even-handed US policy in the Mideast, scorned his nuclear proposal or simply ignored it.

Too bad that Trump’s proposal was drowned in a sea of media noise. His idea has merit. This writer, long specialized in North Asian security affairs, has been advocating for a decade that Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear weapons and anti-missile systems.

Two of Asia’s most important powers cannot afford to remain strategically naked, vulnerable and totally reliant on US strategic protection. Would the US risk a nuclear war, even a limited one, to protect Pusan, South Korea or Kobe, Japan?

Trump framed this question in dollars, as befits a businessman. Why should the US pay to defend these two wealthy nations? The answer: because Japan and South Korea are the keystone of America’s Asian imperium. They offer highly important military bases and key strategic geography that allows the US to politically, militarily and economically dominate North Asia. Expenses therefrom are costs of empire.

Trade plays an even bigger role in the American imperium than military power. By giving Japanese and South Korean industries access in the 1950’s to the vast US market, Washington made them economic as well as military dependents. Today, China is half way into the same imperial trade system.

Now, the rapid development of nuclear armed medium and long-range missiles in China and North Korea – both bitter historic enemies of Japan – is forcing Tokyo and Seoul to confront this vital issue.

Last week, numerous intelligence sources affirmed that North Korea had indeed miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could be carried a top one of its improved Rodong intermediate, 2,000km -range missiles. This would allow North Korea to hit targets all over South Korea, most of Japan, Okinawa and perhaps the giant US base at Guam.

The North could also menace the far more important target, Japan. Even shorter range N. Korean missiles can hit Japan, which has only very limited anti-missile defense. Israel, by comparison, has a far more capable multi-level anti-missile system. In spite of much talk about new strategic defenses, Japan is almost naked unto its enemies.

If North Korea attacked Japan, the US would be compelled to enter the fray. It’s also a poorly kept secret that the US would likely use tactical nuclear weapons to blunt a North Korean invasion of South Korea- just what General Douglas MacArthur urged half a century ago during the Korean War. A war between China and Japan over the contested South China Sea could erupt anytime

In short, Japan, South Korea or both could drag the US into a nuclear confrontation with North Korea or China that it wished to avoid. Because these nations lack any strategic retaliatory weapons to face down their enemies, they would either have to surrender to blackmail from North Korea and China or beg the US to join the nuclear confrontation.

Both Seoul and Tokyo understand how vulnerable they are. In the mid-1970’s, South Korea’s tough leader, Park Cheung-hee, sought to develop nuclear weapons. The South Korean effort was stopped by intense US pressure and even threats.

Japan has covertly worked on nuclear weapons for decades. This writer even saw plans for a Japanese atomic weapon. Today, Japan’s high-tech industry is believed to be able to deploy a nuclear bomb within 90 days of a go decision. I also believe that Switzerland has a similar secret capability.

Ending the pretense of nuclear virginity would make North Asia safer. China and North Korea would be much less likely to threaten Japan and South Korea if these latter nations had nuclear retaliatory forces and anti-missile systems.

Anyway, why can’t these grown-up democracies in Japan and South Korea have nuclear weapons when Washington has secretly allowed India and Israel to build powerful nuclear arsenals?

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, USA


  1. Some Canadian says:

    I used to roam this blog and I am dismayed at how far Eric Margolis has gone off the cliff.

    It is rather insane to allow more countries to have nuclear capability. If Japan and South Korea are allowed to have some, then who next? Turkey? Saudi Arabia? Iran?

    Just because India, Pakistan, and Israel have secretly built their arsenal and gotten away with it does not imply we should suddenly open all doors – Two wrongs does not make one right.

    Furthermore, China rarely flaunts its nuclear capabilities and have more than enough military power to decimate Japan and South Korea should it desires. But would it? How often did China invade other countries compared to the Great Powers of old (including Japan itself)?

    As for North Korea, how do you think they’d react when they see nukes stationed across their borders? An erratic regime like North Korea’s will likely be insane enough to risk MAD in their fatal game of chicken.

    Lastly, I am very disappointed in the endorsement of Trump over Sanders. The former is a petty and dishonest man and the latter is a reasonable and honest man. Even though Trump is still arguably preferable to the Hillary, he’s by far not that Eisenhower Republican you are looking for.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      Some Canuck,
      I think I understand Eric’s point of view. Having a few more countries with nuclear weapons as a defensive posture in this East Asia region just balances the insanity of a pre-emptive strike. There is lots of bellicose posturing from regional nations; especially from the ‘haves’ towards the ‘have nots’. India and Pakistan have avoided war since their atomic detonations, suggesting a MAD détente.
      Mankind has detonated two during wartime with loss of life. Maybe 80 to a 100 in testing and we have not yet brought on a Nuclear Winter.
      I am much more concerned about the continuing building of atomic warheads using weapons grade Plutonium by the USA and Russia; the plutonium coming from the spent fuel of thermal Nuclear Power plants.
      incidentally, there is more plutonium made by a CANDU heavy water pressurised reactor than the most common reactors, the Enriched Uranium (3 to 5% U-235) Pressurized Light Water reactors. Pickering and Darlington are sitting on a large amount of spent fuel bundles in the holding ponds with plenty of Plutonium, if one was to re-process it.
      ad iudicium

  2. IceColdCamembert says:

    Obviously Japan would miniaturize nuclear weapons to the point they could be concealed as IPhones.

    Logged in as IceColdCamembert. Log out »

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      Facetious and enjoyable.
      The truth is that several kilograms of U-233 or U235 is necessary to make a Uranium nuclear weapon. For Plutonium Pu-239 it is an entirely different matter. Look up “Plutonium Pits” on Wikipedia to see the improbability of a Plutonium nuclear device.
      ad iudicium

  3. America still treats Japan and South Korea as an parolee who cannot be trusted with weapons.

  4. “why can’t these grown-up democracies …”
    hmmmm … why not you ask? Because Korea has killed more student protesters than China? Because Japan was a brutal expansionist empire after the US modernized its military in the later 19th century and still honours its dead war criminals?
    Grown up democracies? Hardly.
    I remember when the US was supposedly dedicated to nuclear disarmament. Wasn’t there some sort of treaty? Non Proliferation perhaps?
    You are quite right that the US bases around the world secure the Imperium, but they also secure trade. The Cold War was a superb marketing program to get the world hooked on US military hardware and it worked very well. The money spent on foreign bases is an investment that pays dividends.

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