All The Nuclear Wannabes Just Want to Be Like Japan


seiji maehara.jpg
Former Democratic Party of Japan President (and now Vice President) and a likely Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Defense in a future DPJ-led government Seiji Maehara gave a long but still fascinating speech at Smith & Wollensky’s in Washington Thursday evening. The organizers were Japan’s Ocean Policy Research Foundation and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.
While the jingle of the OPRF may be to “promote co-existence between man and the ocean,” my sense after attending this big dinner is that that’s true as long as it involves maintaining a very large, high edge naval fleet.
I found Maehara, who is a genuine Japanese political star today, to be very well informed and not as dogmatic as I expected on issues like Japan’s emotionalism over abductees in North Korea vs. responsible participation in the Six Party Talks.
But after listening to Maehara refer a number of times to Japan’s leadership in nuclear non-proliferation efforts around the world, I asked a question about what he thought Japan should be doing, if anything, about responding to nations like Iran and other potential nuclear break-out nations down the chain who privately say that they don’t want nuclear weapons (which Iran still claims) but that they want a full fuel-cycle nuclear capacity within their borders — like Japan’s.
My sense is that Japan has been quiet about the fact that its plutonium reserve profile is unlike any other nation in the world — and that it is a bit of an outlier when it comes to thinking through a global system of nuclear energy supply through international management structures for nuclear power nations.
Apparently I hit a nerve — not with Maehara who had a smart and detailed answer — but with others in the room as a rather gruff defense industry contractor and long term Navy guy blustered and peppered me rudely during Maehara’s comments with questions about where my funding came from and where I developed the basis for my question. He said that in his 40 years in this business, he had never heard anyone shape a question the way I did and believed that I had to be a “plant” for some other interest group.
LOL — this was just too funny not to share.
Well, to tell the full truth — this question evolved from my own reading of an MIT report some years ago that I came by during my very first meeting with the then-MIT based Paul Krugman. The report, authored by a different MIT scholar, Eugene Skolnikoff, and commissioned by the Japanese government suggested that Japan’s nuclear energy program had a dual use profile that would only make sense if also trying to maintain a potential weapons capacity. I first saw this report in about 1996.
Then, a senior ranking Governmet of Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official spoke to me privately during the George W. Bush administration that he worried that efforts to create new international rules regarding nuclear energy and fuel — in order to deal with Iran and other potential nuclear powers — would undermine Japan’s system.
So, with all due respect to the huffy contractor — either begin thinking beyond the talking points being fed to you by your DoD handlers. . .or get out a bit more.
But then Seiji Maehara gave a quite intriguing response to my question.
Maehara said that he visited in Japan three nuclear facilities and was surprised to see that all of them were under IAEA supervision, that there were parts of the facilities that were completely off limits to Japanese staff, and that there were seals and inspection systems that they monitored throughout the facility.
Maehara continued that Japan would support the spread of nuclear capacity and nuclear production — modeled in the same way Japan’s nuclear template was organized — if the same protocols of IAEA inspection and management were embedded in the system.
Fascinating. So, what we heard from the person who may very well be a next, or next/next Minister of Defense or Foreign Affairs — and who I think will one day be Prime Minister — is a flexibility that would allow Iran to continue a nuclear program, maintain domestic plutonium feeds of its own, as long as it made inspections the law of the land.
This is exactly what former Iran President Mohammed Khatami suggested we initiate with the Iranian government a few years ago — though Khatami suggested that we propose limiting Iran’s reprocessing program to “experimental level” and not “industrial.”
One attendee at the Japan dinner — an unnamed Japanese official who I like a lot and respect — scribbled a funny note to me in response to my question:

Nobody knows. . .
We [Japan] may become like Iran.
We don’t have to as long as the US gives us good deterrence though!

The number of syllables are off — but it’s almost haiku.
— Steve Clemons


14 comments on “All The Nuclear Wannabes Just Want to Be Like Japan

  1. rich says:

    Obviously you’ve never been to southwestern Ontario, Don.
    Meanwhile, I’m sure no one will be happy to see TPM’s headline:


  2. Don Bacon says:

    South western Ontario — wow, it must be an exciting family, eh?


  3. fred varcoe says:

    Sorry, arthurdecco, I know nothing about it.


  4. arthurdecco says:

    Fred Varcoe, are you coming to the international family reunion in south western Ontario this summer? We need to talk. lol


  5. Don Bacon says:

    Iran is under full IAEA inspection, and this UN agency gas repeatedly found (last report Nov 08) that Iran is in full compliance. That is, they are not diverting controlled nuclear material to weapons programs. The NIE reported no nuclear weapons program in Iran. Iran has repeatedly denied any interest inb nuclear weapons.
    (Despite these assurances, Obama/Clinton have repeatedly said that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.)
    Japan has a similar situation to Iran.
    from Japan: //Since 1955, the domestic laws of Japan require that nuclear activities, including commercial activities, be conducted only for peaceful purposes. Additionally, since 1968, Japan has embraced the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.” These emphatic principles are:
    1. Japan will not possess nuclear weapons.
    2. Japan will not produce nuclear weapons.
    3. Japan will not permit the entry of nuclear weapons into its territory.
    In 1976, the Government of Japan ratified the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and thereby obligated itself to a national policy not to produce or acquire nuclear weapons. In order to ensure more extensive safeguards, Japan signed the IAEA Additional Protocol in 1998, and it came into effect the following year. The Additional Protocol allows the IAEA to carry out a range of additional measure to make sure there are no undeclared facilities and activities, conferring very important additional rights of inspection on this international agency in verifying the use of nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.
    Thus, Japan’s pursuit of all nuclear technology is limited to peaceful purposes by its participation in international regimes, such as the NPT, as well as strict domestic laws.//end
    The only difference between these two countries, in nuclear matters, is that Iran doesn’t currently have an “additional protocol” to allow inspections beyond NPT requirements. Iran signed an additional protocol in Dec 2003. However in Oct 2005 there was a UN resolution (promoted by the US) that Iran cease all nuclear activities or face economic sanctions. According to an Iranian news source “The present parliament, controlled by the ruling conservatives has urged the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad to consider getting out of the Additional Protocol and has said that it would not approve it if the Government submit it for acceptance.” And so Iran did abandon their additional protocol.
    Iran’s take on North Korea” “With its political fascism, the United States has created a judicial anarchy in which we see that in the one hand North Korea which is more advanced than us in enriching uranium and nuclear technologies has no problem with the IAEA and on the other, Iran must every day face new but fabricated problems”, he said, adding that “one aspect of this political fascism is to keep Iran as a second rate nation deprived on advanced technologies”.


  6. Daro says:

    It’s a dirty secret that Japan has the bomb but keeps it in a technically disassembled (but readily resolved) state to ensure plausible deniability. This was achieved already in the late 60’s courtesy of the USA in return for unlimited tenure in Okinawa as counter-bargain.
    As with anything military, the right-wing company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is responsible for maintaining this. The same Mitsubishi “zaibatsu” that MacArthur broke up after the war to dismantle Japan’s nationalistic, war-hungry, corporate hegemony. To this day, the 5 heads of the varying Mitsubishi companies (factions) are barred from assembling so once a month they meet in each others’ corporate headquarters on a rotating basis to circumvent the rules but continue their collusion.
    Looking to the sclerotic Japanese government with its more than 1/3 of members in inherited posts and its toe-the-line ministers for anything policy-wise is naive. Better you look at the boardroom members’ photo in MHI’s annual stock report. One glance at who owns all the property between the Emperor’s Palace, the National Diet bulding and Tokyo station will tell you who’s in control.


  7. fred varcoe says:

    So Iran gets the bomb. Who would they use it against? U.S.-backed Iraq; I don’t think so. Israel? No. U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia? No way.
    And who would attack a nuclear Iran? Probably only Israel or the USA. Seems like good defense to me.
    As for Japan’s nuclear aspirations, up to now, the only mention of this has been in the West. Japan’s plutonium stockpile is hardly a secret and they could build a pretty decent bomb in a day. They don’t need to have aspirations; they are nuclear capable today.
    Spare a thought for the South Koreans. If Japan goes nuclear, then they will be surrounded by four nuclear powers (China, Russia, North Korea, Japan). No wonder they’re so defensive (oh, and incidentally, if they go to war, they are not even in charge of their own military; the Americans take charge).


  8. anon says:

    Ah, so it all comes down to extended deterrence and U.S. security guarantees. This has grown into the most robust talking point in the whole debate over the future or our nuclear weapons stockpile and strategy. On the right, we hear, if we don’t maintain and improve our nuclear arsenal, our allies will lose confidence and build their own. This is essentially an extrapolation from the comments of a few Japanese officials, and is then attributed to “all our allies.” Disengenuous, but effective, because, even on the left, you get a very careful treatment of the issue of extended deterrence, for those who advocate U.S. reductions in support of nonproliferation goals don’t want to be tagged as encouraging proliferation in Japan by reducing confidence in security guarantees.
    But the real argument should be so much more nuanced. Next time the topic comes up, ask your Japanese friend whether Japan really cares about every last little detail of the U.S. arsenal (from the date of the last explosive test to the plans to maintain individual warheads), or just wants some assurance, at the macro level, that the U.S. will be there, with troops or nukes, if and when Japan needs it. If the latter is true, then nukes are less of an issue than the whole of U.S. policy, and the confidence that our allies have in our cooperative, engaging attitude (this confidence has been shaken in the last decade.)


  9. TonyForesta says:

    We must all accept and manage a future with a nuclear capable Iran, just we tolerate now a nuclear capable Pakistan, (which to me is a far more dire concern.)
    There is no uninventing nuclear weapons, or bugs or chem for that matter. Efforts should be prosecuted to control and prohibit access to and the distrubution of certain technolgicies, mechanics, formula’s, and materials, – but once the Pandora’s Box is opened, – and if the nation or organization possess the necessary safehavens and intellectual capabilities access to the core ingredients – dastardly weapons will follow.
    Preventing, or at least discouraging the use of those weapons is the most critical endeavor the community of nations must undertake. Few states are eager to risk certain annihilation through preemptive and effectively suicidal first strikes. These weapons are defensive in nature, intending to dissuade preemptive strikes from firstworld threats. Curiously, America, the worlds hypersuperior military, with more nukes than all the other nations combined, is the only nation to have actually employed nuclear weapons, and upon civilians. America nuclear weapons programs represent the cutting edge of brilliantweapons technologies, and the most immediate and potent threat to the rest of world. Heartless, craven, brutish, pathologically greedy and obdurate individuals, – predators own and control our government.
    America’s is waning. Empires recorded since time immemorable crumble and burn under the terrible weight of insatiable pathological greed, and self aggrandizement, and wanton obdurate disregard for the pain, suffering, injuring and hopelessness of the other 99.5% of the population.
    America is destroying itself from within and from the top down. Barbabians, predators own control the government, – brutes, sociopaths, criminals individuals possessed by pathological greed and freakish narcisism – own and control every mechanisms and operation of the government. The people have no voice, and no representation. Corporations, oligarchs, cartels, cabals, and select predator class individuals own and control America, and the government, and various ruthless tyrants and predators rule most of the worlds governments.
    The people are ignorant and week. Perhaps one day, there will be a real movement for justice, and equality and peace on earth and good will towards men. But that day is far away, and now and well into the future, predators will feed on the blood, and pillage the treasure of the poor and middle class.
    Nukes are the least of our problems. Abject poverty, and painful deprivations, monsterous mountains of irredeemable debt are the more immediate and real, visceral, palpable concerns.
    Predators are robbing and pillaging us blind, heaping monsterous debts and deficits on the shoulders of children, funnelling trillions of taxpayer dollars into select predator class offshore accounts, abbrogating immunity and the sacred right to operate above, beyond, and outside the rule of law, and stand Olympian in their oppulent palaces, wantonly obdurate, unconcernred, and disdainful of the grievous pain and suffering the poor and middle class hazard, burden, and endure, and then having the gall to dare to proclaim exceptionalist supremist preeminance and mastersoftheuniverse status of the remaining mere mortals.
    When the predator class bleeds, things will change – and not until that day.


  10. Saadia says:

    Doesn’t Iran already allow IAEA inspections anyway or is it only allowing some and not others? I don’t see why a similar system can’t be used except that there are regional conflicts.


  11. Don Bacon says:

    Japan would foster an illicit weapons program?
    Would they actually do that?
    Constitution of Japan
    Article 9:
    Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. ranks the Japan military #7 in the world.
    Active Military Personnel: 239,000 [2008]
    Active Military Reserve: 57,899 [2008]
    Active Paramilitary Units: 12,250 [2008]
    Total Land-Based Weapons: 2,040
    Towed Artillery: 5,760 [2001]
    Total Navy Ships: 147
    Merchant Marine Strength: 683 [2008]
    Major Ports and Harbors: 10
    Aircraft Carriers: 0 [2008]
    Destroyers: 15 [2008]
    Submarines: 18 [2008]
    Frigates: 41 [2008]
    Patrol & Coastal Craft: 1 [2008]
    Mine Warfare Craft: 38 [2008]
    Amphibious Craft: 7 [2008]
    Total Aircraft: 1,957 [2003]
    Helicopters: 745 [2003]
    Serviceable Airports: 176 [2007]


  12. Steve Clemons says:

    Don — It fascinated me because Maehara is part of the hawkish
    wing of the DPJ and because I don’t believe I have heard a
    mainstream politico in Japan make this sort of suggestion. All best,


  13. Don Bacon says:

    What am I missing here?
    Why is it “fascinating” that a Japanese politico would allow Iran to have a nuclear program under international surveillance, intended to disallow diversion of nuclear material to weapons programs, which Iran in fact has now?
    The “fascinating” thing is that the US and its allies disallow Iran to do what the NPT in fact encourages — to build a nuclear power capability.


  14. Bill R. says:

    Japan, promoting co-existence between humans and the ocean?? This is the country that hunts wales for dog food. This is the country that used drift net and sea bed trawling technology to destroy whole fisheries and their habitat? So,please someone, tell me what they have to say of any credibility about stewardship of the oceans.


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