Washington and Tokyo alliance has been the cornerstone of the U.S. security policies in East Asia for years. Now, as Japan’s global security position is strengthening, the threat of invasion from neighboring nuclear-armed countries, China and North Korea, is mounting.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to become one of the largest European conflicts of the decade. But, the vague military support and sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. are forcing Japan, one of the strongest allies of America in the East, to reconsider its security deal.
Why is Japan Demanding Nuclear Weapons?
Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who quit as prime minister in 2020 but remains a highly influential leader within the Liberal Democratic Party, said Ukraine may not have faced an invasion by Russia if it had kept some of the nuclear weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union broke up instead of exchanging them for a security guarantee.
With Afghanistan and Ukraine as an example, the former prime minister demanded Joe Biden to define an acceptable policy and declare if the U.S. will come to defend Taiwan if China tries to invade the island nation.
As an example of how Japan can deter such threats, the premier pointed to NATO’s nuclear-sharing arrangements, which he said are examples of how Japan can deal with the “increasingly severe security environment” in Asia.
What is Nuclear Sharing?
NATO’s policy of nuclear deterrence includes nuclear sharing, in which countries without nuclear weapons are involved with planning nuclear attacks. It specifically highlights that in the event nuclear weapons are used, the armed forces of those countries can deliver those weapons for NATO’s aid.
Nuclear sharing involves:
- Sharing nuclear weapons among participating countries.
- Conducting consultations and taking common decisions on nuclear weapons policy.
- Maintaining aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
- Storing atomic weapons on their territory.
However, the NATO allies were told the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would not apply in the event of war.
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Despite NATO’s official status as a nuclear alliance, it does not possess any nuclear weapons. There are instead a small number of bombs under the US Air Force guard at six air bases throughout Europe, waiting to be delivered by the respective national fighter aircraft.
U.S. Strategic Ambiguity over Taiwan
For decades, the Chinese government has intensified its claim over Taiwan, calling it a “breakaway” region that must be taken back “with force if necessary.” Beijing has also stepped up its military surveillance around the unofficially self-proclaimed independent island to roll back the renegade province. Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone (ADIZ) has also experienced multiple unauthorized intrusions by China in recent years.
Because of China’s aggressive behavior towards Taiwan, the U.S. has stated that it will provide “unwavering“ support to Taipei in an attack. However, it is still committed to the ‘One China Policy‘ that recognizes Taiwan as part of the mainland. Nevertheless, Washington is authorized to provide defense support to self-ruled Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.
Taiwan doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Japan, so Japan has remained mostly silent on the issue. Moreover, the trade relations between Tokyo and Beijing have also caused Taipei to stay out of the fray. Despite this, Chinese assertiveness in the region has caused concern among Japanese lawmakers.
Japan predicts a ‘Russia-Ukraine type’ attack by China.
According to the Japan Times, Abe predicted the invasion of Ukraine could also be linked to the civilizational ties between Kyiv and China. On the sidelines of his visit during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a written response to Xi Jinping in which he referred to Taiwan as an “indigenous part” of China.
Biden’s blunt question was also borne out of the fear that China might create a pretext of war on common grounds to invade Taiwan by relying on Putin’s playbook. During the interview, he also encouraged the incumbent Tokyo government to discuss potential nuclear sharing – similar to NATO – while considering the present geopolitical situation.
Can the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty Protect Japan?
Also known as the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the U.S. and Japan, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. This treaty permits the presence of U.S. military bases on Japanese soil. It binds each nation to defend the other if either is attacked in territory under the administration of Japan. It has led to a military alliance between the United States and Japan.
Since the USA is a nuclear weapon-armed country, which, by default, facilitates Japan a nuclear umbrella, Washington’s reaction towards the Afghanistan and Ukraine crisis forces Tokyo to rethink its defense.
One of the concerns about the security treaty is that the U.S. will only react after Japan has been attacked. It is, therefore, more of a vengeance than a precautionary measure.
Considering all these factors, Shinzo Abe has clearly stated that the security treaty cannot completely protect Japan from the looming dangers. He further demands American nuclear weapons be deployed in Japan to ensure the nation’s safety.
“Japan is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has its three non-nuclear principles, but it should not treat as a taboo discussions on the reality of how the world is kept safe.”Shinzo Abe