U.S-Japan Core Issues

NAPSNet Policy Forum

Recommended Citation

"U.S-Japan Core Issues", NAPSNet Policy Forum, April 02, 2013, https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-policy-forum/u-s-japan-core-issues/

by Sheila A. Smith

April 02, 2013

This report was originally presented at the New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock workshop held on October 9th and 10th, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Click here to download a pdf of this report.


I. Introduction

Sheila Smith writes: “The proposal for A New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock offers a fresh perspective on the diplomatic framework for negotiating peace and stability for Northeast Asia. This memo responds to this initiative from the perspective of Japanese security and the shared strategic goals of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Sheila A. Smith is a Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Nautilus Institute. Readers should note that Nautilus seeks a diversity of views and opinions on significant topics in order to identify common ground.


II. Policy Forum by Sheila A. Smith

U.S-Japan Core Issues

The proposal for A New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock offers a fresh perspective on the diplomatic framework for negotiating peace and stability for Northeast Asia. This memo responds to this initiative from the perspective of Japanese security and the shared strategic goals of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Two sets of issues would affect Japanese participation, and alliance support for, a comprehensive regional approach. The first set is related to Japan’s security, and the role of the U.S. security guarantee in ensuring Japan’s security. The second set relates to the legacy of negotiations to date with Pyongyang, and how they shape Japanese perceptions on a comprehensive regional approach.

I. Strategic/Security Concerns: Japanese cooperation in comprehensive regional agreements will depend on a number of factors, but the most important will be the extent to which Japan’s security concerns are met.

A. Japan’s Security Concerns: Nuclear proliferation by Pyongyang has intensified security concerns, but for some time now Tokyo has worried as much—if not more—about the proliferation of missiles emanating from North Korea (See Attachment A). Moreover, Pyongyang has also undertaken criminal activity in Japanese waters, instigating in 1999 the first Maritime Security Order mobilizing the Maritime Self-Defense Force rather than Japan’s Coast Guard to defend against Korean ships in Japanese waters. Thus, the nuclear threat from North Korea is one of several concerns to Japanese security planners.

B. Reliability of the U.S.-Japan Deterrent: Perhaps the most obvious challenge for this proposal is in gaining the cooperation of U.S. allies who depend on the nuclear umbrella. It is the threat of U.S. retaliation, and possibly even nuclear retaliation that is the ultimate guarantee of defense against potential North Korean missile or nuclear attack. Tokyo has pursued a ballistic missile defense (BMD) program designed to counter North Korea, and this BMD is integrated with the U.S. sea-based theater missile defense system. This integrated and defensive response counters those within Japan who argue for an independent and offensive missile capability. South Korea’s current demand for longer range missiles to deter future missile enhancements in Pyongyang will be of interest to Tokyo planners, especially in light of current tensions in the Seoul-Tokyo relationship.

C. Japan’s Non-Nuclear Status: The integration of Japan’s defense force posture with U.S. capabilities has allowed Japan to maintain its commitment to remain a non-nuclear power. Japan has unilaterally declared its commitment to eschew nuclear armament, and thus would likely see little added benefit in codifying this in a multilateral arrangement. This self-restraint continued for half a century despite the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Tokyo’s neighbors, China and the DPRK, suggesting it continues to be strongly supported within Japan. Japan’s reliance on Washington for both nuclear and conventional deterrent capability is at the heart of its national security strategy, and therefore the Halperin proposal must acknowledge the linkages between U.S. extended deterrent commitments to its allies and their commitment to a non-nuclear status. Moreover, Japan has joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and continues to abide by its commitment to transparency for civilian nuclear facilities and to compliance with verification obligations. Japan’s commitment to non-nuclear status, therefore, would not require a regional NWFZ nor would there appear to be much value added. It has already demonstrated amply its commitment. Ironically, Japan today would likely find a NWFZ less rather than more reassuring.

D. China’s Nuclear Arsenal and a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone: The most problematic aspect of the proposal from the perspective of considering the U.S.-Japan alliance, therefore, is the fact that North Korea is not the only nuclear power in Northeast Asia that poses challenges for Tokyo’s security. China’s nuclear arsenal continues to affect Japanese perceptions of risk, and that perception of risk has been exacerbated by the growing political tensions between Beijing and Tokyo (See Attachment B). The proposal does not address nuclear risk beyond the North Korean nuclear program, and thus even if successfully implemented, the initiative would not remove the nuclear threat perceived by Tokyo. More than Pyongyang, it is China’s nuclear modernization and its growing political challenge to Tokyo’s security that most Japanese thinkers see as their main security challenge. Unless the NWFZ commits China to abandon its nuclear arsenal, it cannot remove or ameliorate Japan’s concerns about deterrence against nuclear threat.

E. Defining the Geographical Scope of Northeast Asia – the Maritime Dimension: A final issue raised by the proposal is geographic scope. Several aspects of geography would be important for the U.S.-Japan alliance. The first, of course, is the fact that land-based and seabased nuclear weapons have slightly different roles in a deterrent force posture. Moreover, the U.S.-Japan allied force structure combines land- and sea-based military forces, which makes for a complex dynamic for considering disarmament in NE Asia. China’s maritime reach is expanding. NK continues to use its maritime boundaries with Japan and South Korea for low intensity operations. The possible maritime delivery of nuclear weapons—in a strategic, tactical, or terrorist strike—cannot be ignored. Pyongyang’s proliferation activities in this respect deserve a fuller discussion in the proposal as this is important especially for Japan and the United States. Transparency and enforcement mechanisms for maritime delivery ought to be included.

II. Potential Obstacles to Moving Negotiations Forward Public support for negotiations with Pyongyang has evaporated due to the inability to make headway on the abductee issue. Beyond the need for adequate security assurances to Tokyo, two issues about negotiations with Pyongyang will need to be addressed in any future regional effort at cooperative security. The loss of trust and the lack of leverage in Japan are the two key variables in diminishing Japanese expectations and confidence in negotiations with North Korea (See Attachment C).

A. Trust: Japan’s bilateral effort to negotiate with Pyongyang has had limited results despite the willingness of Tokyo at one time to offer considerable economic assistance. Talks on denuclearization have gone through various iterations, and Tokyo’s preferences have been a trilateral approach. The Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group (TCOG) effort was the most successful framework for Tokyo; the Six-Party Talks perhaps the least. Indeed, the Six- Party Talks created considerable alliance tensions between Tokyo and Washington To date, much has been made about the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea as a hurdle in denuclearization negotiations. The fact remains that domestic politicization of Japanese government efforts to negotiate with Pyongyang—either bilaterally or in multilateral forums— has limited Japan’s capacity to make compromises or to sign on to any new negotiating initiative. While considerable Japanese support for, and financing of, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) did not produce results. Likewise, the Koizumi Cabinet’s bilateral negotiations with the Kim Jong-Il regime, including the Pyongyang Declaration, ended in disappointment and frustration, and thus ultimately a legacy of distrust between Tokyo and Pyongyang that will be difficult to diminish. Fear that Washington will be naïve about negotiations with the new regime are also apparent in Tokyo.

B. Leverage: Japan’s leverage with North Korea has been its willingness to negotiate a peace treaty that would be accompanied by significant economic assistance. Today, it is Chinese and perhaps South Korean aid that seems to motivate Pyongyang. Japanese public support for aid to Pyongyang has evaporated due to the inability to make headway on the abductee issue. Moreover, Tokyo today favors the use of the stick rather than the carrot with Pyongyang. Japan has fully committed itself to sanctioning Pyongyang under UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. Like the United States, Japan has no other means of economic leverage since bilateral trade and remittances from Koreans in Japan ended and there is really little economic contact between the two countries.


Attachment A: North Korean Missiles

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Attachment B

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III. Nautilus Invites Your Responses

The Nautilus Peace and Security Network invites your responses to this report. Please leave a comment below or send your response to: nautilus@nautilus.org. Comments will only be posted if they include the author’s name and affiliation.


nautilus-logo-smallThe NAPSNet Policy Forum provides expert analysis of contemporary peace and security issues in Northeast Asia. As always, we invite your responses to this report and hope you will take the opportunity to participate in discussion of the analysis.


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