Japan should consider hosting US nuclear weapons, says Abe

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday that Japan should break a long-standing taboo and hold an active debate on nuclear weapons – including a possible NATO-like “nuclear sharing” program – at the following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Japan is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has its three non-nuclear principles, but it should not treat discussions of the reality of world security as a taboo,” Abe said on a TV show. .

Abe, who left his post as prime minister in 2020 but remains highly influential as the head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, noted that Ukraine retained some of the nuclear weapons it inherited after the breakup of the Soviet Union instead of trading them for security. guaranteed, it may not have faced an invasion from Russia.

Highlighting what the government has repeatedly said is an “increasingly severe security environment” in Asia – including China’s growing assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear program – Abe cited the NATO nuclear sharing as an example of how Japan could deter these and other threats.

“Japan should also consider various options in its discussions,” including nuclear sharing, Abe said on the Fuji Television show.

The NATO program allows the United States to keep its nuclear weapons in custody in Europe, but allows allies who do not have such weapons to share them and participate in the decision-making process if they are used. .

Japan, which saw the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki devastated by atomic bombings at the end of World War II, is the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack. Under the country’s post-war pacifist constitution, Tokyo relies on the American “nuclear umbrella” to deter threats.

Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles, first enunciated in 1967, require it not to possess, produce or permit nuclear weapons on the country’s territory, although the spirit of the latter has been secretly violated in the past. .

Polls suggest that the public remains strongly opposed to the idea of ​​Japan building its own nuclear arsenal. But Abe hinted that a NATO-like sharing deal might be a more publicly acceptable option.

“A lot of people in Japan probably don’t know about the system,” he said.

Still, Abe noted that Japan should maintain its long-standing goal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

“It is important to move towards this goal, but when it comes to protecting the lives of Japanese citizens and the nation, I believe we should conduct discussions with full consideration of various options,” he said. -he declares.

Tobias Harris, author of a biography on Abe and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said the former leader’s remarks were a sign of the “enormous pressure” current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was likely to put on him. suffer from his party. right-wing as his government reviews Japan’s national security strategy and other key diplomatic and defense documents this year.

“Whether this debate is happening in the short term, the taboo on discussing this topic has eroded significantly over the past 15-20 years,” he wrote on Twitter.

Asked about an invasion or eventuality around neighboring Taiwan, Abe called on the United States to abandon its longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would defend the self-governing island, calling for an approach clearer.

“The United States adopts a strategy of ambiguity, which means that it may or may not intervene militarily if Taiwan is attacked,” Abe said. “By showing that it can intervene, it keeps China under control, but by leaving room for it not to intervene, it ensures that the (Taiwanese) independence forces do not get out of control,” he said. he declared.

“It is time to abandon this strategy of ambiguity. The people of Taiwan share our universal values, so I think the United States should firmly let go of its ambiguity,” he said.

Reiterating his position that an eventuality over Taiwan would also represent an emergency for Japan, Abe noted that Okinawa’s island of Yonaguni is only 110 kilometers from Taiwan. If China were to carry out an invasion operation, he said, it would first seek to establish air and sea superiority in the area which would likely cover Japanese airspace and territorial waters.

China – which calls Taiwan a “core problem” and sees it as a renegade province that must be brought back into its fold, by force if necessary – has stepped up military activity near the self-governing island to an almost daily clip on the last two years. The United States, meanwhile, has maintained a “one China” policy since 1979, officially recognizing Beijing rather than Taipei, while the Taiwan Relations Act requires Washington to provide the self-governing island with the means to to defend oneself.

Japan has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan and has traditionally remained silent on the issue so as not to antagonize Beijing, its biggest trading partner, until it recently took a bolder approach amid its concerns about China’s assertiveness near the island and elsewhere.

Abe’s remarks on Sunday come as the Ukraine crisis has raised fears that China is looking to take a page from Russia’s playbook and invade Taiwan. Observers say that while the two surface scenarios share some similarities, the strategic lessons China and Taiwan could learn from invading Ukraine are limited and potentially misleading.

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