Japan eager for U.S. to keep nuke deterrence

Kyodo News

Before the shift in political power in September, Japan aggressively lobbied a U.S. congressional nuclear task force to maintain the credibility of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” to deter possible attacks by China and North Korea, sources said Monday.

Tokyo’s lobbying for a robust deterrence came just before President Barack Obama pledged that the U.S. would pursue the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Meeting with members of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, senior Japanese diplomats expressed deep concerns about the future capability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the sources said.

The diplomats also told the commission, which was created by legislation passed during the George W. Bush administration, that the capability to penetrate underground targets with low-yield nuclear devices would strengthen the umbrella’s credibility, they said.

The U.S. military currently has only one nuclear “bunker buster,” the high-yield B61-11, which has about 20 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The B61-11 has the potential to be so destructive and devastating to civilian populations that most U.S. military analysts and officials consider it too powerful to use in battlegrounds.

The Japanese diplomats also told the commission, chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry, that Japan would like to be consulted beforehand if the U.S. ever considers retiring the nuclear-tipped Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, or TLAM-N, the sources said.

The diplomats suggested they believe the TLAM-N, a submarine-launched missile, is an important element in maintaining credible deterrence with China and North Korea, they said.

The lobbying was conducted at least twice between autumn last year to February this year, according to the sources both in the United States and Japan.

The commission’s final report, published in May, said, “In Asia, extended deterrence relies heavily on the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles on some Los Angeles-class attack submarines — the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile/Nuclear. This capability will be retired in 2013 unless steps are taken to maintain it.”

The report continues, “It has become clear to us that some U.S. allies in Asia would be very concerned by TLAM/N retirement.”

The vice chairman of the commission, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, admitted during an interview in July that “some U.S. allies in Asia” meant Japan.

“(We are) hopeful we will maintain the nuclear Tomahawk because it is more relevant (in Asia) than Europe. . . . The Chinese have begun a moderate but still significant nuclear buildup over the course of the last half-decade or so. So Japan is, would be, understandably more concerned about the possibility of a nuclear threat now than during the Cold War,” he said.

The Obama administration is in the final process of formulating the “Nuclear Posture Review,” a new nuclear strategic guideline that will stipulate basic nuclear defense, disarmament and nonproliferation policies for the next five to 10 years.