The Term “Nuclear Security” Is a Modern-Day Koan to the Japanese

Japanese kanji for karma.

Japanese kanji for karma.

From the long-prevailing Japanese perspective, it’s foolhardy for the state to consider developing nuclear weapons.

Twice victimized by their use, Japan is uniquely positioned to know how engaging in nuclear war inevitably results in attacks like the ones it experienced in World War II. It’s also able to empathize with the prospect of another state struck by nuclear weapons and envision the negative karma (or gou in Japanese) their use generates.

Alas, many Japanese have focused on their victimization and, especially with North Korea nearby, bow down to the gods of deterrence in hopes of preventing another nuclear attack on Japan. In fact, as Yuri Kageyama reports for the Associated Press, arming Japan with nuclear weapons has long been part of the national and internal debate.

Historical documents released in the past two years show that the idea of a nuclear-armed Japan was long talked about behind-the-scenes, despite repeated denials by the government. …

In a once-classified 1966 document, the government outlined how the threat of China going nuclear made it necessary for Japan to consider it too, though it concluded that the U.S. nuclear umbrella made doing so unnecessary at the time.

In meeting minutes from 1964, 1966 and 1967, Japanese officials weigh the pros and cons of signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which would mean foregoing the nuclear option. Japan signed the treaty in 1970.

The government denials continued, even after former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone wrote in his 2004 memoirs that, as defense chief, he had ordered a secret study of Japan’s nuclear arms capability in 1970. The study concluded it would take five years to develop nuclear weapons, but Nakasone said he decided they weren’t needed, again because of U.S. protection.

Lately confusion arose when

… parliament amended the 1955 Atomic Energy Basic Law in June, adding “national security” to people’s health and wealth as reasons for Japan’s use of [nuclear-energy] technology. Given the secretive past, former diplomat Tetsuya Endo and others are suspicious about the June amendment adding “national security” to the atomic energy law. Backers of the amendment say it refers to protecting nuclear plants from terrorists. Opponents ask why the words aren’t then “nuclear security,” instead of “national security.”

As you can see, much more than semantics, the term “nuclear security” may be obfuscation intended to throw up a smokescreen behind which to advance the development of nuclear weapons. In any event, the phrase is a riddle. But, unlike a koan,* which can lead to enlightenment, this phrase has the potential to help usher Japan into a post-apocalyptic world of darkness.

*koan A paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.