HOW DEFENSE MINISTER ITSUNORI ONODERA VIEWS NORTH KOREAN CRISIS
Marking the 69th anniversary of the founding of North Korea on September 9, Rodong Sinmun—the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea—front-paged an editorial, declaring that the nation is “now a nuclear power possessing hydrogen bombs and ICBMs.”
How should we Japanese come to grips with the highly unpredictable threat of Kim Jong-un? Appearing as a guest of my regular “Genron” Internet television news show on September 8, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera pointed out that Japan already is within range of a significant number of Nodon ballistic missiles.
North Korea launched a Nodon missile into the Sea of Japan for the first time in late May 1993. We must freshly remind ourselves that Pyongyang had already put Japan within range of its missiles nearly a quarter century before its latest nuclear test conducted on September 3. The Japanese Defense Ministry ultimately estimated the power of the hydrogen bomb at 160 kilotons—at least ten times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
“North Korea’s conventional forces have been made up primarily of antiquated World War II weapons,” noted Onodera. “That is why North Korea has invested almost exclusively in fancy ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. Pyongyang has acquired mobile launcher platforms, making it difficult for the rest of the world to anticipate where and when they will launch their missiles next. The North Korean crisis is deepening. ”
North Korea today is viewed as the world’s most dangerous nuclear nation. And one cannot but be alarmed by the extraordinary speed of its nuclear development. The nation conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006 with a 0.8 kiloton yield.
It has since carried out five additional tests, increasing the yield to 10 kilotons in September 2016. Reminded that the yield increased to 160 kilotons just a year later, Onodera explained:
“The world’s first nuclear weapons programs were developed rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s. For instance, China obtained its first hydrogen bomb in less than ten years. In that sense, I would say that North Korea simply has caught up with China, rather than having succeeded in improving its development capability at a dramatically rapid rate. Compared with American and Russian atomic bombs in the megaton range, North Korean bombs are far less powerful.”
Onodara’s remarks are a reminder that we must assess North Korea’s nuclear capability calmly and objectively. It is a fact, however, that China once assisted North Korea with its nuclear development, making one wonder if Beijing today is serious in its effort to check Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. That is why I believe it critically important to clarify whether or not the Chinese are lending a helping hand to North Korea’s pursuit of its dangerous goals. Onodera had this to say:
“It is said that the prototype of North Korean missile technology is a copy of Soviet-made missiles, including the Scud missiles. But there is also a possibility that some parts have been imported from other nations.”
China’s Sinister Scheme
Asked about the possibility of Chinese involvement, Onodera said he could not go into the detail but made a point of reminding the leaders of the world:
“Nuclear technology, which has proliferated globally through various means over the decades, has found its way to North Korea, from which it can proliferate further. That is why we must take every measure to stop North Korea’s nuclear program now.”
The Wall Street Journal in its September 7 edition reported on the danger of proliferation of nuclear technology through students who study abroad. In 2016, the Security Council of the United Nations ordered a halt to funding North Koreans studying abroad on nuclear and ballistic programs. However, reports the Journal, there currently are several hundred North Korean scientists studying abroad, many of them belonging to universities and research institutes in China, such as China’s elite Harbin Institute of Technology.
This means China is still contributing to a proliferation of nuclear technology in violation of an international accord. But that is nothing new for China, as its willful proliferation of nuclear technology goes back over 30 years. In 1982, the Deng Xiaoping administration decided to transfer nuclear and ballistic missile technology to certain countries in the Islamic world and certain autocracies in the Marxist-socialist camp.
China signed a secret accord with Algeria on construction of a nuclear reactor; sold CSS-2 missiles to Saudi Arabia; and provided nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea. Beijing backed Pakistan’s nuclear development program most vigorously, even offering to conduct a nuclear test for Pakistan at its Lop Nor test site in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in 1998.
There is ample proof of considerable aid to North Korea from the Soviet Union, as was pointed out by Onodera. For instance, a 5 megawatt nuclear reactor was put in action in North Korea in 1986 with fuel rods provided by the Soviets. But it was thanks significantly to the decision by Deng that Pyongyang was able to engage in full-fledged nuclear and missile development. These facts have already been made public by nuclear experts, such as Thomas Reed, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) under the Reagan Administration.
In short, the world has fallen into this precarious situation because of a sinister scheme by China to proliferate nuclear technology to North Korea and other nations in an effort to put a check on superior America and Russia military power.
Reed refers to North Korea as the “canary in the Chinese coal mine,” because it is extremely useful in getting the measure of China’s intentions. In other words, whether China is serious about getting North Korea to suspend its nuclear development will become evident from how Beijing ultimately decides to treat Pyongyang.
As of this writing September 6, the Security Council’s extraordinary session has yet to be held. Can it adopt the strongest ever sanctions against North Korea, including an all-out ban of oil exports? Will China use its veto? China’s true intentions will reveal themselves.
Onodera remained cautious throughout the program, never mentioning China while referring to Russia a number of times. I felt that his posture reflected a strong conviction as to how decisive China’s judgment will be on the state of North Korean’s future nuclear development. I will leave the conclusion to the discretion of the reader.
Expressing Gratitude to the God
In the midst of such a crisis, how should Japan protect its land and people—especially those abductees who still are held in North Korea? North Korea has already put Japan within Nodon’s range, and South Korea within range of its rocket artillery. And now the US is within range of Pyongyang’s ICBMs. Onoda expounded:
“North Korea has put both Japan and South Korea within complete range of its rockets and missiles. Under such circumstances, both our countries must depend heavily on the US for our security. The US has been consistent in its statement that all options, including use of force, are on the table. The security of both the US and Japan depends on America’s nuclear deterrence. It is the job of political leaders to continue to confirm that this nuclear commitment on the part of the US, above all else, remains unshakeable.”
“When I last served as defense minister (2012-2014), the state secrecy law passed the Diet. It is a legal framework aimed at strictly safeguarding information the government obtains from its counterparts, including information on terrorists and their activities. During Diet deliberations, the bill was severely criticized by the opposition as well as the media. Thanks to its passage, however, other countries now have no reservations in sharing vital information with Japan.”
As regards those who bitterly opposed the 20125 revision of the security bill and are now calling for joint US-Japan operations to cope with North Korean missiles, Onodera commented:
“Many people may be strongly opposed to a bill, but will come to grips with its importance after a certain lapse of time. I think the Japanese have gone through this process repeatedly in the postwar era.”
I would very much like members of the top opposition Democratic Party and the staff of the liberal national daily Asahi Shimbun to listen closely to these observations from Onodera.
Onodera remarked that he spent his first month as defense minister expressing his gratitude to the gods at the end of each day and praying for guidance in performing his duty as one of those in charge of Japan’s peace and security. I believe Mr. Onodera ought to be reminded that maintaining peace and security requires something more than just prayer to the gods. We must be prepared for all contingengies, and fully committed to taking all necessary actions.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 770 in the September 21, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)