SHOULD JAPAN GO NUCLEAR UNDER NEW WORLD ORDER?
Famed French historical demographer Emmanuel Todd was in Tokyo on November 3 to deliver a keynote address at a symposium entitled “The World Order after Shinzo Abe.” The occasion was the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed public and foreign policy think tank I head. The seminar, which lasted more than three and a half hours, covered a wide range of thought-provoking topics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the speaker’s call for a nuclear-armed Japan.
Todd, who won world-wide fame for predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) 15 years before it happened, asserted that the world has already entered World War III, triggered by Russia’s invasion. He explained that a major difference between the “ongoing war” and the earlier world conflicts is that, while WW I and War II erupted as the major combatants were on the upswing, “WW III” has begun while the major parties involved are on the downswing.
Todd sees the US and Russia as two big powers headed for decline, and China, affected by an abnormally low birth rate (1.3%), another weaking power over time, hardly capable of constituting a major threat to the world in the longer term. The visitor took a unique perspective of Germany, Europe’s major power. He declared that Germany, which he sees as having already become politically dysfunctional, has been dominated by the US over the course of the Ukrainian conflict. Todd maintained the US is also taking steps to crush France’s military industry. As for the UK, he pointed out that it continues to be affected by an extremely sluggish economy, despite exiting from the European Union in January 2020.
Moderating the seminar, I frankly found Todd’s reasoning more than a little unsatisfactory in that he failed to soundly substantiate his key assertions—such as an expected decline of China. But I thought the crux of his message could be condensed to the point that the distance has increased between the US and the other members of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the EU (European Union).
America’s strategy toward Eurasia is aimed at “controlling” the continent, while also keeping Germany and Japan in line, Todd asserted. Japan is currently in the middle of a major overhaul of its national defense strategy, seeking to complete the process by year end. At a time when Japan is restructuring the foundation of its national defense policy with the momentum for a momentous change in its postwar national security framework, I am convinced that we must continue to focus our greatest energy on building an even closer alliance with the US.
Far from “keeping Japan in line,” the US has been eager to see Japan stand on its own feet and defend itself as a mature democracy, growing into a truly independent nation capable of contributing significantly to the peace and security of Taiwan. And yet, I don’t think it right to ignore Todd’s viewpoint simply as a negative critique of a European intellectual grossly disappointed with America. We must keep in mind that there clearly is a rift of mutual distrust between America and Europe, and that China and Russia are happily viewing that as an opportunity to intervene.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz flew to Beijing for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 4 as the first head of the G7 (Group of Seven) nations to visit the Chinese capital since the start of the war in Ukraine. He made the trip over the strong opposition of the partners in his coalition government—the Green Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). That Scholz flew back to Berlin after an 11-hour stay, without spending the night in China, must have reflected the concerns of not only Germany itself but other EU members and the US.
China habitually tries to orchestrate a split in the opposition camp whenever its position in the international community becomes difficult. Xi, who is especially combative and hawkish, is protective of Russia and refuses to criticize Putin for his war of aggression against Ukraine. In the recently concluded National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi solidified his dictatorship with a stunning series of personnel decisions, further isolating China from the Free Bloc.
“Grossly Disappointed with America”
The severity of the situation surrounding China can be seen in the new export restrictions on semiconductors announced by the US on October 7. The restrictions formulated by the Biden administration are strong measures that may choke the life out of China’s growth. Germany is seen as the weakest link in the solidarity among the Western nations over sanctions against China.
Nine days before his unpopular visit to Beijing, Scholz approved the controversial sale to a Chinese state-owned shipping giant of one of four shipping container terminals in the port of Hamburg, despite strong opposition not only from the Green Party but its Economic, International Affairs, Defense, Transport, and Finance Ministries as well. Understandably, America was not alone in wanting to put a check on Germany’s posture toward China. Scholz’s recent actions run the risk of increasing the friction with the US that has become evident since the Trump administration.
A mistrust of America is deep on the part of Todd, who admitted he is grossly disappointed with the US and asserted that the US and its NATO allies are responsible for the war in Ukraine by expanding NATO eastward with impunity. I can only say that it is a matter of opinion, but simultaneously feel that we Japanese should be mindful of the fact that there are Europeans who think this way. Meanwhile, we must bear in mind that, as Todd pointed out, America’s relative power is gradually waning.
Todd repeatedly mentioned he did not expect the Western Bloc to win the ongoing “world war.” Immediately after the war in Ukraine erupted on February 24, he noted, Russia was seen as militarily strong but economically incapable of withstanding the war. But the reverse appears to be the case as of today, as the Russian economy has obviously withstood the war so far. In Todd’s eyes, this phenomenon will lead to “impairing America’s traditional power and an inevitable restructuring of the dollar-based international financial and trade settlement systems.” He observed: “Russia is eager to prove that oil and gas, not the US dollar, is the real international currency.”
“Japan Should Arm Itself with Nuclear Weapons”
Hideo Tamura, a special staff writer for the conservative Sankei Shimbun, objected to Todd’s argument:
“I don’t think the dollar hegemony will wane that easily. Look at the factors that led to the demise of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union: Ronald Reagan adopted a high interest policy, which reduced oil prices. Simultaneously, Reagan pressured Saudi Arabia into increasing oil production. Oil prices that crashed settled there without going up again, leading to Gorbachev’s defeat with no means to counter America. In later years, Gorbachev was quoted as recalling that the Soviet Union collapsed because they had failed to understand Saudi Arabia well enough.”
If the Republicans control the Senate and the House in the US mid-term elections, there likely will be the possibility of the Biden administration having to shrink its support of Ukraine. No small number of Republicans allegedly have negative opinions on Washington continuing to support Ukraine. Should the US pull back on its aid, the counteroffensive against Russia by Ukraine, which has significantly been supported by the US, will inevitably slow down, bringing about a significant change in the war situation.
Was it with this situation in mind that Todd maintained he did not think the Western Bloc would win “this war,” seeing the possibility of Russia withstanding hardships, including international sanctions? How then would that situation affect Japan? Japan should never allow China to misunderstand its resolve to safeguard the peace and security of Taiwan and Okinawa. To that end, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would do well to formulate a national defense strategy boasting a different dimension of strength. Todd also stated:
“With the Ukrainian war, nuclear weapons have proven to be what ensures full-fledged security. It may be difficult for Japan to mobilize its youth for national defense (in terms of demography). If so, I think it would make sense for Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons. I am firmly convinced that going nuclear is the surest way for a nation to preserve peace.”
In order to prevent China from waging a war of aggression against Japan, we must create a strong deterrence. That is why we must seriously consider arming ourselves with nuclear weapons. This was the message Todd passionately tried to deliver in his address.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,024 in the November 17, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)