WILL KISHIDA’S “NON-NUCLEAR PRINCIPLES” SAVE JAPAN FROM NUCLEAR ATTACKS?
From the moment he was reported to be planning to attend the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in person, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine dominated media coverage.
On May 19, the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies assembled in the scenic western Japanese city, whose devastation 78 years ago is a powerful reminder of what could happen to war-ravaged Ukraine. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida set Hiroshima, his home district, as the well-timed stage to advocate a world without nuclear weapons. The leaders of eight other countries were invited as guests: Australia, Brazil, Comoros (for the African Union), the Cook Islands (for the Pacific Forum), India, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam.
In the midst of a war that has become a global concern, Zelensky made a dramatic surprise appearance at the summit as the leader of a nation desperately fighting for its freedom. Given this backdrop, there was no reason for the gathering not to pick up steam. It also elevated Kishida to global presence. His domestic approval ratings, based on opinion surveys by the Mainichi and the Yomiuri, two major dailies with differing views, shot up by 9 percentage points each.
The minute he arrived in Hiroshima on the afternoon of May 20, Zelensky started a vigorous round of talks, first meeting with Rishi Sunak of the UK, and then Giorgia Meloni of Italy, Narendra Modi of India, Emmanuel Macron of France, and Olav Sholtz of Germany. The following day, he conferred with Justice Trudeau of Canada, Joko Widodo of Indonesia, Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea, US President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan (Biden’s national security advisor), and Kishida. Zelensky held a news conference before boarding a flight home past 9 p.m. on May 21. Earlier in the day he visited the Atomic Bomb Museum with Kishida, freshly putting Russia’s aggression in its proper context: “The pictures of Hiroshima in ruins really remind me of Bakhmut and all small (Ukrainian) cities like it.”
The authoritarian nations of the world, China and Russia in particular, must have been aggravated by what Zelensky said and did in Hiroshima. But his message has clearly struck a sympathetic chord with the people of many other nations around the world. That in itself was a marvelous achievement, but there is a rocky road ahead for the G7—particularly for Japan.
On May 22, Kishida lauded the summit as a success, affirming that:1) it confirmed the importance of a free and open international order based on the rule of law and 2) deepened the engagement of the G7 with the Global South nations.
I have no problem with 1) but cannot take 2) for granted. Pointedly, President Lula of Brazil, who had been invited as one of the leaders of the Global South, maintained that the Ukrainian issue should be taken up at the United Nations, not in Hiroshima: President Joko of Indonesia agreed with Lura.
China’s Military Expansion Largest in Human History
Another major leader of the Global South, Prime Minister Modi, told Zelensky that India would “do everything we can to help end the war.” But it was unclear if he would invite Zelensky to the G20 summit slated for this fall in New Delhi.
As Biden’s advisor Sullivan admitted to the press, putting pressure on Global South nations to move closer to the G7 was “taboo” in Hiroshima. In fact, trying to talk nations like Brazil and India into distancing themselves from China and Russia may have actually risked moving them more closely toward the authoritarian camp.
There was no reason why the Global South nations should change their posture toward the Ukrainian war just because some of their leaders met Zelensky in person this time around. Japan should have been well aware of this, and in point of fact, they didn’t change their posture, as Bloomberg News has reported.
What about a “world without nuclear weapons” that Kishida has been promoting? The “G7 Leaders’ Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament” issued on May 19 is a joint statement in which the leaders repeatedly condemned Russia for threatening Ukraine with a nuclear attack, underscoring the importance of the 77-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons. The leaders also harshly criticized Iran and North Korea time and again for pushing their nuclear programs. With regard to China, however, the statement only called on Beijing to engage substantively in relevant multilateral and bilateral forums, in line with its obligation under the NPT, including Article VI.
In short, the statement failed to issue any warning whatsoever against China’s continued efforts to drastically increase its nuclear stockpile in an attempt to pose an unprecedented threat throughout the free bloc.
Nuclear weapons have been at the center of China’s massive military buildup over the past 34 years, the largest seen in human history. In February, Russia announced its suspension of participation in the New START program, its treaty with the US on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. North Korea’s development of missiles and nuclear weapons is insane. Iran likely will acquire its own nuclear weapons in the near future. That will almost instantly trigger Saudi Arabi’s nuclear armament and entice other Arab nations to follow suit. Against this scenario, the excitement generated by the G7 summit’s pledge of commitment to the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons will vanish into thin air all too soon.
In a 74-page report released in March titled “China’s Emergence as a Second Nuclear Power,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a leading American nuclear research and development center, described America’s nuclear force as insufficient in coping with the nuclear arsenals of tightly allied China and Russia. The report noted that China’s nuclear warheads, now numbering some 400, “could grow to 1,500” by 2035 and that the US has not secured enough warheads to address this gap. It urged the US government to produce combat-ready nuclear weapons from stockpiles to prepare for a contingency while expediting development of various means of delivery by 2026. Delivery options could include bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The report is rife with a sense of urgency that America’s nuclear force will be unable to effectively deal with both China and Russia.
Only Japan Is on Reverse Course
How should Japan safeguard its security in an era of “nuclear lawlessness”? The first step, I feel, must be for our leaders to come to grips with the harsh geopolitical reality that only a nuclear balance can prevent nuclear wars. In other words, in defending itself from China’s nuclear weapons, a non-nuclear weapon state like Japan must equip itself with a powerful nuclear force. Adhering rigidly to Japan’s three non-nuclear principles—non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons—however, Kishida has vowed to not even discuss nuclear possession or nuclear sharing. He is stubbornly pushing Japan in a direction diametrically opposite to its G7 counterparts as the world in general is headed toward strengthening its nuclear deterrence. Unless based prudently on this geopolitical reality, Kishida’s ideals will end in simplistic dreams. I am seriously concerned that following a period of post-summit elation our prime minister could face the helpless security crisis I have earlier referred to.
Another thing that did not sit well with me about the Hiroshima summit was that I could not figure out where America’s real interest lies. Biden formally informed Zelensky of America’s decision to provide coveted US-made F16 fighters via third countries and train Ukraine pilots. Due to the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, however, Biden flew back to Washington straight from Hiroshima, cancelling the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, India, and Japan) summit and a planned meeting with Pacific Island leaders in Papua New Guinea that were scheduled to follow the Hiroshima summit. It was an unfortunate development at a time when the US badly needed to energize its security ties in the Pacific amid rising competition with Beijing.
Although State Secretary Antony Blinken hastily flew to Papua New Guinea as Biden’s proxy, it was difficult to ascertain to what extent the US truly understands—and is committed to—the strategic significance of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative. I could not help but conclude that America, compelled to concentrate its attention on Europe and Russia, is paying scant attention to the Quad, on which the future of FOIP rests.
Realistically, however, it is impossible to expect the US to always accommodate the needs of all of its allies and friendly nations. That’s where I believe Japan should assist as America’s vital Pacific ally. The pertinent question, of course, is whether Kishida has the will and strategy to perform that critical role.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,050 in the June 1, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)