Charles Krauthammer gets it right on the issue of Japan and nuclear weapons:
Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago — even the once-and-no-longer great, such as France; the wannabe great, such as India; and the never-will-be great, such as North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaeda state, and North Korea, a country so cosmically deranged that it reports that the “Dear Leader” shot five holes-in-one in his first time playing golf and also wrote six operas. Yet we are plagued by doubts about Japan’s joining this club.
The immediate effect of Japan’s considering going nuclear would be to concentrate China’s mind on denuclearizing North Korea. China calculates that North Korea is a convenient buffer between it and a dynamic, capitalist South Korea bolstered by American troops. China is quite content with a client regime that is a thorn in our side, keeping us tied down while it pursues its ambitions in the rest of Asia. Pyongyang’s nukes, after all, are pointed not west but east.
Japan’s threatening to go nuclear would alter that calculation. It might even persuade China to squeeze Kim Jong Il as a way to prevent Japan from going nuclear. The Japan card remains the only one that carries even the remote possibility of reversing North Korea’s nuclear program.
For whatever reason nuclear weapons are proliferating in East Asia (Pakistan, India, and apparently North Korea), the problem is here to stay. We must work to solutions based in present reality. Considering the only sway we have is with our allies, of whom Japan is the clear winner in Asia, we must use their power to promote stability. Rather, we mustn’t stand in the way of Japan using its power.
It would be nice if we could just make this go away, but deterrent is all we have left. As Mr. Krauthammer points out, we’re delusional if we think China is going to act in our best interest as a matter of policy. The only nations with which we hold any power to negotiate towards success are allies. We wish to persuade the Japanese from joining us as a superpower at the precise time we most need them to match us in ability.
The administration’s policy is understandable, but stuck in a worldview where we haven’t squandered our flexibility, if not our capacity for leadership. As such, it is wrong.