Thursday, December 03, 2009

Save the Tomahawk!

To listen to disarmament specialists, the country that is raising the most serious obstacles to new moves to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in defense strategy is Japan.
Japan? Is this not the nation with the famous nuclear allergy? Is it not the nation that loudly reminds everyone that it is the only country on the globe to suffer an atomic attack? Is it not the country that loudly proclaims the “Three Nos” (Never to manufacture, possess or allow nuclear weapons onto its soil)?

No country is more vocal in giving verbal support to moves to reduce nuclear weapons inventories in the world. No country has expressed more support for President Barack Obama’s call for the “logic of zero” in his speech earlier this year in Prague where he said, “we will reduce the roll of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama too has spoken about the necessity to reduce reliance on nuclear arms. He said at the United nations that Japan has the “moral responsibility as the only country that has ever experienced atomic bombings.”

But Japan is caught in a box. On one hand, Tokyo is one of the strongest advocates of nuclear disarmament, while on the other hand it relies on U.S. arms, including nuclear arms, for its own security. Lately, it has come to worry about whether it can count on America’s extended nuclear deterrence, more commonly known as the “nuclear umbrella”.

The main area of concern is Washington’s desire to retire the nuclear version of the Tomahawk cruise missile by 2013. The Tomahawk is a pilotless flying bomb capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. The conventional version was used in the Gulf War and invasion of Iraq. Tokyo sees the Tomahawk, especially submarine launched cruise missiles, as the most logical weapon of deterrence in the neighborhood, since the last tactical bombs were removed from U.S. bases in South Korea and aboard US. Navy aircraft carriers nearly two decades ago.

This summer Japanese embassy officials in Washington quietly but strongly lobbied against American plans to retire the nuclear version of the Tomahawk cruise missile. in the context of the Congressional Commission on Strategic Posture of the United States. Its recommendation will go into Washington’s forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review, which will determine the basic nuclear defense, disarmament and proliferation policies for the next decade.

The body, headed by two former defense secretaries, was formed in 2008 and issued its first report in May. It said: “One particularly important ally has argued to the commission privately that the credibility of the U.S. extended [nuclear] deterrence depends on the specific capability to hold a variety of targets at risk in a way that is either visible or stealthy as circumstances warrant.”

It went on to elaborate: “In Asia extended deterrence relies heavily on the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles on some Los Angeles-class attack submarines… it has become clear that some allies in Asia would be very concerned about [Tomahawk] retirement.”

For many of the Cold War years, Tokyo didn’t fret about the nuclear umbrella or America’s will to use nuclear weapons should Japan be attacked. But in those years nuclear weapons were more clearly evident in North East Asia. American aircraft carriers were believed to carry nuclear bombs when making port calls, and tactical nuclear weapons were based in South Korea.

President George H. W. Bush ordered that the nuclear bombs be withdrawn from Korea and from aboard U.S. navy ships, excepting ballistic missile submarines, back in 1991. American nuclear attack submarines no longer carry the nuclear tipped Tomahawks as a matter of routine. The weapons are stored on U.S soil.

For all practical purposes, Northeast Asia is a nuclear free zone as far as the United States and Japan is concerned. Except that two nations that adjoin Japan, China and Russia, maintain nuclear arsenals, while a third, North Korea, has exploded two atomic devices. Some Japanese are beginning to feel a little naked.

Americans counter that Japan and other Asian allies can count on the retaliatory strength of ballistic missile submarines which still prowl the Pacific Ocean with their complements of Trident missiles as well as B-2 and B-52 bombers based in Guam.These days America’s ballistic missile submarines sometimes make port calls in Hawaii and other U.S. Pacific coast ports, but they are not likely to show up at, say, Yokusuka Naval Base, for example. And in any case, they would run afoul of Japan’s stated Three Nos, of which one is not to allow nuclear weapons to be brought into its territory.

By contrast it is estimated that more than 400 nuclear bombs – the kind delivered by fighter-bombers – are still in place in Europe and well integrated into NATO nuclear strike plans. They are earmarked for delivery by the air forces of even non-nuclear weapons states such as Germany, and Belgium. Nothing similar exists in Northeast Asia.

The lobby campaign to save the Tomahawk was undertaken by the previous Liberal Democratic Party government under former prime minister Taro Aso. The new government headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has not, so far as is known, made any efforts to block the retirement of the supposedly obsolete weapons systems.

One area where it has been loud and vocal is in its call for full disclosure of so-called secret codicils to the 1960 security treaty in which the Japanese government pledged in advance to permit the U.S. to bring nuclear weapons into its territory and territorial waters without prior consultations. The Japanese press has been flogging this story with almost daily revelations from retired foreign ministry officials that such documents exist, something that the previous government formally denied. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has promised to publish all of the details by January.

In some respects it is something of a tempest in a teapot. Before Bush ordered them removed, it was widely assumed that U.S. carriers brought the weapons into port when making port calls while Tokyo turned a blind eye. After all, there were no floating nuclear weapons receptacles outside the territorial limits where they could unload them like Wild West gunslingers checking their guns at the door before entering the saloon.

So far, the new government has not suggested that it might abrogate the secret documents. It only wants to expose them in the overall interests of governmental transparency. It would have the added advantage, of course, of embarrassing the former LDP government.


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