Both Japan and South Korea have security treaties with the United States that place them under the US nuclear umbrella. In effect that means they shouldn’t need their own nuclear arsenals because the US is obligated to defend them in the case of an aggression.
But the North’s nuclear test has led to public musings in both countries that maybe their no-nukes policies need to change.
In South Korea, conservative members of the National Assembly and like-minded media have said the country must consider matching the North. One lawmaker declared that stones are not good enough for fighting a gangster with a machine gun. South Korea’s soon-departing president, Lee Myung-bak, described the recent calls for South Korea to go nuclear as “patriotic” in a newspaper interview.
“I don’t think the comments are wrong because they also serve as a warning to North Korea and China,” President Lee told the Dong-A libo newspaper.
In Japan, the nationalist and surging Japan Restoration Party has been the main source of calls for developing nuclear weapons – to counter not just North Korea, party leaders say, but also nuclear powers China and Russia.
Officially Japan’s position is that, since it is prohibited in its constitution from developing an offensive military capability, its counter to regional aggression is the US-Japan security alliance. But Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has lent support to the idea of amending the constitution to allow for a more robust defensive posture. Some Japan analysts say that move is aimed at least in part at opening the way to a nuclear arsenal.
One explanation for the recent surge in warnings of a “no other choice” recourse to nuclear weapons is a desire to – as South Korea’s Lee suggests – jolt China into pressuring its allies in Pyongyang, some regional experts say.