Nukes for Japan and South Korea? Yes—Here’s Why

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 August 31, 2017|
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Millions of Americans own a gun. About four in 10 U.S. households, in fact, have at least one firearm. People own guns for all sorts of reasons, but a major reason is the sense of safety and security a firearm can offer in what seems like an increasingly hostile world. Many Americans rely on law enforcement for security. But, as the saying goes, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Let’s extend the analogy to geopolitics. Japan and South Korea find themselves under increasing threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea. While the United States will always respect its treaty commitments, those North Korean missiles will find their targets in Japan and South Korea much more readily than any U.S. territory, including Guam. So in the face of an increasingly hostile Pyongyang, it would make sense for Seoul and Tokyo to develop their own self-defense capabilities.

Right now, analysts estimate North Korea will have fully functional nuclear weapons capability within 18 months. In the meantime, North Korea continues to test fire missiles over the Sea of Japan. And, of course, it still maintains tens of thousands of pieces of conventional artillery pointed south of the 38th parallel. The only thing that will keep the North in check is force—or the credible threat thereof.

That suggests Japan and South Korea not only need anti-ballistic missile defense systems but, more importantly, a proper nuclear deterrent of their own.

I don’t make this case lightly. Nuclear weapons are the most destructive devices mankind has ever devised. The United States has long sought to prevent nuclear proliferation. But those days are coming to an end. It no longer makes sense for the United States to carry so much of the world’s defense burden. As with gun owners in America, responsible actors should be allowed to defend themselves with all available means against their irresponsible enemies.

President Trump has said on more than one occasion he would favor Japan and South Korea having a nuclear deterrent. The Trump Administration would do well to make it clear to our Japanese and South Korean allies that they need to take on a greater share of their defenses.

Greater Wealth, Greater Burden
Of course, this raises the question: do South Korea and Japan want their own nuclear weapons?

Postwar Japan has maintained a constitutional prohibition against developing nukes (and almost any offensive military capability), and the country has adopted pacifism as public policy. Memories of Japanese militarism remain fresh in the region—until recently, few of Japan’s neighbors would welcome news of that country’s rearmament with anything other than horror. Koreans in particular remember the ravages that Japan’s imperial army inflicted on them—and their women especially.

Meanwhile, South Korea has relied primarily on the United States for its defenses over the past six decades due largely to the exigencies of the Cold War. The South Korean government and military has always been hesitant to push their neighbors too far. Military analysts have long predicted that Seoul would be incinerated in the first 30 minutes of renewed hostilities.  

Times change, however—and so do circumstances.

Japan and South Korea are both global economic powers. Today, Japan boasts the third-largest economy in the world, while South Korea ranks 12th. Both have the wealth and the technological know-how to take on a greater share of their own defense, to say nothing of the ability to develop nuclear weapons in short order.

What’s more, South Korea has a modern, sophisticated conventional military. Although Seoul does pick up some of the expense of stationing U.S. troops there, the fact remains that most of the burden falls to the American taxpayer—to say nothing of the American servicemen and women whose lives would be sacrificed to defend the South against a North Korean attack. The least that South Korea could do is to take up most of the military burden by fully developing their own capabilities—even if it risks retaliation from the North.

Should We Fear Japan?
As for Japan, there has been in recent years a growing nationalist sentiment that questions the utility—not to mention the morality—of maintaining a tiny defense force under the U.S. defense umbrella as North Korea and China become more aggressive and expansionist.

Only nuclear deterrence (as well as a functional anti-ballistic missile defense system) can guarantee Japan’s safety. While Kim Jong-un is most certainly an irrational actor, he wouldn’t likely act as provocatively as he has if he understood that North Korea’s historical nemesis had the means to retaliate decisively. And it’s a rather open question as to whether a fully rearmed Japan would pose the same threat to the Western Pacific in the 21st century that Imperial Japan posed in the 1930s and ’40s.

Redefining the U.S. Role
Placing a nuclear deterrent in the hands of Japan and South Korea would not relieve the United States of all responsibilities in the Pacific. But it would change those responsibilities significantly—and to our long-term benefit.

America could assume a more diplomatic role, similar to China, stepping in as an “honest broker” to cool tensions among nations in the region.

The fact is, the Cold War is long over. So, too, is the prospect of American unipolar dominance of the sort that we enjoyed for a short period after the fall of the Soviet Union. While America remains a first among equals in terms of military and economic power globally, the world has changed. Other powers have risen. In the case of Japan and South Korea, the United States has two very powerful and capable of allies. Let them assume greater responsibility for their defense—and take greater control of their own destinies. It would be in America’s best interest.

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About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs "The Weichert Report" (www.theweichertreport.com), an online journal of geopolitics. He holds master's degree in statecraft and national security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an associate member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in political science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
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3 Comments

  1. zoomie August 31, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Yes, a very good idea. The leaders of both South Korea and Japan are much more aware, than any so called leader in America, that the North Koreans couldn’t wipe their behinds unless China gave them permission.

    If the norks nuke Japan or S Korea, does anyone with an iq above room temperature really think that Japan or South Korea would not lob a few to Peeking and other chicom cities ?

    Interesting how this type of essay is being written up on multiple sites And they all say close to the same thing.

    AND NEVER can they bring themselves to state the obvious.

  2. GrannyAesop September 2, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I support helping both countries (and any others who want it) a robust, top-notch, missile defense system (Star Wars Reagan style).
    I totally oppose putting nukes in the hands of any of them, and would do anything needed to prevent their continued development and deployment by Iran and NK.
    Regardless of how “good an ally” they are now, and how responsible their governments are, we have seen how fast all of that can change.

  3. Adobe_Walls September 2, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    I doubt that South Korea and Japan having Nuclear weapons would deter North Korea any more than their and our present conventional forces do now. Whoa Phat knows that any attacks across the DMZ or on either nations territory would result in the destruction of his regime and probably his people. The Norks could care less about the Korean people on either side of the 38th parallel. The regimes sole concern is it’s survival and will do whatever it has to to preserve it. It’s fear of any threats from within or without drive it’s every action. When NK entered into negotiations in the past in order to get relief from sanctions and get food aid for their starving people it wasn’t for the people except to stave off internal opposition. If the regime feels endangered from within, from the west or from China it will do as much damage and take as much of the world with it as possible.

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