The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, Aug. 27:
In trying to figure out what to do about North Korea’s growing capacity to wage nuclear war, it has been easy to factor out the role and position of Japan in the equation.
As the crow (or missile) flies, it is 649 miles from North Korea to Japan, thus making it almost as vulnerable to whatever leader Kim Jong Un might dream up as South Korea is. It’s much closer than Guam, Alaska or any other U.S. territory. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy. With a population of 127 million, it dwarfs the two Koreas. It once occupied both militarily.
Since its loss in World War II, Japan has chosen to avoid militarization as much as possible, relying on the United States for its defense, although it has gradually built up its own forces. There are several reasons for this policy. One is U.S. and international pressure. Second is the grave price its population paid in World War II for the dominance of its society by the military. The third is that not spending big money on defense meant it could concentrate on economic development.
Nonetheless, the Japanese themselves and their neighbors are fully aware of the country’s military potential. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considered to be more prone toward re-militarizing his country than some previous leaders. A quick look at its economy’s general technological capacity provides an idea of just how quickly Japan could go from zero to 60 in that regard if it chose to.
The United States, China, Russia and South Korea should all bear these facts in mind as they develop a North Korea strategy. Do the region, the world and the United States want to see a rearmed Japan? The answer to that is not an automatic “no” if a better armed Japan, with nuclear weapons not far from development, would serve as a counterbalance to North Korea. Might it not serve as an even more useful counter than a South Korea, truly under the gun with respect to the North?
There is no reason to think that these questions are not very much in the mind of Japan’s leaders, strong as it is, near as it is to North Korea, as the world’s response to North Korea evolves.