North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launches have Japan confronting a topic long off-limits: acquiring atomic weapons of its own.
“The threat is elevated and Japan should seek to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” former Japanese air force chief Toshio Tamogami said in one of two recent interviews. “North Korea will keep testing until they develop nuclear missiles that can reach the U.S.”
His nonconformist message, delivered in speeches and a weekly television show that began this month, reflects a reappraisal of how Japan should defend itself against North Korea, as well as China’s growing military might. Ruling party lawmakers now are calling for a more aggressive interpretation of the nation’s pacifist constitution, designed to reassure Asian neighbors that suffered under Japanese wartime oppression.
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“Tamogami’s opinion is still a minority view, but it is no longer a taboo, nor seen as an extreme one,” said Yoichi Shimada, an international-politics professor at Fukui Prefectural University in central Japan. “China wouldn’t welcome a Japanese debate on nuclear armament and would feel threatened if Japan were to acquire offensive capabilities.”
North Korea tested its second nuclear device on May 25, defying international condemnation that built up after a ballistic-missile launch in April. Two days ago, Kim Jong-Il’s regime threatened an armed strike against South Korea for agreeing to participate in a U.S.-led program to stop and search ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.