Axiomatizing the Atom: Implications for US-Japan Relations

by Yuki Natsui

February 17, 2016 on, published previously by the author at:

日本語版 (A Japanese summary of this article is available at this link):「原子の公理化: 日米関係の裏の意味

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“So the question is, what is the strength of honesty and truth versus the strength of cannons, bombers, submarines, and surveillance technology? That is the battle we are in. We have seen truth win out in certain situations, prevail over military force and that is what we are trying to do and that is a global effort… We are all in the same boat where governments lie about the past. They lie because they know they can get away with it. But we are saying they cannot get away with it.” — Peter Kuznick, in an interview with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick[1]


On June 22, 1960, over 120,000 people rallied around the Japanese Diet in protest of ANPO. | Hiroshi Hamaya

Welcome to the Atomic Age

It was on December 2, 1942, a little over seventy-three years ago, that Enrico Fermi and his colleagues directed and controlled the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in the experimental reactor Chicago Pile-1, right beneath the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.[2] This experiment represented a crucial step in the Manhattan Project in producing the world’s first nuclear weapons. Following the Trinity test in New Mexico, the United States detonated the atomic bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The world fully recognized the destructive power of nuclear weapons, but it would take longer for the public to internalize the effects of radioactive fallout on civilian populations and ecosystems,[3] and ruminate on the sociopolitical ramifications of its offspring, nuclear energy.


Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). | Charles Levy

It may seem inconceivable that atomic energy could be commercialized amid public anxiety over the nuclear arms race. But with a vast infrastructure for weapons production in existence, nuclear energy could be readily marketed to the public as a ‘cheap’ and ‘unlimited’ source of electricity that has the potential to solve the world’s problems. The strategic selection of a defeated Japan for this endeavor illustrates its cynical transformation into a powerful advocate of atomic energy.[4] After delivering his ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech to the U.N. General Assembly in December 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower tasked the United Nations with the development of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) responsible for monitoring fissionable materials and promoting the production of atomic energy. Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy would be heralded, together, as omnipotent guardians of eternal ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ that can put an end to the timeless struggle over energy resources. Had Japan not chosen the nuclear path—in favor of nuclear power, nuclear reprocessing and nuclear weapons—it might have emerged as a conscience of the world to renounce war altogether.


Dwight Eisenhower with Nobusuke Kishi. | Japan Focus

The Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’ and the Abe administration’s ‘proactive contribution to peace’[5] presents another opportunity for citizens and policymakers to revisit the premises of the US-Japan security partnership. The invidious distinction between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy since the dawn of the Atomic Age remains axiomatic, obfuscating the true nature of security relations between these two countries. It is worthwhile to outline the legacy of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, together, within the context of their historical influence on national security policy, and wherever possible, offer pragmatic actions for addressing them.


Demonstrations in Tokyo on June 11, 1960. | Hiroshi Hamaya

The final stage of the second world war had left Japan decimated and destitute. Soon, the Allied occupation of Japan (1945-1952) would facilitate the demilitarization and democratization of the country by dismantling its imperial military complex and restructuring its governmental, industrial and civil institutions. Alongside these reforms, the new Constitution of Japan (1947) drafted by General Douglas MacArthur’s staff and Japanese officials would include a famous clause renouncing war as a ‘sovereign right’ and the ‘use of force’ as a means to settle international disputes.[6] But a new strategic imperative would displace the inertia behind these progressive reforms. Under the pressure of ongoing shifts in the regional balance of power, the Treaty of San Francisco (1951) was signed to end the occupation and restore sovereignty to Japan, with the exception of the Ryukyu Islands that would not be ‘returned’ to Japanese rule until 1972. Its corollary, the Security Treaty Between the United States and Japan (1951) provided the foundation for Japan’s military alliance with the United States as part of a western strategy to contain communism in Northeast Asia. This bilateral security agreement would later be amended under a revised treaty titled the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan (1960), or ANPO, to accommodate mutual defense obligations by requiring both nations to respond to acts of ‘aggression’ in Japanese territory, thus providing a justification for the continued presence of US military forces in Okinawa.


Thousands of Zengakuren students storm the south gate of the Diet building on June 15, 1960. | Hiroshi Hamaya

Meanwhile, the horrors of the nuclear arms race would find their way back into the public consciousness. The Daigo Fukuryu Maru Incident (1954), otherwise known as the ‘third atomic bombing,’ was noteworthy for ending US control on the awareness of the dangers of radioactive fallout.[7] The radiological contamination of the crew ignited a fierce protest movement against the use of nuclear weapons. It was from this context that the Japanese government enacted the Atomic Energy Basic Law (1955), which limited the research, development and utilization of atomic energy to ‘peaceful purposes,’ and entered the IAEA in 1957.

Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles

Seeking to ease public misgivings over its nuclear ambitions, the cabinet led by Eisaku Sato (the younger brother of Nobusuke Kishi) introduced the Three Non-Nuclear Principles (1967), which stipulate the following:

1. To not possess nuclear weapons,
2. To not produce nuclear weapons,
3. To not permit the introduction of nuclear weapons.[8]

Though the Three Non-Nuclear Principles were formalized in the Japanese Diet in 1971 as a parliamentary resolution, they were never legislated and are thus contingent upon prevailing conditions.[9] It is important to note that these principles were introduced with the understanding that Japan could rely on the United States for extended nuclear deterrence.[10] In January 1965, Sato reached a consensus with President Lyndon Johnson to place Japan under the US nuclear umbrella through ANPO. In November 1969, Sato entered another secret nuclear agreement with President Richard Nixon, as part of a series of negotiations building up to the Okinawa Reversion Agreement (1971), permitting the transit of nuclear weapons onboard warships through Japanese territory in violation of the non-nuclear principles.[11] This agreement set the precedent for the routine conduct of nuclear command and control operations led by the United States on Japanese facilities.[12] The Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, were ‘returned’ to Japan the following year at a hefty price of 685 million dollars,[13] but the United States was allowed to retain most of its military assets and its bases intact. Sato was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for having established the non-nuclear principles, in spite of having described them as ‘nonsense’ in a conversation with a US ambassador.[14]


ANPO protesters encircle the Diet and clash with the police on June 3, 1960. | Hiroshi Hamaya

Extended nuclear deterrence, predicated on unfettered US nuclear aircraft carrier access to Japanese ports, would form the cornerstone of security relations between the two nations for decades to come. Successive administrations have repeated the ‘indispensability’ of the US nuclear umbrella to Japan’s national security. As of 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA), in its National Defense Program Guidelines, affirms the following:

[U]nder the Constitution, Japan will efficiently build a highly effective and joint defense force in line with the basic principles of maintaining an exclusively defense-oriented policy, not becoming a military power that poses a threat to other countries, while adhering to the principle of civilian control of the military and observing the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.
With regard to the threat of nuclear weapons, the extended deterrence provided by the U.S. with nuclear deterrence at its core, is indispensable. In order to maintain and enhance the credibility of the extended deterrence, Japan will closely cooperate with the U.S. In addition, Japan will take appropriate responses through its own efforts, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and protection of the people. At the same time, Japan will play a constructive and active role in international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts so as to achieve the long-term goal of creating a world free of nuclear weapons.[15] The inherent incompatibility of the two factors central to Japan’s national security policy must not be ignored. On the one hand, it retains a ‘non-nuclear’ identity through its commitment to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles. On the other hand, it relies on extended nuclear deterrence guaranteed under the US nuclear umbrella.


Eisaku Sato with Richard Nixon. | KYODO

In 1970, the Sato administration signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As a ‘non-nuclear’ state, Japan would accede to the following conditions:

1. Non-proliferation
2. Disarmament, and
3. The right to peacefully use nuclear technology.[16]

In order to accommodate Japan’s ‘commitments’ to the international disarmament and nonproliferation regime, it may be useful to summarize its ‘non-nuclear’ policies under a combined system of four pillars:

1. To promote the peaceful use of nuclear power,
2. To work toward global nuclear disarmament,
3. To rely on the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent.
4. To support the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.[17]

The enduring legacy of US-Japan security relations, underpinned by evolving ‘non-nuclear’ policies and official denial over the secret deployment of American nuclear warheads, provides valuable insight into the extent to which a ‘non-nuclear’ state can be involved in making undemocratic decisions that fundamentally destabilize its sovereignty. It is of crucial importance to carefully examine the premises of this bilateral relationship, especially within the context of the Japanese National Security Law (2015) recently enacted to ‘reinforce’ the US-Japan military alliance.


Eisenhower’s envoys are mobbed by protesters but are rescued later by a Marine helicopter. | Hiroshi Hamaya

Risks and externalities of going ‘nuclear’

Distribution of nuclear knowledge, materials and technologies raises concerns about the risks of nuclear proliferation, posing challenges to the task of nuclear disarmament. Acknowledging the intimate connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy is necessary because the front and back ends of the nuclear fuel cycle—uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing—are relevant to both sectors. Because materials and technologies used in nuclear energy programs can be used to develop nuclear weapons, the two must be considered together, and the extent to which they are interconnected must be understood.[18] If the survival of a state is its primary goal in the international system,[19] and its stability hinges upon its direct or indirect access to nuclear technology, then the debate over its national security strategy should be framed in terms of the utility of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy toward meeting that objective. Utility also implies that there are various costs and benefits in adopting such a policy, each of which should be examined.

Figure 1 Forty-Year Lifetime Projection versus PLEX Projection (in number of reactors)



Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 1: Most of the world’s existing nuclear reactors are likely to be retired by 2059. Figure 2: Following the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, Japan’s electricity portfolio had undertaken a shift away from nuclear power and toward renewables; however, it has had to import more coal, oil and natural gas from overseas. Figure 3: Japan’s nuclear capacity as of 2015. | Vox

It is instructive to observe the global trends in energy and arms markets, in addition to the economics of nuclear technology, for assessing the purported benefits of a nuclear security apparatus. The volatility of oil prices and the scarcity of energy resources has rekindled a worldwide interest in pursuing nuclear power, with some 437 nuclear power plants operating in 31 countries that supply only twelve percent of the world’s electricity.[20] Over 60 reactors are under construction in 15 countries, the majority of which are planned for Asia. According to the IAEA, over 45 countries have requested technical assistance from the agency to explore the possibility of nuclear energy programs.[21] Nuclear facilities, however, are prone to frequent accidents and fissionable materials are susceptible to theft or sabotage by rogue actors, adding to the risks of proliferation. Japan’s existing stockpile of two-hundred kilograms of separated plutonium at the Rokkasho facility encourages neighboring states, uncertain about the intentions behind its plutonium-recycling program, to also reprocess their nuclear fuel. Such development of new reprocessing technologies could have negative repercussions for regional stability in the Asia-Pacific.[22] Nuclear weapons, moreover, are being increasingly devalued and marginalized in favor of smaller, conventional weapons for use in warfare.[23] Modernization of nuclear arsenals, characterized by spiraling costs,[24] aggravates the security dilemma, legitimizing the conditions likelier to lead to war that ‘deterrence’ seeks to prevent in the first place.

Constructing and operating nuclear power plants entails enormous capital costs and large industrial capacities. Federal subsidies and incentives for new nuclear reactors are massive,[25] and risk factors such as insurance are not reflected in economic cost-benefit analyses or financial evaluations.[26] This detail is not surprising, given that nuclear power plants are not privately insured, or insurable at all, due to astronomically high liabilities. As a result, nuclear power becomes uncompetitive once disaster insurance is fully integrated into its price.[27] Production costs that must be assumed by nuclear power operators are externalized onto citizens, of which impacted communities are forced to fully internalize. The ongoing disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi serves as a powerful reminder that the sociopolitical and environmental consequences of nuclear meltdowns are manifold, and that it is not only untenable (see Figure 1) but unconscionable (see Figure 2 and Figure 3) to continue prioritizing nuclear ambitions. The incident made clear that the incorporation of nuclear power in the energy and security matrix, though often extolled for its ‘vital’ role in promoting public welfare and national security, poses tremendous risks to civilian populations through opaque decision-making processes. Under the banner of state secrecy, displaced citizens are divested of the sovereign rights to self-determination, livelihood, freedom of speech and property guaranteed by the Constitution, diminishing public trust and confidence in government and industry officials. In this manner, the production of nuclear energy represents an economic activity that produces negative externalities fundamentally incompatible with Japan’s liberal democracy.[28]


Opponents of restarting the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture stage a rally in protest of the ruling. | KYODO

Additional costs accumulate from decommissioning nuclear facilities and retiring nuclear arsenals. Spent nuclear fuel and surplus nuclear materials remain highly radioactive and dangerous for thousands of years, for which there is no viable disposal solution. Genotoxic radioactive waste must be passed down for centuries, representing a transgenerational transfer of risk.[29] As the late German sociologist Ulrich Beck affirms, nuclear catastrophes, alongside climate change and global financial crises, become unlimited in social and space-time dimensions, and thus require novel assessments of risk and uncertainty that have yet to exist.[30] Risk compensation, or the way in which behavior is adjusted in response to changing perceptions of risk, is an important implication of Beck’s insights on the socialization of disasters. Nuclear operators, who do not assume responsibility for uncovered costs, are predisposed to underinvest in the safety and security of nuclear power plants, thus increasing the likelihood of accidents. By the same token, if citizens are reassured by government and industry authorities that nuclear power is ‘safe’ and ‘reliable,’ their perception of risk is also affected. Citizens may be inclined to relax their former vigilance, thereby contributing to moral hazard by allowing the risk to be restored to its previous level. The ability to avert risk, for both normal operations[31] and emergency scenarios, hinges upon the extent to which individuals can minimize their internal and external exposure to radionuclides, which is contingent on their access to knowledge and awareness of the risk.[32] Evacuation and selective intake of food and water, however, are not feasible options for every afflicted individual.

Nuclear power plants tend to be concentrated in impoverished rural areas, to which local communities become heavily dependent through subsidies and grants provided by the central government. The extraordinary costs and complexities of nuclear energy and weapons programs ultimately necessitate a centralized structure of wealth and ownership that reinforce the nexus between government and industry. Privatization and efficiency, when given precedence over transparency and accountability, undermines local autonomy by delegating decision-making to government bureaucrats that enjoy limited liability.[33]


Bags of contaminated soil become an integral part of Fukushima prefecture. | Arkadiusz Podniesinski

Limitations on sovereign power

Reliance on nuclear technology thus comes at the expense of compromising state sovereignty. The notion of ‘sovereignty’ refers to political authority and can be decomposed into its internal and external dimensions.[34] In principle, state sovereignty describes the relation of the state to its own citizens and with other states. For a democratic system, sovereignty is understood as that which is vested in a government elected by the people to enact policy decisions that best serve their interests. The politics, however, would indicate that Japan’s sovereignty is also entrusted to a range of interests that do not hold the public’s concerns as their main priority.

A recent poll by The Mainichi indicates that the majority of the public expresses disapproval of Japan’s new national security laws,[35] suggesting that a ‘pacifist’ stance for the nation is favored. The role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) remains central to the contested understandings of Japan’s ‘pacifism.’[36] One interpretation takes as premise the unconstitutionality of the SDF under Article 9 and opposes deploying them abroad. Another interpretation acknowledges the necessity of the SDF for defending Japanese territory but believes their overseas activities should be restricted to non-combat purposes. Whichever the case may be, if the majority of the public defends ‘pacifism,’ then why do the politics not reflect this position?

Oftentimes, Japan’s evolving defense strategy is characterized as ‘buck-passing,’[37] or as described by Gerald Curtis, a ‘coping diplomacy.’[38] Under this definition, a state would not proactively seek to set an international agenda, but would rather focus on how to respond to a shifting international order by minimizing ‘risks’ and maximizing ‘returns.’ Japan’s national security strategy, reinforced by US extended nuclear deterrence, would allow it to transfer the ‘costs’ of maintaining regional stability onto America while enjoying the ‘benefits’ of a steady buildup of conventional weapons and nuclear energy programs under a veil of popular pacifism. But rather than having shirked ‘responsibility’ to assume its own ‘share’ of the costs of collective security as the concept of ‘free-riding’ might insinuate, Japan continues to pay the steep price of exchanging its sovereignty, compounded by each annual payment to the Pentagon for keeping its military bases in Okinawa. According to the US Department of Defense, Japan’s total subsidy amounted to an annual 4.4 billion dollars, and over three decades following the reversion agreement, to roughly 35 billion dollars.[39] While the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under the leadership of Shinzo Abe indicates a strong desire to ‘take back Japan’[40] through forging an ‘equal partnership’ with the United States that would commit the country to undertake a greater role in the international system, it has given little consideration to ending its longstanding reliance on the US extended nuclear deterrent. On the contrary, the LDP has indicated, on multiple occasions throughout the postwar era, an unmitigated interest in developing its own nuclear weapons program.[41] Unless the existing nuclear security infrastructure is fundamentally reformed, it is difficult to imagine that Japan will be able to function as an autonomous and independent democracy.


OVERSEAs members show their solidarity with activists back home. | Masato Kuroda

In an editorial for The Japan Times, Dutch political commentator Karel van Wolferen writes,

Tokyo cannot act freely by choosing what is likely to be most beneficial for itself or the region. Productive diplomacy between Japan and its neighbors is obstructed because of limitations imposed by a United States that treats Japan as if it were a protectorate rather than a sovereign country. Having followed the dynamics of the U.S.-Japan relationship for more than half a century, I can only conclude that Japan bends to American wishes because its representatives do not insist that it be treated as a sovereign state… In the longer term, a Japan that allows itself to get entangled in America’s full-spectrum dominance scheme can only invite disaster upon itself.[42]

Why do Tokyo’s representatives not insist that Japan be treated as a sovereign state? While the considerable role of the ‘transnational nuclear village’[43] in influencing government policy outcomes should not be discounted, a simpler explanation—how policymakers are convinced that dependence on the United States for ‘security’ best serves Japan’s national interest—may suffice. For this analysis, it is useful and informative to observe how America’s ‘steadfast’ commitments to South Korea and Japan belies a deep continuity in its bipartisan foreign policy, since the inception of the Cold War, to align the two nations with its own geopolitical priorities. The recent ‘final and irrevocable resolution’ of the ‘comfort women’ issue is a case in point. In an article describing this development, The New York Times reported:

The United States has repeatedly urged Japan and South Korea to resolve the dispute, a stumbling block in American efforts to strengthen a joint front with its Asian allies to better cope with China’s growing assertiveness in the region, as well as North Korea’s attempt to build a nuclear arsenal.[44]

It is clear that hegemonic aims in Northeast Asia are given primacy over the consequences of coercing South Korea and Japan to closely coordinate their foreign policies with the United States. Other instances of this behavior include the decision made by the United States and Japan to reject China’s proposal to jointly launch the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB),

Although China has become Japan’s top trading partner, Tokyo has compelling security related-reasons for siding with the United States. Foremost among these is an intensified confrontation with China over control of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both nations… Eager to ensure that his nation has American backing in the standoff, Mr. Abe has tried to bind Japan more closely than ever to the United States, its postwar military protector.[45]

and instead, to welcome the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal:

[The pact] was seen as a counterweight to China’s efforts to expand its influence not just in trade but in other areas, including its island-building in the disputed South China Sea and the establishment of a new regional development bank to compete with Western-led institutions.[46]

Mutual complicity in America’s goal to establish a trilateral alliance to counter China and North Korea (see Figure 4) serves only to undermine years of careful diplomacy dedicated to reduce hostilities and tensions between neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific. The United States and its allies are understood to be engaging in a ‘zero-sum game,’ in which one side’s ‘gain’ is perceived to be another side’s ‘loss.’ Rather than focusing on the ‘absolute gains’ that could be made, they have been concentrating on ‘relative gains,’ or how much ‘better off’ they could be compared to other states. The net benefits of a cooperative diplomacy, on the other hand, has the potential to exceed those of a zero-sum diplomacy.

Figure 4


Figure 4: Bilateral diplomatic relations with North Korea maintained (in orange), and unestablished or terminated (in yellow). | The National Committee on North Korea (NCNK)

Toward a new diplomacy

While Japan’s relationship with the United States is important, its national interest would be better served by a foreign policy that seeks to build a nuclear-free Asia by engaging China and North Korea without recourse to military force. It is far more pragmatic for Japan to forge a closer relationship with its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific than it is to continue playing this zero-sum game. As long as South Korea and Japan rely on the US extended nuclear deterrent, North Korea would have little incentive to cooperate in denuclearization talks. Rather than agreeing to negotiate, it would be compelled to pivot to third parties, increasing the risks of nuclear proliferation among both sides.[47] This theory is supported by North Korea’s recent declaration that it had detonated its first hydrogen bomb:

The nuclear test quickly increased tensions between the United States and China… The United States also used the North’s test to tighten a trilateral alliance with Japan and South Korea in the region, a relationship that China has long viewed as a check on its power.[48]

One possible solution is for South Korea and Japan to begin unilaterally terminating their security agreements with the United States. South Korea could renew a diplomacy in the spirit of the Sunshine Policies (1998-2007) of the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations that embrace detente and dialogue with North Korea and separate the nuclear issue from North-South relations.[49] Similarly, Japan could repudiate ANPO and then establish its own framework for an independent foreign policy as a neutral state. It could define its own diplomatic protocol on the basis of the Principles of Peace (1949-1951)[50] of the former Japan Socialist Party (JSP) by adopting the following policies:

1. To reach a peace settlement with its neighbors,
2. To oppose bilateral and multilateral military pacts,
3. To forbid military facilities on Japanese territory,
4. To maintain a status of neutrality.

An independent foreign policy is a safer option for Japan than the existing bilateral security strategy because it lessens the risks of becoming a target of retaliation. Given the magnitude and scope of armed conflicts and military bases the United States is responsible for inciting and managing, and the myriad of their unintended consequences, it can be argued that maintaining neutrality is a preferred strategy. By developing systemic habits of dialogue with its neighbors, South Korea and Japan can move past a ‘checkbook diplomacy’ predicated on nuclear intimidation, and toward a non-nuclear path based on peace and reconciliation. Uncertainty and doubt, on the other hand, encourages states to suspect the sincerity of each other’s motives, potentially leading to a security dilemma. Preventing this scenario requires mutual confidence and trust, essential qualities that are conspicuously absent between nations in the Asia-Pacific.


Members of civic groups stage a protest against the Japan-India nuclear pact. | KYODO

Obstacles to the abolition of war

On August 14, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, stressing the need to ‘reflect upon the road to war and the path taken since it ended,’ and ‘learn from the lessons of history.’ Abe also declared to the world that Japan will ‘fulfill its responsibility’ aimed at ‘nonproliferation and ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.’[51] While this determination is commendable, its national policy decisions would seem to suggest that it is hardly committed to this vision. If the Japanese government sincerely harbors ‘feelings of deep remorse,’ it would go well beyond delivering the usual platitudes of being the ‘only country to have ever suffered the devastations of atomic bombings.’ It would take bolder measures to effect the behaviors of both non-nuclear and nuclear states toward the path of denuclearization. It would take meaningful steps toward improving relations with its neighbors by telling the truth about its history of imperial rule and wartime atrocities.[52] It would reject Yasukuni Shrine and resolve the territorial disputes. It would begin developing a cooperative relationship with China and North Korea that is not predicated on enmity or fear. It would immediately terminate the restart of nuclear power plants[53] and address the numerous concerns over its reprocessing plans and plutonium stocks. It would halt the transit of US nuclear-armed ships through its ports and cease the promotion of nuclear reactor technologies overseas.[54]

Figure 5


Figure 6


Figure 7


Figure 5: World military expenditure. Figure 6: Composition of US federal budget (fiscal year 2014). Figure 7: American military bases around the globe. | Vox

Nuclear disarmament negotiations are further complicated by imbalances in conventional military power. The United States maintains a defense budget that nears half of the world’s total military expenditure (see Figure 5), a large proportion of which reflects the combined commitments of its allies. It spends more on military efforts in national security than it allocates resources to diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts (see Figure 6). It also brandishes a navy superior to all others combined, enjoying unmatched global power-projection capabilities.[55] Following the end of the second world war, the United States expedited the expansion of its military infrastructure to other countries, rationalizing the national economies of its new ‘democratic’ allies. In an effort to contain the ‘spread’ of communism, the United States began installing a number of military facilities across the globe to ensure a geopolitical foothold in locations that it perceived were susceptible to Soviet influence. Today, over 700 US bases are hosted overseas (see Figure 7), including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds in some seventy countries. Keeping the installations open entails enormous costs that are not only financial but also human and environmental. According to David Vine, the annual cost of maintaining the installations and military personnel abroad is conservatively estimated to be at least 85 billion dollars, and could reach up to 156 billion dollars if the bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are included.[56] Overseas presence provokes the antipathy of its hosts and heightens regional tensions, disincentivizing states from pursuing diplomatic solutions to problems. It is therefore inevitable that few countries are motivated to cooperate toward global denuclearization given the presence of US military bases, let alone with nations under the protection of its nuclear umbrella.


Protesters stage a rally against the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. | KYODO

Over the years, nuclear powers have dedicated increasingly less priority to the imperative of nuclear disarmament. In the late twentieth century, more than sixty thousand nuclear weapons existed in the world at all times. Today, the combined arsenal of nuclear states amounts to nearly sixteen thousand, of which United States and Russia (see Figure 8) possess around 94 percent.[57] Thousands of deployed strategic nuclear warheads remain ready to launch at a moment’s notice. The world is still vulnerable to the risks of accidents, miscalculations and unintentional usage of existing weapons. While talks concerning further reductions have reached an impasse, plans to modernize and upgrade existing nuclear arsenals have commenced.

Figure 8


Figure 8: US and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles as of 2015. | Al Jazeera America


Nuclear arsenals cannot be removed from the national security apparatus without first ending nuclear power. In seeking to phase out nuclear power from the energy portfolio, it becomes necessary to subordinate the industry and the preferences of its consumers to the social priorities of a particular segment of society—namely, to those who demand its removal. In order to make this endeavor successful, there must be significant public support such that the social segment represented, and the priorities it embraces, make it explicit that the coercion is one that is accepted by the majority of the people. This condition, however, is one that is necessary but ultimately insufficient for eliminating nuclear weapons from the security complex. What role, then, should ‘nuclear’ play in meeting national security objectives? In what ways can the public meaningfully participate in decision-making concerning nuclear weapons and nuclear power?[58] And what does the silent majority think? It is crucial that these questions are asked.

The institutionalization of nuclear technology, as evinced in its enduring centrality in Japan’s national energy and security matrix, has cultivated an environment in which its preservation and management is systematically prioritized over its catastrophic risks and externalities. The nuclear security apparatus, characterized by opaque bilateral arrangements and facilitated by revolving door practices,[59] normalizes an illusion of ‘stability’ while lending credence to warlike formulations of foreign and domestic policies.[60] The lack of a foreseeable resolve to bridge the widening rifts between Japan and its Asia-Pacific neighbors, exacerbated by the delegation of sovereign decision-making through the radical policies of successive pro-nuclear administrations, may indeed represent the real ‘tragedy’ of great power politics.


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