Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#240】Japan Should Not Abandon Nuclear Option

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2014.04.02 (Wed)

March 31, 2014

      China that pursues ocean hegemony in the western Pacific has grown more likely to make the South China Sea its sanctuary under its nuclear strategy against the United States. This is because U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III told the Senate Armed Sevices Committee on March 25 that China is expected to complete a submarine armed with long-range ballistic missiles with a range of 7,500 kilometers or more within this year.
      The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advisory body for the U.S. Congress, earlier reported China was planning to develop strategic nuclear missile submarines and base them at Hainan Island, southern China. Locklear said China might have its first sea-based nuclear deterrence by the end of this year. The submarine may be a Jin-class nuclear-powered submarine armed with Julang 2 ballistic missiles.

Impact of China’s nuclear missile submarine
      The Locklear remark attracted little attention in Japan. If China has nuclear missiles deployed on submarines, which are difficult to detect, and becomes capable of retaliating against U.S. nuclear attacks, however, the United States’ advantage over China in nuclear capability will be shaken. China will also take control of the South China Sea with nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
      In its defense white paper for 2013 (published last April), China dropped its pledge of no first-use of nuclear weapons and expressed its determination to use nuclear missiles for a resolute retaliation against any nuclear attack. Since then, China has apparently grown confident of becoming capable of retaliating against nuclear attacks.
      In the Cold War era, the Soviet Union took control of the Sea of Okhotsk with nuclear missile submarines and kept the U.S. Navy away from the sea. These submarines allowed the Soviet Union to have the same nuclear deterrence as the United States. China has asserted the South China Sea, where it has territorial disputes with the Philippines and other countries, as part of its core interests. The assertion may be linked to its plan to make the South China Sea a sanctuary for its future strategic nuclear submarines.

Learn from West German’s wisdom
      If China becomes capable of retaliating against U.S. nuclear attacks, it may view the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for Japan as having weakened. Then, China’s medium-range nuclear missiles targeting Japan may become eerie.
      In 1975 amid the Cold War, the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 medium-range nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe. In response to the threat, then West German Chanceller Helmut Schmidt asked the United States to deploy Pershing 2 medium-range nuclear missiles to counter SS-20s. Later, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw their respective intermediate nuclear missiles.
      Japan now does not seem to take China’s medium-range nuclear missiles seriously. In an apparent bid to prevent Japan from possessing nuclear weapons, China has staged campaigns to trumpet highly concentrated plutonium provided from the United States to Japan for research purposes as dangerous. Just before a nuclear security summit in The Hague in late March, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to return the plutonium to the United States. This might have indicated that China successfully deprived Japan of an option to deter Chinese nuclear attacks.
      Japan has maintained its three nonnuclear principles to prevent production, possession and entry of nuclear weapons. It should change the entry prevention into the attack prevention and use the Schmidt approach for leading China to withdraw medium-range missiles targeting Japan.

Hiroshi Yuasa is columnist for the Sankei Shimbun and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.