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A Unified Korean Peninsula Poses a Nuclear Threat to Japan



~South Korea should no longer be considered a member of the democracy camp. Moon Jae In has indicated he would welcome the withdrawal of U.S. military forces~


Recently I was deeply shocked by an article written by a veteran American expert on Korea. It was about the implications for Japan of the reunification of the Korean Peninsula into a government with a nuclear capability.


The article, “A Nuclear-Armed Korea and Japan – The INF Option,” which appeared in the December 2020 issue of the monthly magazine Wedge in Japanese translation, was written by former United States Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless. 


In his essay, Lawless ominously predicts the U.S.-South Korea alliance “would be done and over by 2030.”


Lawless, who for many years was a U.S. government official responsible for East Asian security, writes that there needs to be a frank discussion of the fact that the current framework for U.S.-South Korea relations is unsustainable over the medium- to long-term. 


Consequently, Lawless advocates, Japan should introduce an INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) capability, which Tokyo and Washington would manage jointly. 


As Takehiko Taniguchi, who formerly served as a counselor in the Prime Minister’s Office, writes in regards to the article, implementing such a policy will not be easy, since it is not the type of issue where the government could expect to easily win public approval.


“It would probably take resolve by a prime minister with a tremendous amount of political clout who would have the determination to ignore public opinion if necessary,” Taniguchi writes. 


However, objective consideration of the “new reality” described by Lawless, who was the deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the Six-Party Talks on eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat, shows just how critical the issue has become. 


Lawless writes that the current South Korean administration headed by President Moon Jae In is “deeply dedicated to ‘peace in our time’ and willing to accommodate itself and its people to North Korea, in an almost master-slave relationship.” He analyzes that Seoul is “strongly inclined to seek a relationship with Pyongyang that bargains away its own sovereignty.” 


He then spells out how U.S. military withdrawal from South Korea will be caused by the current “progressive government in Seoul which perceives a half-baked alliance as a path for reunification with North Korea.” 


In a column of mine that appeared in The Sankei Shimbun on August 8, 2019, I wrote that Moon was aiming for reunification of the Korean Peninsula based on the Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo concept proposed in 1980 by then-North Korean President Kim Il Sung. 


I would also reiterate that South Korea should no longer be considered a member of the democracy camp, since Moon has clearly indicated his real feelings ー that he would welcome the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from South Korea. Anyone with eyes can see that.  


Lawless describes what would happen next with perfect clarity: “Koreans both North and South will be inclined to bond to take a more open and aggressive stance toward Japan once the United States has left the ROK security equation.”


Lawless goes on to point out the depth of the risk, writing: “Many South Koreans, again both progressives and conservatives, quietly respect what North Korea has achieved with its nuclear weapons program. There is an unspoken but tangible pride of Korean achievement delivered by Pyongyang’s success with its nuclear weapons program.”


And, while there are quite a number of Diet members who cling to the dream of improved bilateral relations and goodwill with Seoul — including those belonging to the supra partisan Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union — I would encourage them to read Lawless’s cool-headed analysis. 


“It is inevitable,” he writes, “that “North Korea will be able to find common ground with the South, politically and emotionally, in viewing Japan as a hostile entity,” and this will be a major factor uniting them. 


There is no denying the ever useful “anti-Japanese” card could be very effective in efforts to create a new political entity with a total population of over 75 million whose two halves are quite different in terms of political systems, living standards, and manners and customs. 


Lawless pulls no punches in this regard, explaining in depth why an INF system is critical for Japan, because in the minds of Koreans Japan remains the eternal old enemy — and, he says, we can expect this to remain so in the future. 



Why Japan Should Pay Attention?


The Lawless article should be regarded as wise counsel in that it clearly points out what commentators in Japan find it difficult to say. 


Even now in discussing missile defense policy, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga carefully avoids using expressions like “capability to attack enemy bases” or “deterrent capability.” In fact, during the extraordinary session of the Diet which wound up on December 5, debate hardly touched upon serious issues involving China and the Korean Peninsula. 


It was as if Diet members thought that, if they looked away, inconvenient things like these prickly international problems would simply disappear into thin air. 


(Find access to the original article in Japanese here.)


Author: By Rui Abiru, Editor, Political Desk, The Sankei Shimbun


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