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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | To Reject War Deterrence is to Imperil Japanese Lives, Security

Politicians and the media should be more attuned to the danger of Japan again experiencing the tragedy of war if we abandon our nuclear deterrence measures now.

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Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress observe a moment of silence at noon. At the National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead in the Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, on August 15, 2023. (©KYODO)

Tuesday, August 15, marked the 78th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. During that major conflict, around 3.1 million Japanese, military, and civilians combined lost their lives. On this occasion, we pray that all their spirits may rest in peace.

We would have liked to see Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visit Yasukuni Shrine. It is important to commemorate and honor the spirits of the dead. And to pledge that, if Japan were to be invaded, the current generation will rise to meet the challenge.

The Japanese people devoutly hope that such a tragedy will not be repeated. But it is doubtful that today's Japan is doing everything in its power to prevent another tragedy. The memorial ceremonies for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made us keenly aware of this.

Two Declarations at Hiroshima Ceremony

In his peace declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui declared, "Nuclear threats are now being voiced by certain policymakers." He then urged world leaders to "abandon nuclear deterrence." He reiterated, "It will be increasingly important for us to urge policymakers to abandon nuclear deterrence."

The background to these statements includes the nuclear threats being voiced by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those are in connection with his invasion of Ukraine.

Likewise, the Nagasaki peace declaration by Nagasaki Mayor Shiro Suzuki read in part, "Now is the time to show courage and make the decision to break free from dependence on nuclear deterrence." He added that if we continue to rely on deterrence, we will not be able to achieve a "world without nuclear weapons."

This kind of thinking has become deep-rooted. But not to mince words, such views jeopardize the lives and security of the Japanese people.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsu speaks at the Hiroshima City Memorial Ceremony on August 6, 2023. (©Sankei by Shigeru Amari)
Nagasaki Mayor Shiro Suzuki reads out a peace declaration on the morning of the August 9.

Forgetting the Security of Japan 

For the most part, Japanese media responded favorably to the positions taken in both declarations — that is, that the deterrence theory has become bankrupt and should be abandoned. 

For example, in its morning edition on August 7, the Mainichi Shimbun carried the front page headline, "The Deterrence Theory Is Bankrupt." And in a report dated August 6, NHK (news site) used the headline, "Hiroshima, 50,000 Attend Memorial Ceremony, 'Break Free from Deterrence Theory.'"

Japan is the only country in the world that has suffered atomic bombings — namely, the United States attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was also the firebombing of Tokyo. And there was the invasion by Soviet forces of Manchuria and other Japanese-held territory in the waning days of World War II. 

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As the only land that has experienced the full horror of atomic weapons, it is only natural that Japan should call for the elimination of such terrifying weapons and arms reduction.

But such a course of action must be complemented by efforts to ensure the security of Japan and its people. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at the Nippon Budokan. It is in a ceremony remembering the end of World War II on August 15, 2023 (© Sankei).

Safeguarding the Nation and Its People

In light of the tremendous threat posed by nuclear weapons, Japan must adopt a deterrence stance. If we do not build emergency shelters and so on to safeguard the nation's security, then if worse comes to worse we could find ourselves with our backs to the wall.

Nations surrounding Japan — namely, China, Russia, and North Korea — are rapidly building up their nuclear forces. Does it seem likely that the leaders of these autocracies will listen to appeals for the elimination of nuclear weapons?

It is very hard to imagine but what if all the countries possessing nuclear weapons moved to eliminate them? Then, if a nation decides to go nuclear, all those efforts would have been for naught. 

Japan and other countries might then see their sovereignty, the freedom of their citizens, and their prosperity disappear overnight. Also, we need to bear in mind that modern science and technology have not yet found a way to stop a nuclear attack with any degree of certainty. 

Teruo Yokota, 83, speaks to reporters prior to the ceremony at the Nippon Budokan remembering the end of World War II on August 15, 2023 (© Sankei).

Role of a Nuclear Umbrella

There is a perilous environment prevailing in the world today. As much as we would like to see nuclear weapons immediately eliminated, we will not be able to deter a nuclear attack by an enemy if Japan and its ally the United States do not have a deterrent capability. 

Indeed, the concept of deterrence remains far from discredited. 

That is why nations like Japan and South Korea rely on the "nuclear umbrella" of their ally, the United States. Likewise, members of NATO rely on the deterrence offered by the nuclear forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

If we abandon our nuclear deterrence measures, believing in the "bankruptcy of nuclear deterrence," Japan's security and the lives of its people will soon become even more precarious than they are now. Politicians and the media should be more attuned to that peril.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military parade on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. Joining him are Russia's Defense Minister Shoigu and Li Hongzhong, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China. (©KCNA via Kyodo)

What If Threatened by Nuclear Weapons?

There are visible, rising threats from China and North Korea, as well as Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, the security consciousness of the Japanese people has risen a notch. That is, at least compared to the Cold War and Heisei eras. And the Kishida Cabinet did approve the three security documents in December 2022. 

Furthermore, a majority of the Japanese public approves of the policies for acquiring a counterattack capability and for increasing defense spending to ¥43 trillion JPY (around $300 billion USD) over five years. 

The Japanese people have come to accept what seems common sense to the rest of the world — namely, that a deterrent is required to preserve the peace. And the many media outlets that have stymied Japan's defense efforts since the end of World War II can no longer deny the importance of building a deterrent force.

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Nonetheless, the need for a nuclear deterrent alone has not received the same acceptance. And these media still for the most part conspicuously reject this position. 

Nor is there a widespread understanding of how nuclear deterrence supports the defense in non-nuclear sectors as well. Consider if there were an invasion of the Senkaku Islands or a Taiwan crisis. What if China were to threaten to use nuclear weapons?

Japan's Ground Self-Defense Froce participated in the Talisman Sabre joint beach landing exercises. (via Talisman Sabre 2023 Twitter)

What It Takes to Achieve 'Credible Deterrence'

Even if the Self-Defense Forces were determined to protect Japan and its people with conventional forces, they would not be able to respond effectively unless nuclear deterrence was in effect. Credible deterrence can only be achieved if we are prepared in both the nuclear and non-nuclear areas.

This is all self-evident to officials at the defense ministry, the foreign ministry, and the National Security Council. Prime Minister Kishida too is no doubt aware of this reality.

The problem is that the Prime Minister and the government have failed to explain the situation adequately to the public. For example, it is not widely understood that certain things are urgently needed if the Japanese people are to be protected. 

In terms of nuclear deterrence, that includes continuous verification and improvement of the deterrent capability. And it includes the construction of underground shelters.

We must make the serious efforts needed to ensure that Japan does not once again experience the tragedy of war. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Satoshi Sakakibara, Chief Editorial Writer, The Sankei Shimbun

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