Japan-US Summit plays timely, effective role
The latest summit meeting between Japan and the United States proceeded smoothly in the sunshine of the President’s Florida estate, and the bilateral relationship remains tranquil, at least for now.
It is encouraging that Japan took the initiative to suggest the bilateral summit with the United States. Japan’s overture came before the summit between North and South Korea, and before moves emerged for a summit between the U.S. and the North.
In orchestrating the agenda with the U.S., Japan kept in mind a range of possible developments involving the Korean Peninsula. This put Tokyo in an opportune position to help prepare Washington with information relevant to the North Korean matter. The timing was fortuitous.
In a relationship with such multifaceted aspects as the one between Japan and the U.S., it is vital for leaders of both sides to exchange candid views on the political, security, economic, and other pending issues at stake for both of them.
Naturally, a key focus of the April 17-18 summit was on coordination of a common policy toward North Korea—a process expected to see many twists and turns going forward.
There is evidence that strong economic pressure from sanctions is having an impact on the North Korean economy. However, a policy based on overly optimistic expectations must be ruled out as a path toward resolving the North Korean issues. Moreover, this is not a time for admiring Pyongyang’s new style of diplomatic maneuvering.
Looking back at the outcome of previous negotiations since the 1990s, the goal of achieving concrete steps toward North Korea’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)” has become increasingly difficult to attain with the lapse of time. Still, it is not necessarily beyond the realm of possibility.
The North covets many things, among them money and economic cooperation, technology, and the lifting of economic sanctions for the freedom to buy the necessities of life. But what Pyongyang wants most of all is a U.S. guarantee of the continuation of the Kim regime—that is, a U.S.-North Korea peace accord.
Thus, assurance of the regime’s survival is the ultimate bargaining chip of Japan and the U.S. to achieve the North’s complete and verifiable denuclearization.
Most diplomatic analysts were a bit caught off guard by President Trump’s on-the-spot acceptance of Pyongyang’s invitation for talks with Kim. This writer felt Trump’s acceptance of the invitation itself was premature and a major concession toward North Korea. It is strongly hoped that, in the latest Japan-U.S. summit talks, Japanese leader was able to fully convey to his U.S. counterpart the risks of rushing headlong into talks with North Korea and using their ultimate trump cards prematurely.
Sanctions and Military Options
Japan and the U.S. have come out with what can be referred to as a shopping list for Pyongyang.
Figuratively speaking, the North is supposed to shop according to “price tags” put on the respective necessities it craves. The price for the ultimate goods from the United States—a guarantee of the North Korean regime’s survival, for instance—would be “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”
Massive economic assistance from Japan, on the other hand, would carry the price tag of fully resolving the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea carried out under its Supreme Leader’s state policy of the 1970’s and 1980’s, together with a comprehensive solution to the nuclear and missile issues.
Washington, while continuing to hold the ultimate card—normalized diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea—should maintain all of its military options and, with Japan, resolutely maintain strong sanctions against the North. This is the most effective, and viable means to materialize the North’s complete denuclearization.
It is worthy to note that both Japanese and Americans do have sympathy for the people of North Korea. North Korean people are in a sense like the abductees, victims who have been forced to live under inhumane, tyrannical rule.
Successive U.S. presidents have shared their awareness of the North’s intolerable humanitarian conditions. I was present when George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, invited to the White House the family of Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was abducted by North Korean agents. They were joined in the Oval Office by a young North Korean defector and his infant daughter, a gesture by the President which made it clear that the U.S. sanctions were directed toward the Pyongyang regime, and not the people of North Korea.
Formerly, Japan, the United States, and South Korea shared a common view in this regard. Recently, however, South Korea seems to be wavering from this line of approach. For Pyongyang, though, the reported overtures by South Korea toward concluding a peace pact could never replace a U.S. guarantee assuring the North Korean regime’s succession. Yet, the South-North overtures should be watched with vigilance, as they could eventually lead to demands such as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South.
Risks of Diminishing Deterrence
The importance of sharing basic perceptions concerning Japan and the United States’ policy toward North Korea has never been more evident. It would be detrimental to the security of both countries to freeze the status quo or take a step-by-step approach without synchronizing actions in response to the North’s actions. This is of particular concern to Japan, which is within the range of North Korea’s nuclear warheads and conventional short- and medium-range missiles.
The need for stringent measures to bar the North from becoming a nuclear power is not limited to the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of an unpredictable regime that defies the logics of deterrence. Allowing Pyongyang to possess a nuclear arsenal would, sooner rather than later, lead to a diminishment of the United States’ deterrence power in Asia.
Japan should be especially concerned about the threat of nuclear attack. Given its proximity to North Korea, it is only natural for this country to boost efforts to ensure the planned summit talks between the two Koreas and the one between Washington and Pyongyang become venues for complete denuclearization of the North. This writer believes that the Japanese government has already studied a wide range of possible actions if the Trump-Kim summit fails or falls short of achieving its goals. In the interim, the time is long overdue for an urgent national discussion on Japan’s response to this issue.
It should be noted that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would suffer a serious blow should denuclearization of North Korea fail. Such a situation would send the world in a direction diametrically opposed to Japan’s aspirations for abolition of all nuclear weapons.
Only the United States has the influence and power to secure the North’s complete and verifiable denuclearization. At the same time, powers less concerned about the denuclearization of North Korea, such as Russia and China (and perhaps South Korea,) have gained momentum.
For the United States, Japan is its most willing and reliable ally in Asia. The time is approaching for Japan to display its strength in this regard.
Ryozo Kato is a former Japanese ambassador to the US. He served as the Commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball and Corporate Advisor at Mitsubishi Corporation. He joined Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1965 and served as its Director General of Asian Affairs Bureau, Director of General Affairs, Director of Foreign policy and Ambassador to the U.S until 2008.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)