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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (August 4, 2003)

Coping with the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Abridged Version

Toshiya NAKAMURA (The University of Melbourne)

Abridged version of the paper presented in the Regional Challenges Session at the 13th Biennial Conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA), held at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, 2-4 July 2003.
The copyright of the full version of the paper belongs to the author and is available in PDF form.


1.Policy of Brinkmanship

On 24 April 2003, North Korea revealed that it possesses nuclear weapons. It highlights the most serious security concern in Northeast Asia. This admission was preceded by a series of extraordinary events, for example, test-launching the Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998. This has had profound implications for security and stability throughout the region, especially the direct neighbour, Japan. In coping with these circumstances, Japan has accelerated its transformation process of the security posture that had begun since the end of the Cold War. Accordingly, Tokyo revised the Japan-U.S. Defence Guidelines followed by enactment of the War-Contingency Laws.

This paper examines Japan's security posture in responding to Pyongyang's threats. For this purpose, we first look at North Korea's so-called 'Policy of Brinkmanship' since 1993. In particular the following incidents are taken up:
Intention of withdrawal from NPT (12 March 1993)
Launch of Teapodong-1 (31 August 1998)
Spy ships (December 2001)
Abductions of Japanese citizens (September 2002)
Admission of Possession of Nuclear Weapons (24 April 2003)


2. Japan's Security Posture

Secondly, we investigate Tokyo's countermeasures against them, namely the Japan-U.S. Defence Guidelines as well as the War-Contingency Laws.

The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defence Cooperation (September 1997): The North Korean Nuclear Crisis in 1993-94 produced the new version of 'the Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defence Cooperation' a few years later. The Guidelines were approved by the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting in New York on 23 September 1997. Subsequently, the Japanese Diet passed three bills on 24 May 1999, under which Japan could carry out the tasks required under the Guidelines. The New Guidelines paved a way for the Self-Defence Force (SDF) to operate not only in the territory of Japan, but also 'in situations in areas surrounding Japan'.

The War-Contingency Laws (6 June 2003):
The North Korean Nuclear Crisis and hostile policies including spy ships and abduction issues paved a way for the Japanese government to enact the long-waited legislations. On 6 June 2003, Japan's Parliament passed three war contingency bills that gave the government significantly increased powers in military emergencies. 'The Law regarding Responses to Armed Attacks' and two others, in essence, enable a smooth operation of the SDF within the territory of Japan, allowing the SDF to begin certain ground operations before the prime minister issues a mobilization order. It is very first time for Tokyo after the end of the World War II that such war contingency laws are enacted.


3. Limitations of Japan's Security Policy

Third, we explore the limitations of Tokyo's policy making under the 'Peace Constitution.' The war-contingency laws, as well as the New Guidelines, did avoid confronting three limitations: 'exclusively defence-oriented policy', 'three non-nuclear principles' and restriction of exercise of the right of collective self-defence. However, remarkably at this time, the need for reviewing these policies is now acknowledged even by the oppositions through its debate on the contingency laws.

Right of Collective Self-Defence:
Through the debate on the war-contingency laws under the pressure of intensified threats from the North, a broad consensus seems to have been shaped that Japan should make it clear that it can exercise the right to collective self-defence. The open question is only when and how to do it, that is whether by changing the interpretation of the Constitution or by amending the Constitution.

'Exclusively Defence-Oriented Policy':
Moreover, the issue of 'exclusively defence-oriented policy' is on a political agenda. A bipartisan group of 'young members of Parliaments discussing Japanese security policy for the 21 century' composed by 103 Diet Members led by Mr. Keizo Takemi (LDP) published a statement to call for an urgent review of the 'exclusively defence-oriented policy' on 20 June 2003. It seems difficult for Tokyo to maintain 'the exclusively defence-oriented policy' that military force cannot be exercised until armed attack is initiated, and at the same time to defend the country against Pyongyang 's threat of the missiles.

Three non-Nuclear Principles:
'The three non-Nuclear principles' are widely seen as the symbols of Tokyo's pacifism of so called 'nuclear allergy' or 'nuclear taboo' since the country's defeat in World War II with the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the only time atomic weapons have been used in a conflict, killing millions of civilians in a few seconds. Despite the government's adherence of the principles and the agreement of both politicians, the principles have been challenged in a new circumstance of the post-Cold War era, especially by nuclear threats of North Korea or by rising power of nuclear China.


4. Conclusion

In response to intensified threats by North Korea, Japan has transformed its security policy in terms of strengthening Japan-U.S. security cooperation in the regional security and smoothing operations of the SDF within the territory of Japan through the empowered government at the time of contingency. Although three limitations of Japanese Security Policy, namely restriction of the exercise of the right of collective self-defence, 'exclusively defence-oriented policy' and 'three non-nuclear policy' have not been reviewed yet, broad discussion on the limitations has been intensified. The majority of policy-makers including the opposition are clearly aware of those issues that need to be addressed in order to implement an effective security policy.  Amid the nuclear threats by Pyongyang, Japan will at first be confronted with the issue over the exercise of the right of collective self-defence in the near future either by changing the interpretation of the Constitution or by amending the Constitution, so that Tokyo could prepare for the worst scenario in the Korean Peninsula Crisis.

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