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Japan’s Nuclear Option: A Debate Revisited

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Abstract:

In the last several years, there has been a renewed interest in how Japan is thinking about its nuclear option. In particular, the interest was fueled by the reported statements by senior Japanese politicians that seemed to suggest that Japan, in the face of North Korea becoming a de facto nuclear power, should revisit its postwar non-nuclear principle. Some observers outside Japan have even made comments that suggest Japan should reconsider its non-nuclear policy. However, hastening to conclude that Japan is on the path to abandon its decades-long non-nuclear policy overlooks the political, emotional, and other complexities that remain in Japan before the government in Tokyo can seriously entertain the option of becoming a nuclear-armed state. It is important, therefore, that any discussion regarding Japan’s nuclear option carefully examines the principles of its postwar security policy; the trend in public opinion; threat perception by the Japanese people; perception of the credibility of the us-Japan alliance; and Japan’s national image held by the Japanese public. This article attempts to shed some light on the recent developments in Japan that surround the debate over Japan’s nuclear option. The article first examines Japan’s postwar security policy principles and the role that Japan’s non-nuclear policy has played up to the present. Secondly, it focuses on the evolving debate over Japan’s nuclear option since the 1990s. The article then discusses the key variables that could affect Japan’s future decision toward its nuclear option.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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