The North Korean threat to Ja­pan

The U.S., work­ing with Ja­pan, must make the nu­clear threat from North Korea a pri­or­ity is­sue

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Joseph DeTrani

In early May, I was part of a fact-find­ing trip to Ja­pan. What I learned from four days of dis­cus­sions with se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, leg­is­la­tors and schol­ars was in­valu­able. I’ve worked with Ja­panese coun­ter­parts for many years, es­pe­cially on is­sues re­lated to North Korea, but what I took away from this trip was Ja­pan’s deep con­cern about the ex­is­ten­tial nu­clear threat from North Korea and the need for the U.S., work­ing with Ja­pan, to more ag­gres­sively pur­sue a res­o­lu­tion of this is­sue. What also got my at­ten­tion was Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s proac­tive con­tri­bu­tion to peace in the re­gion and the real progress made with Ja­pan’s com­mit­ment to col­lec­tive de­fense with its U.S. ally.

Ja­pan ap­pre­ci­ates Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to make the North Korea nu­clear threat a pri­or­ity na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue. For years, Ja­pan has been liv­ing with this ex­is­ten­tial nu­clear threat from North Korea. Now, the U.S. is seized with the re­al­ity that North Korea will soon be­come an ex­is­ten­tial nu­clear threat to the U.S. The progress North Korea con­tin­ues to make with its mis­sile pro­grams, def­i­nitely to in­clude the re­cent In­ter­me­di­ate Range Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile (IRBM) suc­cesses, with a mo­bile, solid fuel mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Guam, has cor­rectly fo­cused at­ten­tion on the need to get North Korea to halt these mis­sile launches and re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions, ideally be­fore they launch an In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile (ICBM) ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the U.S.

Ja­pan is sup­port­ive of Pres­i­dent Trump’s strat­egy of “putting all op­tions on the ta­ble.” Their pref­er­ence would be re­turn­ing to ne­go­ti­a­tions and get­ting China to use more of its lever­age with North Korea to ac­com­plish this goal. China’s de­ci­sion to cease im­port­ing coal from North Korea in 2017 was move­ment in that di­rec­tion. Another card avail­able to China is the crude oil they pro­vide to North Korea. Any re­duc­tion in the amount of oil China pro­vides to North Korea would have im­me­di­ate im­pact on the North’s econ­omy and its abil­ity to sus­tain its very vul­ner­a­ble in­fra­struc­ture.

A re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions, how­ever, must not only fo­cus on halt­ing North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams, it must also fo­cus on our prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive: Com­plete and ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. There is a sense, and only a sense, that North Korea may be­lieve that the progress they’ve made with its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams has con­di­tioned

the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to view a halt in these pro­grams as the only re­al­is­tic ob­tain­able ob­jec­tive. Thus North Korea would re­tain its nu­clear weapons and be ac­cepted as a nu­clear weapons state, al­beit with a lim­ited and capped nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity.

This would be a tragic mis­take, not only for Ja­pan and South Korea, but for the U.S. and those coun­tries in the re­gion. North Korea with even a few nu­clear weapons would be a nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion night­mare. Other coun­tries, like South Korea, Ja­pan, Tai­wan, even­tu­ally may also de­cide that they need nu­clear weapons, re­gard­less of the U.S. nu­clear um­brella. Also of con­cern has to be the ac­ci­den­tal use of a nu­clear weapon and the trans­fer, know­ingly or ac­ci­den­tally, of a nu­clear weapon or fis­sile ma­te­rial to a rogue state or ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The progress the U.S. is mak­ing in bring­ing Ja­pan and South Korea to­gether to ad­dress se­cu­rity is­sues with North Korea is im­pres­sive, and ap­pre­ci­ated by Ja­pan. This tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion is a pow­er­ful mes­sage to Py­ongyang that the U.S. and its two al­lies will work in tan­dem to ad­dress and ul­ti­mately re­solve the nu­clear is­sue with North Korea. The in­tro­duc­tion of the Ter­mi­nal

High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) in South Korea and the pos­si­ble need for ad­di­tional mis­sile de­fense sys­tems in Ja­pan and in the re­gion, de­pend­ing on de­vel­op­ments with North Korea, are is­sues Ja­pan sup­ports.

Fi­nally, the U.S. de­ci­sion to pull out of the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) was a dis­ap­point­ment to Ja­pan. This will re­quire, in my view, more of a U.S. ef­fort to prove that we are com­mit­ted to a real pres­ence in the re­gion and that our ex­tended de­ter­rence com­mit­ments to Ja­pan are in­vi­o­lable. China’s progress with its One Belt and One Road ini­tia­tive and its in­vest­ment and lead­er­ship in the Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank have cap­tured the at­ten­tion of Ja­pan and oth­ers in the re­gion, thus it’s only log­i­cal that the U.S. will have to do more to prove that we also are in­vested in and com­mit­ted to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion for the long term.

The U.S. de­ci­sion to pull out of the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) was a dis­ap­point­ment to Ja­pan. This will re­quire, in my view, more of a U.S. ef­fort to prove that we are com­mit­ted to a real pres­ence in the re­gion.


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