Jeffrey LewisThe Japanese Made Us Do It

Lest we forget: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (source)

Does the United States need the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP)—a new 1 MT bunker busting nuclear weapon?

After dueling op-eds on that question and the future of the nuclear deterrent by Frank Gaffney and Representative David Hobson (R-OH), The Washington Times gives Keith Payne the last word.

Payne’s letter to the editor is run-of-the-mill right-wing nuclear strategy. One paragraph, though, sums up my major objection to pretty much everything he has ever written: the elevation of ideology over facts.

Here is the key graf:

Think the role of the nuclear umbrella is a thing of the past, or of little value to allies? Ask the Japanese who are threatened daily by North Korea. Far from inspiring nuclear proliferation, initiatives such as RNEP that help sustain a credible U.S. deterrent will contribute more to nuclear nonproliferation than any single other factor.

Ok, let’s ask the Japanese

Here is Japan’s resolution submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2003 called, A path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The resolution does not mention RNEP by name (that’s too coarse for diplomatic language), but the resolution specifically calls for “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination.” RNEP doesn’t fit that description.

The resolution also calls for a number of other policies opposed by the Bush Administration, including ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and negotiating a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

Make paper cranes, not RNEP.

I guess Keith Payne knows what Tokyo thinks better than does Tokyo. That is a neat trick. It’s usually only possible when you ignore the facts to preserve the ideology.

Of course, Japanese politics are more complicated—some political opponents think Japanese PM Koizumi (righht) harbors a secret nuclear fetish. What ever his innermost thoughts (and it must be nice to elect someone with those), Koizumi’s public stance is resolutely antinuclear—including standing silently during a memorial ceremony while the Mayor of Hiroshima took the piss out of him for talking about revising Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The Japanese government position calls for less, not more, emphasis on the nuclear umbrella. As the only country to suffer a nuclear attack, the people of Japan have a right to comment on matters nuclear. And, as the only country to conduct one, perhaps we have an obligation to listen.

Full disclosure: I spent the summer of 2000 on the Japan desk at OUSD/ISA/AP.